The Emily Taylor Center honored 16 individuals Tuesday night for their role in defining masculinity and making a positive contributions to the University and community.

The Men of Merit awards were presented by English professor Darren Canady and Mauricio Gomez Montoya, the associate director for academic enrichment programs in the Office of Multicultural Affairs.

“The nomination process stems around peers in the institution recognizing the work of male identified individuals who are doing work to challenge masculinity norms and toxic behaviors,”  Gomez Montoya said.

The Men of Merit award was created by former Kansas football player Gary Green in 2009. The Emily Taylor Center for Women and Gender Equity sponsors and coordinates the program according to a University press release. Individuals can be nominated through a peer or staff member, Gomez Montoya said after the event.

One of the honorees, Juan Pablo Marroquin, senior from Houston, Texas said it was a humbling experience.

“It's incredible. Like I've told other people, so many individuals at KU have inspired me and have guided me in my four years here and to be even honored with these other individuals it's just amazing. It’s an amazing feeling and they’re making KU and better place, a place I love so it's a wonderful feeling,” Marroquin said.

Harrison Baker, senior from Topeka, Kansas, wanted the audience to understand that masculinity is fluid.

“Masculinity is oftentimes seen as something that exists fully within the bounds the society says what it is. And that's not true,” Baker said. “It is up to those individuals who identify in a masculine way to change perceptions about masculinity as well as those outside of masculinity also changing those perspectives as well.”

Approximately 60 attendees were present at the award ceremony. The emcees, Canady and Gomez Montoya, traded off introductions for the men who were recognized.

The final award was given posthumously to Chris Sowa, a former interim associate director for residence life with Student Housing who passed away in January 2016.

Sowa’s parents accepted his award. Betty Sowa, his mother, thanked the crowd.

“I want to thank everyone that has shown us so much love and support,” Betty Sowa said. “I want to say that as much as you loved Chris he loved all of you. He was just so proud and happy to be apart of this community and we love you too.”

— Edited by Brenna Boat