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Winners of Social Justice Award announced at symposium

Judy Messal of Alamogordo and Chris Schaefer of Las Cruces were named the outstanding volunteers of 2005 in the field of social justice by New Mexico State University's Department of Government.

ceived their Social Justice Awards, along with $250 each, Thursday at the J. Paul Taylor Symposium on Social Justice.

Messal has been actively promoting economic justice for years along the U.S.-Mexico border. She earned a bachelor's degree in history at NMSU in 1969, a master's in government in 1977 and a master's in communication studies in 1989.

Her nomination noted, "Judy's commitment to social justice in her community has been relentless and multifaceted. She works to empower and support those less fortunate and treats everyone as an equal. ... She has lobbied state and federal legislators to support mental health programs for low-income groups."

Her efforts have been binational. She is active in the Border Women's Group dedicated to promoting peace and justice in Las Cruces, El Paso and Juárez. She has worked for years to assist a women's cooperative, El Centro Santa Catalina, in one of the poorest communities in Juárez built on a former landfill.

Schaefer is a current NMSU student. He began his activism in 1999 when he was in the 8 th grade. He has engaged in nonviolent protests against the human rights record of the School for the Americas in Fort Benning, Ga.

"I was amazed to find out that our own government spends money to fund, train and equip soldiers from other countries, mainly Latin America, to be the strong arm of corrupt governments. The graduates of the School of the Americas have been responsible for the worst human rights abuses in Latin America since its opening in the 1940s."

Two years ago at the protest, he discovered the visual impact of puppetry. He has created puppets for political protests that range in size from 3 feet to 20. Tired of scavenging for supplies in trash cans and collecting funds from supporters, Schaefer hopes to use his award money to buy more supplies for his social justice puppets, to promote peace and protection of human rights.

The Social Justice Award is intended to recognize a member of the student body, staff or faculty at NMSU who has volunteered to help create a more just society.

It grew out of a lawsuit that challenged NMSU's free speech policy, said William Taggart, head of the government department. Students thought the policy too restrictive and protested. Following the arrest of one student, an agreement was struck and the policy changed.

"Our free speech policy is one of the most liberal in the country," Taggart said. The students were offered money as a part of the settlement. But since the protest wasn't about money, they decided to award it to someone else who was working in the field of social justice.

An endowment eventually was created and it is hoped the awards will continue to be a part of the social justice symposium NMSU plans to hold each year. Taggart urged those who want to support the awards with funding to contact him at (505) 646-4935.