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A legacy of leadership

Recipient of the 2021 Ivory Prize for Excellence in Student Leadership creates a community for BIPOC students.

Even though Francesca Hsieh has graduated, her legacy of leadership at the University of Utah will continue. Hsieh has been awarded the 2021 Ivory Prize for Excellence in Student Leadership for her work in creating BIPOC Artists for Awareness.

“I’m so proud to have been part of creating a community for students of color within the Department of Theatre,” said Hsieh. “It was a lot of work and there was a lot of emotional labor involved, but it’s really gratifying to know that students now have a place and people to go to if something comes up and they need support.”

Hsieh’s advocacy work helped launch an important dialogue within the Department of Theatre, increasing communication between the department and students, and enhancing its commitment to anti-racism.

“It’s really thrilling to see Francesca being recognized for her contributions to the theatre community, particularly in the Department of Theatre,” said newly appointed chair Sydney Cheek-O’Donnell. “Our communications with BIPOC Artists for Awareness have been instrumental in shaping our response to very real, ongoing problems of systemic inequality and unsustainable theatre practices. We are committed to continuing this conversation as we engage in this incredibly challenging and important work, and we’ve been so fortunate to benefit from Francesca’s dedication and clarity of vision, as well as her willingness to share her perspectives and lived experience.”

The Ivory Prize award includes a $2,000 prize for the recipient and a $10,000 donation to their cause. Clark Ivory, former chair of the University of Utah Board of Trustees, established the prestigious award to recognize extraordinary and influential student-led projects that positively impacted the community and/or fostered efforts that have enabled meaningful change.

The $10,000 donation to BIPOC Artists for Awareness, Hsieh said, will go toward bringing experts of color to lead masterclasses and workshops for students who remain in the organization.

“Some of my co-founders who are still students have taken the reins and will be able to use this donation to bring theatre leaders in from around the country and give students some exposure to mentorship and leadership beyond what is available in the department at the U,” said Hsieh. “I’m incredibly grateful to the people who have made this opportunity available to students.”

During her four years at the U, Hsieh also co-created a student organization called Open Door Productions which allows students to write, direct and produce their own shows. She majored in musical theatre and was named a College of Fine Arts 2021 Outstanding Senior. This fall, she will begin a graduate program in the United Kingdom for theatre directing.

“I couldn’t have done any of this without all of the other students who were actively involved,” said Hsieh. “I had the pleasure of collaborating and working with a lot of students and faculty mentors on these projects and it was very much a group endeavor. I think the university and the theatre department are stepping up and doing a lot of this important work and I hope this donation will help keep the work moving forward.”