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UM Faculty, Staff Honored for Diversity Excellence

By Erin Garrett

University of Mississippi

James Meredith (left), who enrolled as the University of Mississippi’s first Black student in 1962, signs a copy of ‘James Meredith: Breaking the Barrier’ following the Honoring Diversity Excellence ceremony, a final event of the 60th anniversary of integration commemoration. The ceremony in the Ole Miss Student Union Ballroom honored faculty and staff achievements in diversity and inclusion. Photo by Srijita Chattopadhyay/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

University of Mississippi leaders and members of the campus community came together Tuesday (April 11) to honor faculty and staff achievements in the areas of diversity and inclusion.

The Honoring Diversity Excellence ceremony and reception came at the end of a yearlong commemoration of the 60th anniversary of integration, when James Meredith enrolled as the university’s first Black student.

Meredith sat in the crowd in the Ole Miss Student Union Ballroom as Chancellor Glenn Boyce gave opening remarks.

“It is fitting that today’s event serves as the culmination of these ceremonies and marks the milestone of our 60th anniversary of integration,” Boyce said. “Sixty years ago, one man took action that continues to shape our university, the state of Mississippi and our country. 

“The word ‘action’ matters – it wasn’t just words, it was real actions that shaped our university, our state of Mississippi and our country.

“Today we recognize and celebrate those in our campus community who continue to take significant actions in order for us to reach new heights of excellence. Your achievements, your contributions, honor the courage of this man.”

Shawnboda Mead, vice chancellor for diversity and community engagement, thanked the planning committee for its work over the course of the commemoration.

“It’s been an incredible year with a series of special events, honors and other commemorative activities,” Mead said. “As the 2022-23 academic year comes to an end, we close out this anniversary, but we will continue to celebrate the legacy of James Meredith – it does not end today. 

“We will continue year after year to pause and reflect upon the mission of one man. One man who had a profound and lasting impact on this university and beyond.”

The James H. Meredith Lecture Series will be held annually, where an outstanding undergraduate and graduate student will be presented with an institutional James H. Meredith Award. The award will foster innovative approaches to carry on Meredith’s legacy of courage, knowledge, perseverance and opportunity. Winners will receive a stipend for a project in the Lafayette-Oxford-University community. 

Numerous faculty and staff were presented with awards and acknowledged for their achievements over the 2022-23 academic year.

Anne Cafer, director of the Center for Population Studies, co-director of the Community First Research Center for Wellbeing and Creative Achievement and associate professor of sociology, received the Lift Every Voice award. The annual award recognizes an individual, group or entity that has contributed to the betterment of human relationships at the university.

Cafer was described as a professor, mentor and community advocate. She works in sub-Saharan Africa and the Mississippi Delta. Her research focuses include community resilience and systems integration with an emphasis on food and health systems.

Diversity Innovator Awards recognize faculty and staff who demonstrate a commitment to the advancement of diversity and inclusion, both at the university and beyond. This year’s recipients are E. Gray Flora, director of Grove Scholars; Valeria Ross, program manager for diversity, equity and inclusion in the College of Liberal Arts; and Edgar Serrano, lecturer in modern languages. 

Flora was also nominated for this year’s Institutions of Higher Learning Excellence in Diversity and Inclusion Award.

Multiple faculty and staff members were presented with Faculty Development Grants and Achieving Equity Grants. Lee Cohen, liberal arts dean, presented the James Meredith Changemaker Award finalists.

Awards concluded with recognition of faculty and staff members from historically underrepresented communities who received tenure, had been promoted or were celebrating significant accomplishments from the past year.

Ray Mabus, an Ole Miss alumnus, 75th secretary of the Navy and former Mississippi governor, was the afternoon’s keynote speaker. Mabus recently pledged to support the university’s Diversity and Community Engagement Fund during its annual Giving Day.

The Ackerman native told of his efforts to make the military more inclusive. He spoke of Meredith’s courage and addressed the civil rights icon directly.

“What is astonishing to me is that he took this incredible risk – risked his life – simply to be treated as a human being,” he said. “Simply to be treated with equality and fairness that should be afforded to everyone. What you did then had repercussions then that last to this day. In the state of Mississippi and the nation.

“We have to keep striving. We have to keep trying to live up to those ideals. Diversity is strength. Diversity is power. Every organization, every group is stronger and better when it is diverse.”

Jasmine Meredith, a UM alumna and James and Judy Meredith’s granddaughter, gave closing remarks.

“It is a treat and a pleasure to be back in Oxford alongside my grandparents, and it means so much more that I’m now an official alumna,” Meredith said. “It means so much to know that my grandfather is the reason why I have the opportunity to come to this university, or any university that I choose, to get an education.”

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