Diversity Initiatives at the University of Mississippi – Full Action Plan Update
The University of Mississippi is committed to being a leader and paving the way for diversity and inclusion for our university, our state, and the nation. The university’s history regarding race provides not only a larger responsibility for providing leadership on race issues, but also a larger opportunity; we have a unique responsibility to learn from the past to lead into the future.
The university’s success in improving diversity within the faculty and student body has been dramatic, and yet there is more to do. In 2014, under the leadership of then-chancellor Dan Jones, guided by recommendations from the 2013 expanded Sensitivity and Respect Committee, the university began an earnest and hard look at how to address race and related issues, as well as how to make our campuses more welcoming and inclusive. The result was the 2014 Action Plan.
The 2016 action plan update outlines the progress and actions the University has made in shaping a stronger and healthier university, bringing UM closer to the goal of being a welcoming place for every person every day, regardless of race, religious preference, country of origin, ability, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or gender expression.
Recommendation 1: The University of Mississippi should create a vice chancellor-level position for diversity and inclusion.
The position of vice chancellor for diversity and community engagement was established in 2014, and a national search for a recognized leader was initiated in late 2014. Eight semifinalists interviewed in 2015 did not meet the search committee’s criteria, and the search was closed. A national search was re-launched in February 2016 and is currently underway.
Recommendation 2: The University of Mississippi should establish a portfolio model of diversity and engagement.
The vice chancellor for diversity and community engagement will be responsible for working with the university community to establish a portfolio of diversity and engagement and to update the campus diversity plan.
Recommendation 3: The University of Mississippi must deal squarely with the issue of race while also addressing the other dimensions of diversity.
UM’s commitment to diversity including guiding statements, campus resources, and the UM Diversity Plan are featured at diversity.olemiss.edu. The University has created institutional programs to enhance diversity and diversity training among faculty, staff and students, to support all dimensions of diversity, and to assess and respond to campus climate concerns.
The University of Mississippi Diversity Plan, “Diversity Matters,” is a comprehensive, holistic diversity plan that aligns with the Institutions of Higher Learning (IHL) Diversity Plan and the UM Strategic Planning Council. The plan contains all of the IHL diversity goals and metrics (2013).
UM established the Center for Inclusion & Cross Cultural Engagement and hired a director after a national search. The center teaches skills to combat racism, homophobia, sexism and other forms of discrimination, and it has developed cultural competency training for faculty, staff and students to create a diverse learning and living environment on campus (fall 2014).
To incorporate an emphasis on racial climate and diversity into all aspects of university planning and assessment, the Strategic Planning Council and Office of the Provost include diversity and inclusion as a planning principle across all “Priorities of Excellence” in the UM 2020 Strategic Plan.
Efforts focused on minority student recruitment and retention include:
- The Mississippi Outreach to Scholastic Talent Mentoring Program hosts the MOST Conference for rising African-American high school seniors in Mississippi (and their parents). Held in summer 2015, the multiday summit focused on leadership development, ACT preparation and financial aid guidance. The goals are to prepare students to apply for, transition to and succeed in college. With a goal of attracting 120 rising seniors, the University of Mississippi welcomed and hosted more than 400 African-American high school students on campus in 2015. Each participant was paired with a peer mentor to guide him or her through the college transition process. The university held a MOST reunion on campus in November 2015. The 2016 MOST Conference will be held July 17-19.
- Ole Miss Opportunity (OMO) scholarship recipients now receive priority admission into FASTrack, a learning community with an eight-year record of success. This additional support has led to improved retention and success rates. From 2010 to 2013, 232 OMO recipients received FASTrack support. Their first-year, fall-to-fall retention rate was 87.9 percent. For those OMO recipients who did not receive FASTrack support, the retention rate during the same period was 78.7 percent. Based on such results, OMO recipients and other Pell-eligible students are being actively recruited into FASTrack.
- The Center for Inclusion and Cross Cultural Engagement implemented the African American Males: Enrolling, Retaining & Graduating (AAMERG) initiative to unite University of Mississippi faculty, staff and students through community outreach, mentoring, personal and professional development, and servant leadership. The goal of AAMERG is to strengthen recruiting, educating, retaining and graduating African-American males at the university.
- Each UM recruitment plan since 2013-14 includes goals to increase diversity among incoming freshmen and transfer students.
- UM admissions counselors have increased visits to high schools with high minority populations, providing financial aid materials that address concerns about the cost of higher education.
- The Health Careers Opportunity Program provides outreach and academic preparation through its pipeline programs offered for students in K-12, high school, college, and first-year medical and dental students.
- The Division of Multicultural Affairs at the Medical Center provides a pool of tutors year-round at no charge to assist any student who finds the professional learning environment challenging.
- The Medical Center’s Office of Academic Counseling works with students on an individual (or group) basis to help them maximize their academic potential through programs designed to meet the student’s special learning needs.
- The Medical Center’s chapter of the Minority Student Health Professional Association sponsors social and educational enrichment activities for minority students throughout the academic session to give members the opportunity to interact with role models.
- The Medical Center School of Nursing mentorship program provides students from different racial and ethnic backgrounds the opportunity to interact with and be mentored by practicing nurses with similar backgrounds. Participants gain invaluable insight into the nursing profession; receive the guidance and support of a seasoned RN; build the foundation for a lasting professional network; and gain a clearer understanding of academic and career plans.
The university has significantly improved diversity within the faculty and UM is now among the top three flagship universities in the nation in percentage of African American faculty members. UM supports faculty development efforts by offering workshops related to diversity and inclusion:
- The William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation provided a “lunch and learn” discussion for faculty members on teaching race and civility (fall 2014).
- Title IX and Violence Prevention Office staff led a Title IX workshop for faculty members (fall 2014).
- The Center for Inclusion and Cross Cultural Engagement led a workshop for faculty titled “Resources and Best Practices for Inclusion” (summer 2015).
The university has also focused on staff development and diversity training:
- UM Police Department (UPD) has employed additional diversity training within the department (100 percent compliance). UPD requires a “Hate vs. Bias Training” for all new officers and is developing new training with the Department of Justice related to transgender students.
- The Division of Student Affairs professional development committee hosted a workshop for staff members and graduate students titled “History of University Creeds in Higher Education and Incorporating the University of Mississippi Creed into Daily Practice.” This workshop provided the opportunity for professionals to think more deeply about how to further enhance our existing efforts on this front (December 2015).
- The Division of Student Affairs partnered with the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation and the Center for Inclusion and Cross Cultural Engagement to expand diversity training. Staff development training on cultural competency began with a focus on equity, diversity and inclusion based on professional competency subject matter established by the American College Personnel Association and the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators. It is the goal of the Division of Student Affairs to train every employee and graduate assistant every two to three years (fall 2013).
- The Department of Human Resources partnered with the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation, and University Communications to develop a new employee onboarding program titled “Welcome Home.” The Welcome Home program includes a one-hour presentation on the history of the university, including its commitment to racial reconciliation (summer 2013).
UM continues to make progress in creating a culture of research excellence related to race. A faculty group focused on UM’s history with slavery, the UM Slavery Group, was established in 2015 and the Office of the Provost has provided support for seed projects and research. The Office of the Provost and the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Sponsored Programs continue to support the work of the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation and the Critical Race Studies Group.
The University also continues to make great strides supporting other dimensions of diversity:
- The Sensitivity and Respect Committee serves as an immediate point of contact for any member of our University community who is subjected to actions or words that are in conflict with EEO anti-discrimination policy. The Committee receives and reviews any such complaints as well as considers proactive measures to encourage community harmony and emphasize the high value placed on respect for the dignity of individuals.
- The University established the LGBTQ Affairs Committee that provides counsel and makes recommendations to the Chancellor and Provost on University policies, programs, practices, and facilities as they impact or pertain to students, faculty, and staff who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer/questioning.
- The inaugural Pride Camp was held to provide networking opportunities and exposure to campus resources for students who are members of the LGBTQ community. The Sarah Isom Center for Women & Gender Studies, Department of Student Housing and Center for Inclusion and Cross Cultural Engagement partnered to host the event (summer 2015).
- The University established a new tradition by holding Lavender Graduation, a cultural celebration that recognizes LGBTQ students and acknowledges their achievements and contributions to the university as students who successfully navigated the college experience (spring 2016).
- UM student groups including UM Pride Network, in conjunction with the Sarah Isom Center for Women and Gender Studies organized the inaugural LOU Pride Weekend. LOU Pride Weekend is designed to create inclusive, welcoming spaces for The University of Mississippi’s LGBTQ student body and for Lafayette County and Oxford’s queer community (May 2016).
- The University of Mississippi Alumni Association Executive Committee formed the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender and Questioning Alumni and Friends Council in 2014. At the time of its formation, there were only three of its kind in the Southeastern Conference. The purpose is to welcome LGBTQ alumni and their allies, to provide opportunities for fellowship, and to create a safe space at the university for those who stay or return.
- The Chancellor’s Commission on the Status of Women consists of approximately 20 faculty, staff, and student members appointed by the Chancellor and charged with the duty of studying the status of women faculty, staff, and students.
UM has increased efforts to assess and respond to campus climate including
- In summer of 2013, UM created the Bias Incident Response Team to record and track all notifications of bias and determine whether an area needs additional attention because of observable patterns or repeated student or staff issues.
- The University of Mississippi invited all sophomores and juniors to participate in the Diverse Learning Environment Survey (DLES) and all freshmen and seniors to participate in the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) in spring 2014. Both the DLES and NSSE are planned to be given every three years (Diversity Matters, p. 89-96).
- The Division of Student Affairs solicits frequent data reports and monitors for trends that may indicate bias, drawing on monthly and semester reports from the University Police Department, Office of Conflict Resolution and Student Conduct and Office of the Dean of Students (Fraternity and Sorority Life).
- An in-depth analysis of all university publications and electronic content was completed to determine the degree to which communication demonstrated diversity and a welcoming environment. Of the 72 printed publications studied, 66 percent met criteria, 31 percent were identified as needing minor improvement and 2 percent showed a need for major improvement, reflecting little or no diversity in selected photography.
Recommendation 4: The University of Mississippi should consider a symbolic and formal dedication of all new students to the ideals of inclusion and fairness to which the university is devoted.
The UM Creed, established in 2003 as a compass and core values for the campus community, has been elevated further through a series of events and activities such as Respect the M, MPower, Creed Week, and Creed Justice. In addition to elevating the UM Creed as a foundational element, UM has enhanced curriculum and related training for all students.
- Respect the M is a mandatory orientation for all new students and parents developed to support the university’s efforts to promote a more inclusive and diverse campus climate. Respect the M has ten guiding principles that are incorporated into all educational and promotional materials: pay attention, acknowledge others, think the best, listen, be inclusive, be patient, speak kindly, don’t speak ill of others, do not harass people, and respect others’ opinions. The campaign originated during the 2013 freshman summer orientation as partial fulfillment of recommendations made by the Extended Sensitivity and Respect Committee.
- MPower is an optional, first-year summer program to instill appreciation for university culture, including the UM Creed, and for cultural differences and inclusivity. During the 3-day leadership development activities, participants learn about team-building skills, True Colors, and the Respect the M campaign. MPower promotes cultural awareness, appreciation and inclusion through understanding and implementation of the UM Creed.
- Creed Week is an annual celebration and affirmation of the values of the UM Creed that allows students to sign the UM Creed book and receive a personal copy
- Creed Justice is a form of restorative justice created to focus on values identified in the UM Creed. It involves all affected parties working together to hold offenders accountable for their actions. Offenders learn to accept and acknowledge responsibility, repair harm and build positive social ties to the community.
Curriculum and related training:
- The Division of Student Affairs enhanced the EDHE 105 curriculum and related training to educate students on matters related to diversity. The William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation and Center for Inclusion and Cross Cultural Engagement trained EDHE 105 faculty on LBGTQ issues; these efforts were aimed at developing a common curriculum that discusses race and sexuality in a uniform way throughout all sections (fall 2014).
- UM offers EDHE 305 for transfer students to learn more about UM’s history and commitment to inclusion (fall 2014).
- UM added a chapter to The Ole Miss Experience, the EDHE 105/305 textbook, titled “Living the Creed at the University of Mississippi.” Each student enrolled in EDHE 105/305 is given a copy of the Creed as a bookmark at the beginning of the semester (2014).
Recommendation 5: The University of Mississippi should offer more history, putting the past into context, telling more of the story of Mississippi’s struggles with slavery, secession, segregation and their aftermath.
Chancellor Vitter announced the formal establishment of the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on History and Context which will be charged with undertaking campus contextualization projects in a process that is transparent, inclusive, and aligned with the UM Creed (spring 2016). The Advisory Committee will recommend which sites should be contextualized, so as to better explain the environment in which they were created and how those environments compare to our core institutional values.
Changes to provide context and recognize diversity:
- The entrance of the newly named Manning Center was designated the Williams-Reed Foyer, recognizing Ben Williams and James Reed, the first two African-American football players at the university.
- Coliseum Drive was renamed “Chucky Mullins Drive,” honoring the heroic spirit of an African-American football player who battled against life-ending injuries sustained during a football game.
- Confederate Drive was renamed “Chapel Lane.”
- The university named the pond at the Sorority Row entrance to campus Silver Pond, after former University of Mississippi history professor, James “Jim” Silver. Silver taught history at Ole Miss from 1946-1957 and also wrote a number of books. In his most famous book “Mississippi: The Closed Society,” he discussed the racial customs in the South and mentioned James Meredith, the first African-American student who enrolled at Ole Miss. He became Meredith’s friend and advisor through the intense time of ridicule and death threats in the early 1960s.
- The university honored Will Campbell, civil rights activist and former director of religious life, by naming the plaza adjacent to the Paris-Yates Chapel in his honor.
- The university recognized Coolidge Ball, the first African-American student-athlete at the university, with a plaque at the front entrance of The Pavilion, the new basketball arena.
- The university will provide dedicated space in the newly renovated Student Union for the Black Student Union and National Pan-Hellenic Council.
- The National Pan-Hellenic Council Greek Garden will provide a visible presence and serve as a symbolic space for the nine African-American Greek organizations, as none of those organizations have properties on campus. This student-centered area will be a visible monument that represents important history and critical campus engagement opportunities (fall 2016).
- A four-person context committee developed a plaque to contextualize the Confederate statue at Lyceum Circle. The creation of the plaque was in response to a key recommendation of the 2014 action plan. The plaque contextualizes the environment in which the monument was created.
Recommendation 6: The University of Mississippi should consider the implications of calling itself “Ole Miss” in various contexts.
UM will continue to use Ole Miss as an endearing nickname. Data show that the term Ole Miss is broadly viewed as one of connection and affection, with strongly positive national (and international) recognition, and describing an esprit de corps that binds members of the UM community together. To be a member of the Ole Miss community means to effect positive change, challenge the status quo, protect and dignify the rights of every individual, and advance ideas that are innovative and transformational.
“Ole Miss” is one of the best-known college brands and those who view the university from a distance associate the term “Ole Miss” with a strong, vibrant, modern university. Additionally, anecdotal evidence shows the longstanding nickname is beloved by the vast majority of students and alumni.
Given that UM data analytics demonstrate the vast majority of Internet searches for information about the university use the term “Ole Miss,” not “University of Mississippi,” the university will continue the use of OleMiss.edu for the university website address and for email addresses. Those data indicate people use some form of “Ole Miss” 7-to-1 versus “University of Mississippi.”
Faculty members who prefer not to use “OleMiss.edu” in email addresses may use their personal email addresses for correspondence, and University Communications continues to offer a choice of stationery and name cards that includes “The University of Mississippi” without reference to the nickname.
Updated: June 2016