SOAS University of London

World-leading figures in field of arts and social activism honoured at SOAS Graduation Ceremonies

3 July 2018

SOAS University of London is honouring pioneering figures in the fields of film, literature, social activism and human rights at this year’s Graduation Ceremonies.

The awardees are the Academy Award winning artist and social activist Forest Whitaker; writer and activist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie; world-renowned author Dr Jung Chang; leading film curator June Givanni and prominent human rights activist Vrinda Grover.

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Clockwise from top left: Dr Jung Chang, June Givanni, Vrinda Grover, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Forest Whitaker (centre)

Baroness Valerie Amos, Director of SOAS, said: “At SOAS we are all about societal change and transformation. This year’s honorary awardees have all had a major impact in their areas of expertise and have challenged and continue to challenge conventional perspectives through film, the law and literature. They have deepened our understanding of society, politics, race and gender. They are inspiring role models and we are extremely proud to welcome them to the SOAS community.”

Forest Whitaker is an Academy Award winning actor, artist and social activist. He is the founder and CEO of the Whitaker Peace & Development Initiative (WPDI) through which he has developed the Youth Peacemaker Network, a global peacebuilding social network with hubs in South Sudan, Uganda, and Mexico. He is the UNESCO Special Envoy for Peace and Reconciliation and a member of the Advocacy Group of the United Nations for the Sustainable Development Goals. He has received numerous awards for his charitable activities and social activism. The Chairman of the NAACP described Mr Whitaker’s humanitarian engagement as “truly inspirational”.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is an internationally acclaimed and award-winning novelist. Her work includes Purple Hibiscus, which won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, and Half of a Yellow Sun, which won the Orange Prize. Her 2013 novel Americanah won the US National Book Critics Circle Award, and was named one of The New York Times Top Ten Best Books of 2013. Her books have challenged perceptions around issues such as identity and race, and her internationally renowned TED talk ‘We should all be feminists’ had a global impact on conversations about gender equality. Born in Enugu, Nigeria, Ms Adichie was named one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World by TIME Magazine in 2015 and one of the World’s 50 Greatest Leaders by Fortune Magazine in 2017.

Guyanese-born June Givanni is a pioneering international film curator. Specialising in African and African diaspora cinema, Black British cinema, and Caribbean cinema, her contribution to the diversification of film culture in the UK and across the world is unparalleled. Ms Givanni has worked with a range of organisations including the British Film Institute where she also set up and managed the African Caribbean Unit and founded the Black Film Bulletin. Vital to Ms Givanni’s work has been valorizing film as a visual and aesthetic medium while also recognising the way that film plays a significant role in broader socio-political and historical movements. The development of the June Givanni Pan African Cinema Archive is based on her collections from years of working in the field of cinema where her motivation for the archive is to make this valuable heritage collection as widely accessible as possible.

Dr Jung Chang is a world renowned author. Born in Sichuan Province, she left China for Britain in 1978 and obtained a PhD from the University of York becoming the first person from Communist China to receive a doctorate from a British university. She is best known for her autobiographical book Wild Swans – Three Daughters of China, published in 1991, which sold over 12 million copies and was translated into more than 30 languages. It is the most widely read book about China this century. Other books include Mao: The Unknown Story (with Jon Halliday), described by TIME Magazine as “an atom bomb of a book”; and Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China. She has won many awards, including the UK Writers’ Guild Best Non-Fiction and Book of the Year UK, and was the coordinator of Chinese Studies at SOAS in the mid 1980s through to the early 1990s.

Lawyer Vrinda Grover is a leading researcher and human rights activist based in New Delhi who has had a major impact in the area of human rights in India. Her advocacy efforts span from the local to the global through engagement with UN human rights mechanisms including the Universal Periodic Review and UN Special Rapporteurs. She has appeared in landmark cases including the 1984 anti-Sikh riots in Delhi, the 1987 Hashimpura police custodial killings and in 2013 challenged the controversial ‘two finger test’ for survivors of sexual violence in India. She has contributed to the drafting of laws to protect women and children from domestic violence and sexual violence and has advocated for a law prohibiting torture. TIME Magazine listed her as one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2013.