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UM Faculty and Students Honored at Annual Lavender Graduation

Brandi Hephner LaBanc, UM vice chancellor for student affairs, speaks to LGBTQ students at the Lavender Graduation earlier this month. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications.

For three years, the University of Mississippi has held a Lavender Graduation, an annual ceremony to acknowledge the achievements of LGBTQ and ally students. Thirty-one undergraduate and graduate students participated in this year’s ceremony, with each receiving lavender cords to wear at Commencement.

Besides the graduates, two members of the UM community were honored for their contributions and dedication to inclusiveness regarding the LGBTQ community.
Brandi Hephner LaBanc, vice chancellor for student affairs, and Robin Street, senior lecturer in journalism, were recipients of the Vicki Mahan Ally of the Year Award for their ongoing efforts to support inclusivity.
Hephner LaBanc was honored for her commitment to providing resources for LGBTQ students at Ole Miss. When she arrived at the university in 2012, Hephner LaBanc made sure inclusion was a priority, and other faculty took notice.
“Many folks at the university and in the community have worked to build a more supportive culture over the last five years, but none of that would have been possible with leadership in the Lyceum, leadership that began with her arrival,” said Jaime Harker, director of the Sarah Isom Center for Women and Gender Studies.
“Dr. Hephner LaBanc has empowered, supported and embraced the LGBTQ community here like she is one of us. Because of her leadership and empathy, she has helped to improve the lives of LGBTQ students at the University of Mississippi.”
In her leadership position, she created the Center for Inclusion and Cross Cultural Engagement, which works to create a supportive environment for all, including LGBTQ students. During Hephner LaBanc’s time at the university, she has supported events involving LGBTQ issues and rode in the Oxford Pride Parade last year.
Before the award presentation, Hephner LaBanc addressed the graduating students.
“This is an exciting time for each of you, and we’re here to celebrate how you’ve contributed to tremendous successes on campus, both personally and academically,” she said. “Please know that we stand with you now and as you transition to alums of the University of Mississippi.”

Robin Street, senior lecturer in journalism, is presented with the Vicki Mahan Ally of the Year Award by Kevin Cozart, operations coordinator at the Sarah Isom Center for Women and Gender Studies. Photo by Scott Fien

Street was honored for creating two student-led campaigns over the last seven years with the goal of changing perceptions and creating awareness of the importance of diversity.
“This award is deeply meaningful to me because my work in diversity topics has come from my heart,” Street said. “It is my sincere hope that my work has helped spread the message to approach each person with understanding, dignity, respect and inclusion and to just pause before stereotyping another person based on only one factor.”
Her first campaign, “Diversity Rocks!” began with the aim of celebrating all types of diversity but was created as a result of struggles of the LGBTQ community.
“In 2011, I learned that, nationally, several young men who were gay had killed themselves after being bullied,” Street said. “This upset me greatly and I asked myself how I could help prevent such a tragedy at the University of Mississippi? I remember thinking: What can I do here and now?”
Street turned to the one thing she knew best, her teaching specialty of public relations. The campaign included panel discussions featuring students, faculty, staff and alumni speaking about their own joys and struggles with their sexual orientation, race, mental health issues, religion or disability.
In 2017, she developed a new campaign “It Starts with (Me)ek” to emphasize there is both a responsibility as a journalism school and for each individual to create more awareness, listen to others and increase the scope of diversity. The weeklong campaign featured similar events to “Diversity Rocks,” allowing students to hear more firsthand experiences.
Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter spoke at the event and highlighted how this ceremony brings the UM Creed and the university’s core values to life by respecting the dignity of each person.
“Inclusion is a value that requires a certain degree of vigilance,” Vitter said. “It’s a commitment we must honor time and again. Occasions such as this event provide an opportunity to reaffirm our commitment. We must stay strong in supporting our LGBTQ+ community.
“I truly believe diversity makes our campus a more enlightened, more energizing and more valuable place. With your openness, and by being here today, you’re sharing a part of yourself with the greater community. I applaud you.”
The event was sponsored by the Center for Inclusion and Cross Cultural Engagement, Ole Miss Student Housing, the Isom Center, Office of Leadership and Advocacy, UM Pride Network, Queer People of Color, OUTGrad, OUTLaw and Ole Miss LGBTQ Alumni and Friends.
For more information about the University of Mississippi, visit https://news.OleMiss.edu or sign up for our RSS feed at https://rebs.ms/umnewsrss. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter at https://rebs.ms/UMsocial.


By Christina Steube
For more questions or comments email us at hottytoddynews@gmail.com

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