Westfield State University Interim Dean of Faculty Enrique Morales-Díaz, Ph.D., is the recipient of the Latino Scholarship Fund (LSF) of Western Massachusetts’ Antonia Pantoja Award, which honors people who contribute to the Latinx community through research and education. It was presented during the organization’s 30th annual awards ceremony, held virtually.
The Latino Scholarship Fund of Western Massachusetts is a non-profit organization dedicated to putting higher education within reach of college-bound students in the region.
Dr. Morales-Díaz leads Westfield State’s initiative to become a federally recognized Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI) and chairs the University’s Racial Equity and Justice Institute Team. The HSI designation is part of a larger commitment by Westfield State to address systemic racism and inequities on campus, such as in its policies and practices. It also supports its efforts to become a student-ready, relationship-centered campus community that is fluent in understanding all of its students’ needs and that values their culture.
“To say that I was surprised to learn I have been bestowed the Antonia Pantoja Award is an understatement,” said Dr. Morales-Díaz. “Dr. Pantoja's example is what I strive to emulate with my work on these highly important matters of inclusivity and accessibility.”
An activist for the Puerto Rican community in New York City, Pantoja is best known for establishing ASPIRA in 1961, a non-profit organization that promotes education and advancement for Puerto Rican youth by providing clubs within schools, career and college counseling, advocacy for bilingual education, and other services. The local ASPIRA office is in Southbridge, Mass.
In his introduction of Dr. Morales-Díaz, Massachusetts Department of Higher Education Commissioner Carlos E. Santiago, Ph.D., said he was delighted to celebrate the accomplishments of his former student from their days at the State University of New York (SUNY) Albany, where Santiago taught as a professor.
“I know Enrique well. His receipt of the Antonia Pantoja Award is very well deserved for his contributions to the (Latinx) community and to Westfield State University,” said Commissioner Santiago.
One of Dean Morales-Díaz’s former students, LSF Board member Derek Estrella, nominated him for the Antonia Pantoja Award.
“As a former student of Dr. Morales-Díaz, I had the opportunity of getting to know his deep commitment to the Latinx community, and—more specifically—this community at Westfield State University,” said Estrella, who graduated from Westfield State in 2019. “Dr. Morales-Díaz has always taken the initiative to be involved with Latinx students who are trying to navigate their collegiate careers.
“In addition to serving in various mentorship roles, he has pioneered many conversations surrounding intersectionality of being queer and Latinx,” Estrella added. “For these reasons—and many more—I am delighted to have advocated for Dr. Morales-Díaz as a more-than-deserving recipient for the Antonia Pantoja Award.”
The Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts holds the scholarship funds, collects the scholarship applications, and assists in selecting the applicants, according to LSF Board President Myriam Quiñones. The LSF selects the honorees, scholarship applicants, and fundraises for future scholarships. She noted that for more than five decades, Holyoke and Springfield have been the hub for Latinx communities—especially Puerto Ricans—in western Massachusetts.
“They come here and live, work, and raise their families. So that’s three or four generations living and working and contributing to the area, now rich in Latinx culture,” she said.