Dr. Rolanda Ward, associate professor and endowed faculty director of the Rose Bente Lee Ostapenko Center for Race, Equity, and Mission at Niagara University, is among the outstanding women who were honored by the YWCA of the Niagara Frontier for their significant contributions to the Niagara and Erie communities and their efforts to empower women, eliminate racism, and promote peace, justice, freedom, and dignity for all. Dr. Ward received the Social Change Agent Award during the 2022 Niagara Awards: A Tribute to Women on Sept. 27, 2022.
Dr. Ward’s visionary and collaborative leadership with the Niagara Falls Health Equity Task Force, which includes more than 50 stakeholders from every sector of the community, has promoted social justice and the well-being of the Niagara Falls community during the coronavirus pandemic. She has ensured that the task force’s efforts are conducted within a JEDI (justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion) framework and a spirit of societal responsibility. Over the past two years, the task force has successfully reduced major health disparities exacerbated by COVID-19, educated the community about the vaccine, and ensured equitable access to testing, tracing, food, shelter and housing, medicine, vaccines, and other supplies for all members of the community, especially the underserved. This work has served as a model for similar initiatives throughout New York state.
Dr. Ward has also been a member of other pandemic-related task forces, including the Western New York COVID-19 Health Equity Advisory Hub, the Western New York COVID-19 Research Collaborative, and the Western New York Digital Equity Coalition.
Dr. Ward has worked to eliminate racism, disparities, and inequity through her roles as commissioner of the Employment and Workforce subgroup of the City of Niagara Falls Social Justice Commission, which was established after the murder of George Floyd, and as co-chair of Niagara University’s Identifying and Dismantling Racial Inequity Task Force, which was created to identify and map the experiences of BIPOC students, faculty, staff, and alumni across all sectors of the university.
Other community-focused endeavors include serving on the boards of Catholic Health System, Community Missions Inc., Aquarium of Niagara, Education Collaborative of WNY, Peaceprints, and Mentor NY. Dr. Ward has received several awards in recognition of her dedication to social change, including the Community Heroes Award from the National Federation for Just Communities WNY, Inc.; the Peace Education Award from the Western New York Peace Center; and the Service to Community Award from Niagara Organizing Alliance for HOPE.
Dr. Ward joined Niagara University in 2015 as an associate professor of social work and was appointed to lead the Ostapenko Center in August 2017. She earned her doctorate in social work and sociology from Boston University and has been the lead investigator or research associate on several studies focusing on society’s most vulnerable, underserved, and proven-risk populations, including BIPOC high school students, foster care youths, recent parolees, child welfare workers, and healthcare providers for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities. She recently was invited by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to provide testimony during a listening session focused on racial and economic justice in the workplace.
The Niagara Awards were established by the YWCA of Niagara board of directors in 1997 to publicly recognize and honor women who make significant contributions to the Niagara and Erie communities specific to the YWCA's mission of empowering women, eliminating racism, and promoting peace, justice, freedom, and dignity for all.