Faculty Honored for Service at ‘Lift Every Voice’ Celebration

Two professors recognized for work in diversity and inclusion

Patrick Alexander (left), UM associate professor of English and African American studies, and Nichelle Robinson, associate professor of teacher education and School of Education diversity officer, share a moment after being presented their ‘Lift Every Voice” awards in the Ole Miss Student Union Ballroom. Photo by Christian Johnson/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

OXFORD, Miss. – With melodious sounds from a gospel choir and inspiring words from a keynote speaker, two University of Mississippi faculty members were honored Monday (Feb. 3) for their exceptional achievements in diversity, inclusion and community engagement.

Hundreds of faculty, staff and students attended the annual ‘Lift Every Voice’ celebration, the first event on the “All In. All Year.” calendar commemorating Black History Month. This year’s recipients are Patrick E. Alexander, associate professor of English and African American studies, and Nichelle C. Robinson, associate professor of teacher education and School of Education diversity officer.

“The Black Faculty and Staff Organization of the University of Mississippi founded the ‘Lift Every Voice’ award to recognize an individual, group or entity that has contributed to the betterment of human relationships on our campus,” said Shawnboda Mead, assistant vice chancellor for diversity.

“Particular emphasis is given to the areas of diversity, multiculturalism and inclusion. Recipients of this award have worked beyond their normal employment boundaries and performed the ‘extra mile’ of service to their fellow man for the university.”

Robinson expressed her gratitude and appreciation for the recognition.

“To have my work recognized makes me feel good, while also humbled to be recognized with Patrick, who is doing meaningful work with prisoners,” Robinson said. “It is also encouraging to be recognized for the work that I’m doing in diversity, equity and inclusion – something I’ve been passionate about for a very long time.

“It makes me feel that my work is not in vain.”

During his keynote address, Alexander challenged listeners, particularly students, to become and remain passionate about social justice and societal change.

“I think that students can change the world,” Alexander said, reflecting on his own journey to activism, which began while he was a graduate student at Duke University. “We must act on our unrelenting passion and we must seek the support of unrelenting partners. Remember Dr. King’s words: ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.'”

Alexander is co-founder of the Prison-to-College Pipeline Program, a college-in-prison program that won the Mississippi Humanities Council’s Humanities Educator Award in 2018. The PTCPP offers for-credit college courses for imprisoned men at the Mississippi State Penitentiary and for imprisoned women at Central Mississippi Correctional Facility.

He authored the book, “From Slave Ship to Supermax: Mass Incarceration, Prisoner Abuse, and the New Neo-Slave Novel” (Temple University Press, 2018), and his articles on teaching African American literature in prison appear in the Journal of African American History; south: a scholarly journal; and Reflections: A Journal of Writing, Service-Learning, and Community Literacy.

Robinson serves a myriad of roles within the School of Education and is a champion for inclusion efforts. As the school’s diversity officer, she has helped create a variety of programs and initiatives dedicated to increasing and enhancing diversity and inclusion.

The inaugural provost fellow for the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, in 2014, Robinson also leads efforts to recruit a more diverse faculty and student body to the school. She has worked as a special education teacher in Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee and previously held faculty positions at the University of Memphis.

The program began with the Grammy-nominated UM Gospel Choir leading the audience in singing “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” The song, which originated as a poem by author James Weldon Johnson and was later scored by his brother, J. Rosamond Johnson, has been considered the Negro national anthem for decades.

Other program participants included Katrina Caldwell, vice chancellor for diversity and community engagement; Tyler Yarbrough, a Stamps Scholar and senior public policy major from Clarksdale; Norris “EJ” Edney III, director of the Center for Inclusion and Cross Cultural Engagement; and Sarah Pinon, assistant director of the CICEE.

This year’s honorees join the list of more than 30 previous recipients, including Ole Miss administrators, faculty and staff, and Lafayette County and Oxford community leaders.