Williams Nominated for IHL Excellence in Diversity Award

UM professor recognized for her work with first-generation students

Chancellor Glenn Boyce presents Ashleen Williams with a plaque recognizing her as a nominee for the IHL’s 2022 Excellence in Diversity and Inclusion Award. Williams was nominated for her work with first-generation college students. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

OXFORD, Miss. – Ashleen Williams was recognized as the University of Mississippi‘s Excellence in Diversity and Inclusion award nominee during the Feb. 17 meeting of the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning board of trustees.

Williams was nominated by Chancellor Glenn Boyce and the Division of Diversity and Inclusion for her work with first-generation students who don’t have access to the same experiential knowledge as children of college graduates.

“I came from a very supportive family that was excited about the possibility of me going to college, so it was important for me to set an example for future generations,” said Williams, who is a first-generation student herself. “But also, this is the future of higher ed. The vast majority of Americans don’t have college degrees.”

As a first-generation student, Williams said she began to realize over time that students with a generational higher education tradition arrive on campus with a certain amount of information about college baked in. That information comes in the form of parents’ stories about college and advice from siblings about which professor to take – someone to answer the kinds of questions and solve the kinds of problems first-year students have.

Her goal is to close that gap so that first-generation students are just as equipped and prepared to not only attend, but to succeed, in the new learning environment.

“Those students deserve every shot at completing their education, going on to success and even winning awards,” Williams said. “We have to demonstrate our commitment in ways that are tangible and not just in words.”

Besides her duties as senior Barksdale fellow and instructional professor in the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, Williams, with Lauren Jones, developed and co-chairs the First-Generation College Student Task Force and serves as an adviser to the First-Gen Student Network. She also advises the UNICEF and Period@UM student groups and serves on the Stamps Scholar Selection Committee.

“Professor Williams is a dedicated and passionate leader who has strengthened the University of Mississippi over the past five years,” Boyce said. “From her diversity and inclusion efforts to her passion for service and her dedication to her students, Ashleen is a champion for those who are underrepresented and for those who encounter challenges in a college environment. 

“Her efforts have benefitted countless students and the greater university community.”

Williams is an invaluable resource and vocal advocate for first-generation students, all while balancing her own doctoral work and course load, said Ethel Scurlock, interim dean of the Honors College.

“Ashleen always goes beyond the call of duty with her students,” Scurlock said. “She has superb teaching reviews and she is always available to meet with students outside of the classroom. She comes in early and stays late to make sure that each student is able to get the support they need intellectually, mentally and sometimes even emotionally.

“I am not sure how she balances it all, but we are fortunate that she does this under the umbrella of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College.”

Williams was nominated for this statewide award as a part of her recognition as a Diversity Innovator.

The IHL named Delta State’s Todd M. Davis as recipient of the 2022 Excellence in Diversity and Inclusion award for his work increasing equity and inclusion in recreation and outdoor programs.