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SMTD Students, Faculty, Staff Win 2022 MLK Spirit Awards

On January 17, 2022, a number of students, faculty, and staff at the School of Music, Theatre & Dance (SMTD) were honored with North Campus Deans’ MLK Spirit Awards. The awards recognize North Campus students, student organizations, staff, and faculty who exemplify the leadership and vision of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. through their commitment to social justice, diversity, and inclusion.

These annual awards are hosted by the A. Alfred Taubman College of Architecture + Urban Planning, the College of Engineering, the Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design, and the School of Music, Theatre & Dance, in collaboration with ArtsEngine and the Duderstadt Center.

The awards ceremony took place on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, as part of U-M’s MLK Symposium, which begins each year on MLK Day and includes lectures, live performances, exhibits, and workshops.

The SMTD students who received MLK Spirit Awards are:

Samantha Estrella, front row center

Samantha Estrella (BFA ’22, theatre performance), recognized for centering and amplifying BIPOC voices in safe and celebratory spaces. 

“It is such a joy and an honor to be a recipient of the MLK Spirit Awards, knowing that the intentionality and the love I have helped harvest in varying settings have been tangible despite institutional conditions. Receiving an MLK Spirit Award is a celebration of my ancestry, ranging from historical figures, family, and friends, to future BIPOC (Afro-Latina especially) theatre practitioners at the university, hopefully serving as a source of encouragement as well.”


Alissa Freeman

Alissa Freeman (DMA, piano pedagogy & performance), recognized for bringing awareness to women composers and co-founding 5pm Series Nonprofit Organization. 

“For me, this award is very humbling. When I think of the impact and power of Dr. King’s transformative justice, I think all of my efforts look very small. To me, it’s a reminder that my own small actions can add up and make a difference, and that building a community around DEI work can create a very real impact.”


Mattie Levy

Mattie Levy (BM ’22, oboe), recognized for going above and beyond in her role as the student ambassador to the SMTD DEI office.

“I am honored to have been recognized for my efforts. It feels good knowing that people appreciate the work that I’ve done. I am honored to be listed among the many other MLK spirit award recipients.”


Faculty recognized with MLK Spirit Awards are:

Michael McElroy

Michael McElroy, Arthur E. and Martha S. Hearron Endowed Professor of Musical Theatre and chair of the Department of Musical Theatre, recognized as a champion for social justice and for uplifting voices of performers of color. 

“I grew up in a family where I saw examples of Black people living in the fullness of their being. It wasn’t until I was older that I realized the challenges they faced daily. And yet, somehow, they channeled their struggles, disappointments, and through their art gave voice to their pain and their joy. I stand on the shoulders of amazing humans who taught me to work hard and to pursue my dreams. My journey has brought me here to U-M. It is an honor to be in a space of leadership in this specific moment in time. To teach, mentor, give back, make mistakes, and be taught so much in return is a true gift. I will work tirelessly to be worthy of this incredible honor created in the memory of Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King. And as I have been inspired by his legacy, and the legacy of my ancestors, hopefully, one day, I will be that inspiration for someone else.”


Christopher Harding

Christopher Harding, professor and chair of the Department of Piano, recognized for being a role model and advocate for all students.

“I am beyond honored to be considered as working in the same spirit as the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., whose powerful work and life were so grounded in his ministry of pursuing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with his God. These are the planks in the “table of brotherhood” of which he dreamed, and my fervent hope is always to be found working in this spirit, after his own shining example.”


Robin Wilson

Robin Wilson, associate professor of the Department of Dance, recognized for her DEIA+ activism, teaching innovations, community engagement, and service to the SMTD community. 

“Winning this award means that my decades of activism through changes in policy, curriculum, and artistry have been acknowledged and valued. It offers affirmation and encouragement to continue.”


The SMTD staff member honored with an MLK Spirit Award is:

Caitlin Taylor

Caitlin Taylor, EXCEL career services coordinator, recognized for co-authoring the SMTD Sexual Misconduct Toolkit, serving as a campus-wide model. 

“I am deeply honored to receive this award. It means a great deal to me to be recognized for this work, and I am honored that other SMTD folks felt I was deserving of the award. I am generally uncomfortable receiving recognition for my work, since I recognize so much of my success has been due to the work and efforts of many others. Even so, I see this award as a marker that I am on the right path.”