Fugate wins Gayle award

Colleen Fugate spent her four years as a Rice University student working to improve immigrant rights and women’s access to health care. This weekend she was honored for her efforts with the Dr. Helene Gayle Commencement Award for Global Women’s Health.

Colleen Fugate, center, earned the Dr. Helene Gayle Commencement Award for Global Women's Health and met with the award's namesake (right) and Rice President David Leebron. Gayle, president and CEO of CARE USA, was Rice's commencement speaker for 2014. Photo by Tommy LaVergne

Each year, the university honors a graduating senior who exemplifies the values and ideals of the commencement speaker. Fugate, who received a bachelor’s degree in sociology and the study of women, gender and sexuality with a minor in poverty, justice and human capabilities, was selected for the award because of her passion for and work to support women’s health issues both inside and outside the hedges.

Fugate received several recommendations for the award. In one of the support letters, a nominator touted her as “a committed advocate for reproductive rights.”

“An exceptionally generous spirit, Colleen puts her ideals into action by working tirelessly to improve conditions for transnational migrants and ensure access to reproductive health services here in Houston and in Latin America,” her nominator wrote.

Fugate first became interested in issues of women’s rights and human migration when she sponsored a refugee family from Somalia her senior year of high school.

“When I came to Rice, I found opportunities to foster these interests through my classes in sociology and poverty and gender studies and the many opportunities to travel, work and do research abroad,” she said.

During her years at Rice, Fugate served as the university’s student representative to Planned Parenthood and focused on coursework addressing issues of global inequality, poverty and women’s issues. She took a semester off to travel to Ecuador and Colombia to work with migrants; she also worked as an intern in Guanajuato, Mexico, at Centro Las Libres, an organization that fights for women’s reproductive and sexual rights. Her senior thesis focused on women’s experiences with religion in a small city in Central Mexico following an 11-day visit to the area. She has since been engaged in activist movements in Houston and Latin America involving immigrant rights and women’s access to sexual and reproductive health care.

Fugate will continue her work around the world next year with support from a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship. She will travel to Ghana, Morocco, Nepal, the Philippines and Guatemala to look at women’s resilience in migrant towns. She is interested in the social, political and economic transformations caused by human migration.

Fugate said she is very honored to be chosen for the award, especially since Gayle has done so much to serve needy communities around the world.

“CARE is such an important organization … and does a lot of work with women’s empowerment around the world, especially as a way to fight global poverty,” Fugate said.

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About Amy Hodges

Amy is a senior media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.