Center for Inclusion Creates Lasting Impact for Graduating Seniors

CICCE celebrates four years of service to students

UM students participate in the CICCE’s Celebration of Achievement, a graduation ceremony for students from historically underrepresented populations. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – During their college careers, many students find an organization, resource or mentor that influences the person they become and affects them both academically and personally. For several of this year’s graduates, the University of Mississippi’s Center for Inclusion and Cross Cultural Engagement served as all three.

The CICCE was established in 2014 to provide services that foster an inclusive campus environment. The students graduating this year were freshmen when the center first opened, and it became a haven to them for mentorships and conversations.

“The class of 2018 is especially special to me, as many of the undergraduates were only freshmen when the CICCE opened during the fall 2014 semester,” said Shawnboda Mead, the center’s director. “Four years later, the center has contributed to the university’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, yet I know there is still more work to be done.

“My hope is that with each class, we will continue to see progress towards making the university a more welcoming place for all students.”

The center’s mission is to create open and continuous communication to deepen the understanding of self-identity and the identity, culture and heritage of others for all students. The center’s staff also works to create a space that is nurturing and welcoming for students from historically underrepresented groups.

Over the last four years, the center has assisted with growth and retention of underrepresented students. In 2016, UM’s retention rate for African-American students was more than 85 percent. This rate was the highest among institutions in Mississippi and higher than the Southern University Group average.

The center also has developed programs and leadership initiatives for underrepresented students and hosted events to promote cross-cultural interactions among the entire student population. Among the most successful of those programs is the Mississippi Outreach to Scholastic Talent Mentoring program, a partnership with the Office of Admissions that pairs incoming freshman and high school seniors of color with an upperclassman mentor.

The annual MOST Conference, held each summer for high school seniors, aims to expose prospective African-American students to academic offerings, campus resources and leadership opportunities. The conference has grown each year, and more than 850 students have applied for this year’s event, scheduled for July.

Terrence Johnson graduates with a degree in journalism from the Meek School of Journalism and New Media. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communication

Of students attending MOST in 2015 and 2016, about 30 percent enrolled at Ole Miss.

Hundreds of students have volunteered to serve as mentors in MOST, as well as other leadership programs including UM CONNECT, which matches African-American, Latin American, Native American, Asian-American, multiracial and first-generation college students with a mentor.

The African American Males Enrolling Retaining Graduating Initiative provides mentoring, community outreach, and personal and professional development opportunities for students. The Inclusion Team of Peer Diversity Educators allows any student to volunteer as an advocate for diversity, multiculturalism and social justice.

“The participation of students has been instrumental in allowing our small staff to expand our reach across the campus and fulfilling our mission,” Mead said.

The CICCE, in collaboration with campus partners, also hosted a Lavender Graduation for the last three years to celebrate the achievements of LGBTQ students. The center also develops programs for Black History Month, Women’s History Month, Hispanic Heritage Month, LGBT History Month and Native American Heritage Month, among other celebrations.

Students who entered the university during the center’s inaugural year have directly benefitted from those services during their time at Ole Miss.

Terrence Johnson, broadcast journalism major and African American studies minor from Shuqualak, said the center eased his transition into university life and allowed him to participate as a MOST mentor.

“The center was the first place that I was able to call home,” he said. “It was one of the best things that happened to me because it gave me the privilege to invest in students like I had been invested in.

“I know that through this position, it led to other opportunities on campus that really solidified my undergrad experience. I am so thankful for the center and everyone who’s a part of being a change agent for our campus. The center changed me.”

Nekkita Beans, social work major from Philadelphia and outgoing president of the Black Student Union, said the center was the backbone of her UM experience.

“As a freshman, I struggled to find my footing as a black student who attended a predominantly white high school and now a predominantly white institution,” she said. “I did not know what it meant to be too black or not black enough.”

That year, the CICCE took a group of students to the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, which filled Beans with many different emotions: rage, happiness, sadness and pride. After the trip, Mead and Melinda Sutton Noss, assistant vice chancellor for student affairs, sat down with students to discuss their experiences over dinner.

“The center has always had a way of bringing upper-level school administrators down to the table with students,” Beans said. “That is something that I have always admired about that place.

“With my newly found black pride in tow, I boldly marched into sophomore year more comfortable and confident than the previous year.”

Beans also developed a home at the center, where she had daily conversations about race, pop culture, campus climate and current events. She said these conversations allowed her to learn much more beyond the classroom.

Caitlynn Hamilton, a 2018 UM graduate, credits the CICCE with teaching her best practices for inclusion. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

“One of the biggest lessons that I have come to learn through the CICCE is the importance of intersectionality,” she said. “The center is a place where all aspects of identity is explored. 

“Having this space equipped me with the confidence and tools that I needed to address injustice, inequality and ignorance within my community and on campus.”

The CICCE serves as the advising office for the Black Student Union. This is just one way the university has shown that it values and respects students of color, Beans said.

“We are able to mentor other students of color as they enter and matriculate at the University of Mississippi,” she said. “This shows that the University of Mississippi is willing to truly invest in the success of its students. I have no doubt that this is the direct result of the CICCE.”

Besides providing resources to underrepresented students, the center also has shaped the way students view peers of different backgrounds.

For Caitlynn Hamilton, a general studies major from Hernando, the center was a turning point in understanding her own privilege and the lack of opportunity for underrepresented populations.

“Being a part of the iTeam has allowed me to learn many different strategies for best practicing inclusion, but also how to break those ideas down for the students we present to,” she said.

Being involved with the center shaped Hamilton into a person who cares about students on a deeper level and has led her to pursue a career as a student affairs professional, she said.

“I think the center’s impact in my life is reflected in my friend group as well, considering not a single one of them is just like me,” Hamilton said. “I have found comfort in being uncomfortable at this university, because of the center’s work in challenging me to find differences and embrace them.”

For more information about the center and its resources, visit

Alumna Begins Endowment to Rename Magazine Innovation Center

Amy Lyles Wilson seeks to name the unit after journalism professor Samir Husni

UM journalism professor Samir Husni launched the Magazine Innovation Center in 2009. In honor of his years of work, former student Amy Lyles Wilson has started an endowment to rename the center for her mentor and friend. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – University of Mississippi alumna Amy Lyles Wilson is working to raise $100,000 to rename the Magazine Innovation Center at the Meek School of Journalism and New Media for the center’s longtime director and journalism professor Samir Husni.

A former student of Husni’s, Wilson wants to rename the foundation of the university’s magazine program to the Samir “Mr. Magazine” Husni Magazine Innovation Center in honor of the professor’s years of service and dedication to his students.

Wilson’s family donated an initial $55,000 gift to support the effort, and she’s inviting others to contribute through the Ignite Ole Miss crowdfunding platform to reach a $100,000 goal. Just over $76,000 has been contributed thus far, and Wilson is hoping more of Husni’s friends, colleagues, and current and former students will pay tribute to his legacy on campus.

Wilson earned an M.A. in journalism in 1986 after enrolling in the program following a discouraging semester in another field.

“I dragged myself across the parking lot to Farley Hall and, thankfully, Will Norton took pity on me and the department granted me provisional admission, as I needed to take the GRE,” she said. “He told me to check out a class with ‘the new guy,’ who turned out to be Samir Husni. At that point, everything shifted.” 

Husni joined the UM journalism faculty in 1984 and has become known as the world’s leading magazine expert. Besides teaching, he continues to be a practitioner in the magazine industry by offering consultation and insight to new magazines.

In 2009, he created the Magazine Innovation Center to link the greatest minds in the industry with future industry leaders: Ole Miss students.

“I am humbled and honored,” Husni said. “I am thankful to Amy Lyles Wilson for starting this, and I’m proud to be serving Ole Miss magazine students since 1984.”

Since Wilson’s time in his classroom, she and Husni have become friends and peers, working together to publish his “Launch Your Own Magazine” book and supporting young people who dream of careers in magazine journalism.

“The magazine program has come a long way since a handful of us gathered in Samir’s classroom for his inaugural semester back in 1984, unsure of who he was or just what he was offering,” she said. “Even then, though, before he became world-renowned and tagged as ‘Mr. Magazine,’ it was obvious that Samir had an abiding interest in his students.”

Husni set the foundation for Wilson’s career, she said. Since earning her degree from Ole Miss, she has written for magazines, published books and developed communications materials for nonprofits. Wilson has co-authored or contributed to eight books, and her work has appeared in a variety of publications as well as on National Public Radio.

Wilson earned a master’s degree in theology from Vanderbilt University’s Divinity School and works as a story coach and spiritual director in Nashville, Tennessee. She teaches throughout the South and at the Chautauqua Institution in New York, and has served as adjunct professor and writer-in-residence at the Earlham School of Religion in Indiana.

“I couldn’t have crafted a better life for myself,” she said. “And I couldn’t have done it as readily without Samir and the journalism folks opening up such a versatile world to me. And I know they’ve done it for many others as well.”

Wilson said she believes society will always need talented, skilled communicators, whether online or off, in print or digital, and she wants to help Husni prepare them for years to come with this endowment.

Individuals and organizations can contribute to the fund at Checks can be mailed to the University of Mississippi Foundation, with the name of the fund noted in the check’s memo line, at 406 University Ave., Oxford, MS 38655.

For more information, contact Jason McCormick, development director for the journalism school, at or 662-915-1757.

UM Hosts Old-Time Piano Playing Contest Memorial Day Weekend

Competition features styles ranging from ragtime to jazz and blues

Four-time champion Adam Swanson is set to co-emcee this year’s World Championship Old-Time Piano Playing Contest and Festival, which begins Thursday (May 24). Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi and the city of Oxford will host the 44th annual World Championship Old-Time Piano Playing Contest and Festival this weekend.

The comprehensive competitions, which run through Sunday (May 27), feature pianists ages 11 to 81 from the United States, Great Britain and France performing styles including ragtime, traditional jazz and blues.

Competitors dress in period costumes and compete for cash prizes and trophies in their respective divisions. The contest has awarded more than $50,000 in prizes to more than 500 pianos players in the United States and five foreign countries.

Besides the competitive events, the weekend includes workshops, guest artist performances, an old-time singalong, a silent movie luncheon with live piano accompaniment, a guided tour of the UM Blues Archive, a double-decker bus tour of Oxford and catered events with guest pianists.

“There are no other contests like this one,” said Ian Hominick, UM associate professor of music. “It is keeping alive a tradition of music-making.”

The weekend kicks off Thursday (May 24) with The Tune-ups Party at the Powerhouse Community Arts Center. All other after-hours events will take place at the Chancellor’s House hotel on the Oxford Square.

Pianist Julie McClarey is performing at this year’s competition as a guest artist. Submitted photo

The contest and festival began in 1975 as a fundraiser for the Monticello Railway Museum in Illinois. The mission of the event was to educate the public about ragtime melodies and other music written before the 1930s.

The competition moved to Oxford three years ago, thanks to the efforts of Hominick. Between 300 and 500 people attend the variety of events throughout the weekend.

“I think it is important to remember one’s musical roots,” Hominick said. “All art forms are a unique blend of what came before and will influence musical genres that come after.

“This style of music is a unique blend of influences from the Sousa marching band, African-American spirituals, blues, traditional jazz and ragtime.”

All events are family-friendly and are set at Nutt Auditorium in the Ole Miss Music Building unless otherwise noted. All-event passes are available for $190, which includes all contests, workshops and catered events. Day passes are $30 and single-event tickets are available for varied prices.

For more information and a full schedule of events, visit

Faculty and Students Honored at Annual Lavender Graduation

Vice chancellor and journalism lecturer receive Vicki Mahan Ally of the Year Awards

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

OXFORD, Miss. – 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.”

Brandi Hephner LaBanc, UM vice chancellor for student affairs, is the recipient of this year’s Vicki Mahan Award for her efforts to make Ole Miss more inclusive for LGBTQ students. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communication

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.”

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.

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

“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.

Students Win Journalism Awards at Various Conferences

More than 50 honors in regional competition include work in newspaper, TV, radio and online

UM students, along with Patricia Thompson (left), assistant dean of student media show off the recognitions they received for their work at the Southeastern Journalism Conference at Harding University. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – University of Mississippi students earned more than 50 awards in three regional contests this spring for their outstanding work in newspaper, television, radio and online journalism.

“The Student Media Center is one of the best recruiting tools for the university and the Meek School,” said Patricia Thompson, assistant dean for student media and an assistant professor of journalism. “We have students from every classification, from freshmen to graduate students, working in our vibrant newsroom every afternoon. 

“They get a chance to develop communications skills and they learn to work with others to produce award-winning journalism. They love it. They are passionate about providing our campus community with news and information they won’t get anywhere else.”

The Southeastern Journalism Conference, held this year at Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas, featured more than 200 participants from 28 colleges and universities in seven states. UM was named Grand Champion at the conference for on-site competitions, where 15 students had to produce content on a deadline.

In the SEJC Best of the South competition, Ole Miss students won 17 awards, including first places for Abbie McIntosh, a junior from Cypress, Texas in the television news reporting category, and for Thomas DeMartini, a senior from Flowood, and Austin Hille, senior from Boise, Idaho, in the broadcast commercial category.

The Daily Mississippian won first place for best all-around daily newspaper and best affiliated website in the Society of Professional Journalists Mark of Excellence competition. The SPJ region includes universities in Mississippi, Arkansas, Tennessee and Louisiana.

“I’m so proud of The Daily Mississippian team and the other student media staff members that earned top honors this past year,” said DM editor-in-chief Lana Ferguson, a senior from Mechanicsville, Virginia. “So many of us put hard work in every day and we don’t do it for awards, but it’s always a great feeling to be recognized.

“The student journalists at Ole Miss are creating high-quality content, and I’m glad it’s getting the attention it deserves.”

Clara Turnage and Malachi Shinault, both 2017 UM graduates from New Hebron and Booneville, respectively, took home first-place awards in all three competitions for their online feature package of text, photo, video and audio published on about activist Correl Hoyle as he prepared for graduation last spring.

Other students who won first-place awards from SPJ are:

  • Devna Bose, senior from Philadelphia, for feature writing
  • Marlee Crawford, senior from Oxford, for breaking news photography
  • Lauren Layton, senior from Huntsville, Alabama, for online/digital feature videography
  • Jules Marcantonio, senior from Franklin, Tennessee, for television general news reporting
  • Ariyl Onstott, 2017 UM graduate from Carriere, for online news reporting
  • Jake Thrasher, senior from Birmingham, Alabama, for editorial cartoons

All first-place winners will compete against winners in the 11 other regions of SPJ for national titles, which will be announced later this month.

In the Louisiana-Mississippi Associated Press Contest, the student news broadcast NewsWatch Ole Miss took home first place for its Dec. 1, 2017 newscast, which included coverage of the NCAA sanctions announced that day.

“Our students dedicate so much time into the show and providing our audience with the top news of the day, and to be recognized for that day-in and day-out hard work makes it all worth it,” said Abbie McIntosh, NewsWatch manager. “I’m honored to have received some awards on top of what NewsWatch won. It makes me happy to know people think our work is good.”

Matthew Hendley and Joseph Katool, from Madison and Jackson, were awarded first place in the Associated Press contest for their radio coverage of NCAA sanctions.

Ferguson took home first-place honors from the AP for her feature story about an Oxford church helping a Texas community rebuild after Hurricane Harvey.

Other students who won first place in the AP and SEJC competitions are:

  • Devna Bose, arts and entertainment writing, SEJC
  • Lana Ferguson, feature writing, AP
  • Alana Mitius, freshman from Olive Branch, for radio feature, AP
  • Ethel Mwedziwendira, senior from McKinney Texas, for current events, SEJC
  • Marlee Crawford, sports photography, SEJC

Second- and third-place winners and finalists representing Ole Miss are:

  • Grant Gaar, senior from Walnut, finalist for television feature reporting, SPJ
  • Hayden Benge, junior from Tulsa, Oklahoma, design, SEJC
  • Marisa Morrissette, senior from Oxford, media history/ethics/law, SEJC
  • Clifton Carroll, senior from Yazoo City, public relations, SEJC
  • DeAndria Turner, sophomore from Gauter, radio reporting, SEJC; radio sports, AP; radio journalist SEJC
  • Matthew Hendley, TV anchoring, SEJC
  • Lana Ferguson, feature writing and news writing, SEJC
  • Erin Pennington, sophomore from Fulton, radio feature, SEJC
  • Madison Heil, 2017 graduate from Mandeville, Louisiana, journalism research paper, SEJC
  • Jake Thrasher, DM editorial cartoonist, SEJC
  • Ethel Mwedziwendira, newspaper layout and design, AP
  • Lana Ferguson and Clara Turnage, breaking news, AP
  • Abbie McIntosh and Marlee Crawford, documentary, AP
  • Italiana Anderson, senior from Ridgeland, radio news, AP

UM Professor Awarded Fellowship at The Huntington Library

Jaime Harker to spend a month this summer working on research in California

UM professor Jaime Harker is set to participate in a monthlong fellowship this summer at The Huntington Library in San Marino, California. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Jaime Harker, an English professor and director of the Sarah Isom Center for Women and Gender Studies at the University of Mississippi, will participate in a monthlong fellowship this summer at The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens in California.

Harker was among four individuals appointed as a Christopher Isherwood Foundation Fellow. She was chosen from 125 applicants, 60 of whom received awards of some kind.

Isherwood was an English-American author of novels, plays and screenplays, among other texts. As a gay man, Isherwood was interested in the role of sexuality in identity and culture, and he explored this in his novels and essays. Born in northern England in 1904, Isherwood became a citizen of the United States in 1946 and died at his home in Santa Monica, California, in 1986.

“I have never been able to spend a full month at an archive, so this gives me a remarkable opportunity to uncover material that hasn’t been analyzed and discussed before,” Harker said. “I feel very fortunate.”

Her project proposal, titled “Pacific Rimming: Christopher Isherwood, Queer Expatriatism and Cold War Orientalism,” will build on Isherwood’s critique of queer orientalism through a case study of his spiritual and intellectual commitments and how his critique coexisted with sexual colonialism and Eurocentric revulsion. The project will explore how this influenced his writings and persona.

Harker was initially interested in Isherwood because of his conversion to Hinduism and how that allowed him to reconcile his spirituality and sexuality. She wrote a book about Isherwood titled “Middlebrow Queer: Christopher Isherwood in America.”

“I look forward to going back to Isherwood’s complicated relationships to the Pacific Rim, both as a sex tourist and a Hindu convert, to consider the ways these connected and informed his writing, identity as a gay man and identity as a religious devotee,” she said. “I think the ongoing question of how to reconcile one’s spirituality and sexuality is particularly germane, especially for my LGBTQ students, and I like the idea of adding Isherwood to the larger conversation.”

The Huntington, in San Marino, California, is a collections-based research and educational institution that provides scholars with access to a collection of rare books, manuscripts, photographs, maps, paintings, prints, sculptures and other decorative arts.

Harker will begin her research there by looking through diaries, drafts and correspondence with gay men to find unexpected topics of discussion. She is hoping to also review photographs and home movies housed in the archives.

She was recommended to The Huntington by Chris Freeman, English professor at the University of Southern California.

“Jaime Harker’s work on Isherwood and mid-20th century popular culture is simply brilliant: groundbreaking, original and resourceful,” Freeman said. “In ‘Middlebrow Queer,’ she used archival material, including fan mail, to assess Isherwood’s readership.

“Her new work, drawn from her talk at a recent Huntington conference on Isherwood, will be published in ‘Isherwood in Transit.’ These are major contributions to our thinking about Isherwood and his world.”

For more information about The Huntington, visit

Creative Writing Director Honored For Commitment to Inclusivity

Derrick Harriell receives Excellence in Promoting Inclusiveness in Graduate Education Award

The UM Graduate School has honored creative writing director Derrick Harriell with the Excellence in Promoting Inclusiveness in Graduate Education Award. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi Graduate School has honored Derrick Harriell, assistant professor of English and African American studies, for his contributions to inclusivity in education.

Harriell, who also directs the university’s Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program, is the recipient of the Excellence in Promoting Inclusiveness in Graduate Education Award. Through his teaching in the undergraduate and graduate levels, Harriell ensures that he includes materials in his lessons that spark conversations about historically overlooked and marginalized communities.

“I’m comfortable having the tough conversations and always try to create an environment where my students’ voices and perspectives are appreciated and heard,” he said. “To receive this award is an extremely high honor and really illustrates the ways that my work and dedication to our program is recognized.”

The professor was recognized during the Graduate School’s hooding ceremony Friday (May 11) at the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts.

The university’s graduate program is widely publicized through word of mouth by successful students and through social media recruitment, Harriell said, adding that he wants prospective students to know their opinions will be valued.

“I’m committed to our diversity and inclusiveness goals and maintain a heightened awareness of how we can always work to better attract the brightest graduate students from all over the world,” he said. “This recognition is really one for our students and our fine M.F.A. faculty here at the University of Mississippi.

“Moving our program forward has and will always be a collective undertaking. I’m thrilled to work with so many wonderful individuals.”

Beth Ann Fennelly, English professor and the university’s previous M.F.A. director, built an inclusive program to attract students from around the world to study creative writing, said Ivo Kamps, chair of the Department of English. Harriell has continued to build on that foundation, he said.

“Professor Harriell is not only a talented and accomplished poet, but he’s also a great mentor to our students and an energetic and creative leader of our M.F.A. program,” Kamps said. “He has done an incredible job leading the M.F.A. program and making it the diverse and inclusive program it must be.”

Students and Faculty Spend the Night on Rowan Oak Grounds

Joseph McGill, founder of the Slave Dwelling Project, leads group in discussion and reflection

UM students and faculty participate in a discussion of slavery, segregation and racism on the grounds of Rowan Oak before staying overnight in the old kitchen, behind the house. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Ten University of Mississippi students and two professors spent a night recently in sleeping bags in the old kitchen behind Rowan Oak, home of Nobel Prize-winning author William Faulkner, as part of the Slave Dwelling Project.

The project’s founder, Joseph McGill, has worked for nearly a decade to identify and assist property owners, government agencies and organizations to preserve existing slave dwellings.

“We as a nation like to preserve buildings, especially antebellum buildings,” McGill said. “People aren’t as interested in preserving the buildings that housed slaves because they take us out of our comfort zones.

“When the buildings exist, it is harder to deny the existence of the people who once inhabited them.”

McGill hopes that by bringing awareness to these dwellings and partnering with historians, students, faculty and the general public, a more complete story of history, one that includes African-Americans, can be told.

A descendent of slaves himself, McGill has stayed overnight at more than 100 slave dwellings in 16 states to create a conversation and try to imagine what life was like for the enslaved people living on plantations across the country.

“The most valuable and powerful part of these sleepovers is the conversation about slavery and the legacy left today on this nation,” he said.

The students and faculty began their evening in Adirondack chairs set in a circle to discuss racial problems in the U.S., segregation and racism.

“A lot of schools don’t talk about these topics and though we’ve come so far as a nation, there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done,” said Akim Powell, sophomore journalism major from Long Beach. “I’d like to see more projects like these to educate the public about what others have been through.”

The group stayed in the old kitchen in sleeping bags on the floor as the temperature dropped into the mid-40s overnight and all elements of nature awaited just outside a layer of brick.

Joseph McGill (center), founder of the Slave Dwelling Project, and UM students and faculty prepare to spend the night in the old kitchen behind Rowan Oak. McGill’s mission is to help preserve the structure to add to the historic narrative of enslaved people. UM photo by Christina Steube

Powell developed an interest in the experiences of enslaved people when he worked on a project for a history course, “The Rise and Fall of American Slavery, 1619-1877.” The project involved looking through census records of his ancestors.

“It only inspired me to learn more,” he said. “These slaves were strong people. I don’t know that I could’ve personally survived living in these conditions for a long period of time.”

The sleepover offered students an opportunity to engage in meaningful conversation around slavery and its legacy, said Anne Twitty, an associate professor of history who participated in the activity.

“It was really inspiring to watch my students share their experiences as white and black Southerners so respectfully,” Twitty said. “Although white Americans tend to think that conversations about slavery and race are necessarily uncomfortable, the reality is that a willingness to listen goes a long way.

“Being able to acknowledge the extent to which slavery and enslaved people made our state and our nation is absolutely vital to the process of moving forward together in a productive way. We can’t do that unless we’re honest, and being honest entails speaking frankly about the damage that was done by slavery, slaveholders and white supremacy.”

The UM Slavery Research Group collaborated with other departments on campus, including the Center for the Study of Southern Culture, to bring McGill to campus. The research group is working to identify enslaved people in north Mississippi to discover more about their daily lives.

Last year, Ole Miss anthropology students excavated part of the grounds at Rowan Oak near the plantation’s pre-Faulkner slave dwelling, known as the old kitchen.

For more information about the UM Slavery Research Group, visit To learn more about the Slave Dwelling Project, visit

Journalism Professor Honored by Professional Association

Debora Wenger recognized for her service to journalism education

Debora Wenger

OXFORD, Miss. – University of Mississippi journalism professor Debora Wenger has been honored for her service to journalism education by the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication.

The association’s Electronic News Division has chosen Wenger as a recipient of the 2018 Larry Burkum Service Award. Wenger is an associate professor of journalism and assistant dean for innovation and external partnerships at the Meek School of Journalism and New Media.

Besides her roles at the university, Wenger is a trainer for the Society of Professional Journalists through its partnership with the Google News Initiative, and she has educated journalists around the country.

“For me, personally, this award is recognition that the academy values work that is focused on supporting and maintaining quality journalism,” Wenger said. “I love teaching and I love staying connected to the many great journalists who work hard to keep our communities and our country informed about issues that matter. It’s an honor to be recognized for service to this vital profession.”

A former reporter, anchor and news manager at numerous television stations, Wenger focuses on multimedia journalism practice and education. She regularly contributes research findings to academic and professional publications on the topic.

Wenger has taught journalism courses at Ole Miss since 2009.

“The Meek School has many faculty who focus on work that helps make our teaching and our disciplines stronger,” she said. “Whether it’s research into best practices, training for practitioners or turning out graduates who are job-ready, our school values those contributions.

“This award offers outside recognition that strong industry ties are vital to successful journalism and communication programs everywhere.”

Wenger is being honored alongside Deborah Potter, founding director of NewsLab and former correspondent, anchor and program host at CBS, CNN, PBS and local television and radio stations. NewsLab, an online journalism training center, was transferred to the operation of the UM journalism school last year.

“Dr. Wenger has been a crucial player in the development of the Meek School,” said Will Norton, the school’s dean. “She has used her network of professionals and academics to enhance the reputation of the Meek School and its faculty. She sets rigorous standards in the classroom and works diligently to support faculty.”

The award is named for Larry Burkum, who served as the association’s secretary, newsletter editor and webmaster from 1995 to 2005. The Electronic News Division will honor Wenger and Potter in August in Washington, D.C., at the AEJMC annual conference.

Registration Open for UM Museum Summer Camps

Weeklong sessions available for children from preschool to middle school

Elementary school students create their own artwork in a summer camp at the UM Museum. Registration is open for a variety of weeklong camps. Photo by Nathan Latil/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Registration is open for a series of educational day camps for children of all ages throughout June and July at the University of Mississippi Museum.

Each weeklong camp session is broken into age groups to teach children about art, art history and the museum while allowing them to create their own works of art inspired by exhibitions in the galleries. For museum members at the Family level or above, the cost per week is $65 for each participant. For nonmembers, the cost is $85.

“Summer is an exciting time, but it’s also a time where many children face summer learning loss,” said Emily McCauley, curator of education. “Our goal at the museum is to engage children through art and educational experiences to combat that learning loss in a fun and innovative way.”

The camps are not just for Oxford residents, but also for other children who visit family members in Oxford during the summer months.

“Our camps provide a fun, enriching morning activity during their visit” McCauley said.

Here is the full schedule of camps:                            

For Children in Preschool and Entering Kindergarten

Mini Masters Explorer Camp, 9-11 a.m. June 25-29 – This camp for ages 3 to 5 allows children to create their own masterpieces inspired by museum art and toddler stories. All children much be accompanied by an adult, but one guardian can supervise multiple children. Coffee and snacks will be provided for parents and guardians.

For Children Entering Grades 1-5

Art from the South, 9 a.m. to noon June 4-7 – Students will learn about historical and modern artists from the American South and will create art inspired by the work of those artists.

People, Places and Things in Art, 9 a.m. to noon June 11-15 – Besides learning about the museum’s collections and experimenting with painting, sculpture and other art forms, students will learn about nouns in art.

Art Discovery: Science and Animals, 9 a.m. to noon June 18-22 – Each day will begin with a science experiment and students will create their own works inspired by chemistry, biology, space and other areas of science.

Myths, Monsters and Faraway Lands, 9 a.m. to noon July 9-13 – Students will explore ancient civilizations, mythology and stories from cultures around the world inspired by the museum’s David M. Robinson Greek and Roman Antiquities Collection.

Photography and Storytelling in Art, 9 a.m. to noon July 16-20 – Participants will learn about the storytelling elements of art and photography. Students will explore forms such as photography, painting and book illustration.

For Children Entering Grades 6-8

All About Art: Middle School Edition, 9 a.m. to noon July 23-27 – Middle school students with artistic experience of all levels will have opportunities to experiment with drawing, illustrating, painting, sculpting and mixed media through a week of activities inspired by the museum’s collections.

All art supplies and snacks are included in the cost. A limited number of scholarships are also available. Families can request scholarship information by contacting McCauley at 662-915-7205 or

Space for each camp is limited and registration is available only online. Parents can register their children here.

For more information, visit