Students, Administrators Make Connections at Lyceum Event

A night of food and conversation – Open Doors – introduces hundreds of students to university leaders

Students line the halls of the Lyceum Tuesday (Jan. 28) during the Open Doors event. During the event, students and university leadership kicked off the semester with a laid-back evening of food, fun and informal conversations. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

OXFORD, Miss. – More than 200 students traversed through the halls of the Lyceum on the evening of Jan. 29, mingling with leaders from University of Mississippi‘s administrative team and exploring the campus’s oldest building.

The dinner and conversation event, Open Doors, was one of the spring semester’s first held in association with “All In at UM,” a yearlong effort to expand cultural awareness, challenge bias and increase campuswide support for diversity, equity and inclusion.

Students carried snack plates from office to office, some stopping to play cornhole with the campus recreation staff or to take a turn in a virtual reality rig. The Office of Diversity and Community Engagement handed out “All In at UM” stickers and buttons.

“What a great evening as hundreds of Ole Miss students came to the Lyceum to visit with our university leadership team,” Chancellor Glenn Boyce said. “Thank you to student Joshua Mannery and the Office of Diversity and Community Engagement for bringing this big idea forward.

“I enjoyed meeting students from every corner of our campus and hearing about their studies and their aspirations.”

The festivities began as a brainstorm between Joshua Mannery, Associated Student Body director of campus outreach, and Katrina Caldwell, vice chancellor for diversity and community engagement, with the goal of getting students and administrators to meet, talk and share a meal in what Caldwell referred to as a “Come see what we do” kind of way.

Mannery, who hopes to see this event become an ongoing series, said he couldn’t have expected a better student turnout and response.

The air buzzed as students followed maps and paths outlined on the carpet to ensure they visited 11 administrative offices spread across all three floors. Some students were visiting the historic building for the first time while others skipped around to the administrators they wanted to meet most.

“There were more than 180 students registered beforehand and even more showing up,” Mannerly said as he snapped photos with students and handed out event maps. “This is great, especially since it’s the first time we’ve done something like this.”

UM student Bailey Griffen (right) meets Chancellor Glenn Boyce Tuesday night (Jan. 28) during the Open Doors event. Boyce, along with other university leaders, opened the doors to their offices and shared food and conversation with students. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

A member of the university leadership team stood just inside each doorway greeting students and bringing them into the office for deeper conversations. Departments without offices in the Lyceum set up in the building’s conference rooms to make sure students had a chance to meet and speak with the highest-ranking decision makers in every area of the university.

“I think it was a very good experience,” said Yanqi Li, a senior from Beijing. “I really want to attend more events like this one.”

Li said she learned how the admissions office works, and though she knew members of the diversity and community engagement office before the event, she didn’t know all the things they do on a day-to-day basis until Open Doors.

Caldwell said she was most impressed by how open to the idea her colleagues were, even in its earliest stages.

“Everyone was immediately on board,” she said. “To be a part of a group of colleagues open to doing this makes me feel like they recognize that students should be our priority.”

A Student-Administrator Collaboration

After being appointed to the new role of the ASB director of campus outreach last semester, Mannery said his first goal was to find more ways to connect Ole Miss students with campus administrators to provide additional opportunities for their voices to be heard.

As an ASB member, he knows how easy it can be to set up a conversation with a dean or vice chancellor, but most students don’t understand that they have the same amount of access.

“One of the big things I was excited about for this event is that it breaks down the perceived barriers that exist between students and administration,” Mannery said. “I think a lot of times they only see their administrators with a suit on or on official business.

“For me, these are some of the most human, most respecting and kind-hearted people I know.”

The Open Doors event came together after Mannery had a realization that university administrators are a great resources for students, but some might not always know who and where to go.

“I wanted to talk to someone who I knew would advise me where I needed to go and help me feel comfortable to take on such a big position – and (Caldwell) did it in spades,” Mannery said.

As the event took form, Shawnboda Mead, assistant vice chancellor for diversity, said she hopes to see it become a long-held tradition that serves to build genuine connections between leaders and students.