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LOU Community to Celebrate Oxford Pride Weekend and Lavender Graduation

Video courtesy of Savannah Woods, Kirsten Faulkner and NewsWatch Ole Miss.

The third annual Oxford Pride Weekend kicks off today, May 3, and more events, including drag shows, dance parties and a community parade are scheduled throughout the weekend.

Pride Weekend has become a joint project between the Sarah Isom Center for Women and Gender Studies and Out Oxford. The University of Mississippi is also hosting its third annual Lavender Graduation Ceremony on Friday, May 4. 
The ceremony is a special graduation to recognize LBGTQ community members for their contributions and achievements to their respective universities and is conducted across college campuses nationwide.
Dr. Ronni Sanlo, Director Emeritus of the UCLA Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Center, began the first Lavender Graduation after being denied access to her children’s graduation ceremonies because of her sexual orientation. The first ceremony was held at the University of Michigan and three students participated. By 2001, Lavender Graduation ceremonies spread to over 45 college campuses, and by spring of 2015, the University of Mississippi celebrated its first Lavender Graduation with 12 students.
Dr. Jaime Cantrell, program coordinator for the Center of Inclusion and Cross Cultural Engagement and faculty affiliate at the Sarah Isom Center for Women and Gender Studies, helped start Ole Miss’ first Lavender Graduation after teaching a queer theory course. During the course, Cantrell learned that many of her students identified with the LBGTQ community.
“That first year, we had 12 students honored,” Cantrell said. “The next year, we had 17 students registered. This year, the third annual Lavender Graduation Ceremony, we have 31.”
Cantrell is excited to see the number of students triple since the first ceremony, but she’s mostly looking forward to next year’s ceremony. She said the fourth ceremony will be the milestone ceremony because graduates will have spent four years at the university. 
Lavender Graduation isn’t as traditional as a typical graduation ceremony. It caters to those who are being honored and encourages the honorees to dress in attire that identifies with each of his or her individuality. 
“It can range from wearing business casual to feather boas,” Cantrell said. “And we encourage the expression of who you are.”
Each honoree is also given a lavender cord to wear at graduation along with a certificate.
For this year’s Lavender Graduation, Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter will deliver the ceremony greetings. This will be the first time for the chancellor to attend the Lavender Graduation.
“There is a lot of administrative support in recognizing the leadership successes and achievements of the LGBT students,” Cantrell said.
Two students will also be speaking at the ceremony. Regan Willis is the outgoing president of the university’s Pride Network, a student organization for LBGTQ students. Malik Pridgeon is the outgoing president of the university’s student organization, Queer People of Color (QPOP). 
Past alumni from the second annual Lavender Graduation will also be attending this year’s ceremony, which includes Victoria Bateman and Shan Williams.
“The Lavender Graduation celebrated and acknowledged my hard work in not only graduating from the university but also being out as transgender and bisexual,” Bateman stated in a blurb to the Center of Inclusion. “My mother never really acknowledged or supported me until she attended my Lavender Graduation with my friends and partner. I am forever grateful for the Lavender Graduation for giving me an opportunity to show her and the rest of the world how far I truly have come over the years, and that I am a completely different person from when I enrolled into the university.” 
Cantrell moved to Oxford soon after the incident in October of 2013, when Ole Miss students disrupted a production of The Laramie Project, a play focused on the murder of an openly gay student of the University of Wyoming, Matthew Shepard.
Cantrell said she realized there was still a need for inclusion and acceptance for the LBGTQ community at the university.
“I think it was important that the Center for Inclusion was established at the same time [of the event],” Cantrell said. “Although the Center for Inclusion has only been here for four years, which is still relatively new, the first signature program that the [university] developed to meet the needs of LGBTQ students is nothing short of admirable.”
The Center for Inclusion not only hosts the Lavender Graduation for LGBTQ students, but it also provides a Pride Camp to incoming freshmen.
“I think the Center for Inclusion is really thinking about the entirety of the students’ college experience, from when they come in as freshmen to when they go out as a senior,” Cantrell said.
The center also has a newly formed LGBTQ Alumni Association to allow students another way to invest into the university.
Last fall the center also hosted its first LGBTQ luncheon which allowed students to network and stay involved between Pride Camp and Lavender Graduation. 
“This was an opportunity to bring everyone back together again,” said Adam Sullivan, graduate assistant for the Center of Inclusion. “[It’s] connecting students without identified staff.”
The Center for Inclusion and Cross Cultural Engagement’s Lavender Graduation will be held at 4 p.m. tomorrow, May 4, in the Ole Miss Student Union Ballroom. 
Those wishing to participate or attend can register or R.S.V.P. at https://inclusion.olemiss.edu.
For more information related to disability accommodations, call 662-915-1689 or email inclusion@olemiss.edu.

By Talbert Toole, associate editor of HottyToddy.com. He can be reached at talbert.toole@hottytoddy.com.

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