Diversity and Community Engagement
The University of Mississippi

Archive for August, 2020

Community Chat – LOU Space and Place

Posted on: August 28th, 2020 by elpayseu

“Get to know people that are different from you.” -Lydia Koltai

In this episode of Community Chats, we are joined by Lydia Koltai and Graham Bodie with the Space and Place dialogue series. They talk about the purpose of the series and how it is creating a welcoming space for anyone to discuss issues in our community. Tune in to hear about the rewards and challenges of this series and how they are working to foster conversation and understanding in the LOU community.

Growing up in the Mississippi delta, Lydia Koltai is no stranger to the kind of community that forms in a small Mississippi town. After moving back to the state from California to be closer to family, she found herself in Oxford where she fell in love with the community. She started her own business and homeschools her children, but as the news cycles began running stories about police brutality across the country, she also wanted to get plugged into the type of work that would combat these issues in her own community. This is when she got connected through the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation. Through her work there, she met Dr. Graham Bodie.

Graham is an IMC professor in the School of Journalism and New Media. After his research on effective listening was published in the Wall Street Journal, he began consulting agencies on creating a “listen-first” culture in the workplace. From here, he found himself running the Listen First Project, a coalition of 325 organizations nationwide that conduct dialogue deliberation conversation work. It was through his work with the coalition that he met Lydia. Together, they collaborated with other organizations, including the William Winter Institute and Conversations for Change, to create the LOU conversation series.

The Space and Place series is dedicated to creating and fostering welcoming spaces for anyone to share their personal experiences in the LOU community, good or bad. In this space, trust, understanding, and active listening are top priority. Despite our differences, Graham says that we have one thing in common: the love for our community. “Regardless of where someone comes from politically or ideologically, we can agree that we want our community to be welcoming,” Graham says. The first session was spent establishing the foundation of trust to have these sometimes difficult conversations. After that, according to Lydia, is when the real conversations start. “I think, because we’ve built that trust and connected with each other on a human level, we’re going to be able to have some good conversations,” Lydia says. Graham and Lydia hope that these conversations will lead to real, tangible action in the community, creating a more welcoming and accepting place for all.

If you want to get involved in these conversations, you can contact Graham at graham@listenfirstproject.org to get more information. You can also watch or listen to this episode of Community Engagement’s Facebook, Youtube, or your favorite podcast player.

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Community Chat – Joshua Tucker, C19 Ambassadors

Posted on: August 26th, 2020 by elpayseu

“Anyone that has interaction with the university, you are a part of the Ole Miss family, and we want to make sure that we protect our family.” -Joshua Tucker

For this episode of Community Chats, we are joined by Joshua Tucker, one of the organizers for the university’s C19 Ambassadors initiative. As students, faculty, and staff return to campus for an unprecedented fall semester, new guidelines and protocols have been set in place in order to keep everyone safe and healthy. Tune in to hear how Joshua and his team are getting university community members involved in ensuring these guidelines are being met.

As a graduate student, Joshua has been a part of the university community since 2013 when he began his undergraduate career. He then went to the University of Mississippi School of Law and afterwards, decided to continue his education at the University of Mississippi, pursuing his PhD in higher education.  He jokes that he is a “professional student.” But that time as a student has engrained his passion for student affairs and success. “I can’t say enough about how much I love working with students,” Josh says. This passion led him to begin establishing the C19 Ambassador initiative.

The C19 Ambassadors, as Joshua says, will act like “door greeters” that you see at grocery stores. They will be a friendly face stationed outside common areas and academic buildings across campus providing masks and encouragement to those who walk through the door. They provide helpful reminders to social distance and mask up and will be providing care packages to those who need them. These packages are stocked with reusable masks, disposable gloves, and helpful information regarding the university’s guidelines regarding COVID-19. With this new initiative comes new challenges, of course. Joshua says that communication is key, but with the conditions brought on by the pandemic, it’s difficult to keep up with constant emails and Zoom calls.

If you would like to get involved with the C19 Ambassadors, Joshua says there is always room for more participants. They are accepting applications throughout the year. University community members can find the C19 Ambassador page on the Forum to get involved.

You can watch or listen to this episode on our Facebook page, Youtube channel, or on your favorite podcast service.

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Community Chats – Night for Nonprofits

Posted on: August 21st, 2020 by elpayseu

In this extra special installment of Community Chats, we are joined by Jody Holland of the Lafayette-Oxford Foundation for Tomorrow (LOFT) and 14 other nonprofit leaders from around the community. Each guest is able to share what some of their most pressing needs are at the moment and how they have adapted to the COVID-19 pandemic. This is all in partnership with LOFT’s Night for Nonprofits, an event hosted each year to raise funds for the great work being done by all the nonprofits in the LOU community.

Each year, LOFT provides thousands of dollars in grants to local nonprofits in our community, and the Night for Nonprofits is an annual event intended not only to raise money but to foster relationships and networks between the nonprofit organizations and the community. Typically held in the Powerhouse, the event this year has become a virtual, week-long series of promoting the good work of LOU nonprofits. Each nonprofit has published a short video which you can view on LOFT’s website. Each view on a video is counted as a “vote,” and by the end of the series, the video with the most views will receive a $1,000 grant from LOFT. Jody encourages viewers to share this information, encourage your networks to view these videos, and support the organizations you want to see win.

Among the discussion, many leaders talk about the financial hardships that have come in this time. Even though many nonprofits are always looking for more funding, the COVID-19 pandemic has especially taken a toll. Other areas of need include supplies. For example, Denise Strub from the North Mississippi Exchange Family Center talks about the need for diapers and activities for the children of young mothers who may not be able to be home all day because of school or work. Yolanda Wooten of the LINK program through Canopy Children’s Solutions stresses the need for exposure. As a new program, they were in development right as the pandemic hit and were unable to market the program the way they intended to. The needs of these organizations go on, so Jody encourages everyone who is watching or listening to help alleviate these needs if they are able.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has certainly exacerbated needs and hardships, it has also created a lot of new opportunities for many organizations. For example, Matt Wymer with the Oxford Film Festival talks about how they are now able to offer programming throughout the year instead of just one week in March. They were able to open a drive-in theater for people to come and be entertained from the safety of their cars and not have to worry about being exposed. The Yoknapatawpha Arts Council has been able to invest in technology that they used to produce their Stay at Home Fest, an initiative picked up by other arts councils across north Mississippi. Tune in to hear more about these special opportunities and how you can get involved and support all of the nonprofit organizations here in the LOU community.

Our guests include:

Community Chat – Alice Pierotti, Thacker Mountain Radio Hour

Posted on: August 21st, 2020 by elpayseu



“We’re there to be a reflection of everything that is good about the South.” -Alice Pierotti

In this installment of Community Chats, we are joined by Alice Pierotti, executive director/producer of Thacker Mountain Radio. She discusses the history and the future of Thacker Mountain and what motivates her and her team to keep pushing to highlight the culture of literature, music, and art in rural Mississippi. Tune in to learn more about Thacker Mountain and how they continue this staple of the LOU community since 1997.

A native of Mississippi, Alice moved out to Colorado when she was 19, but could not resist the call back home. After 17 years out of state, she moved back down south to work as a librarian at the Como library. As a dedicated Thacker fan, she attended as many events as possible, went to live shows, and supported the art and culture of Lafayette County. In August of 2019, she was hired as Thacker Mountain’s executive director/producer. “Thacker Mountain is like a dream job for me,” Alice says. To Alice, Thacker Mountain Radio has always been a way for her to stay connected to literature and the Mississippi culture that is so close to her heart, and this position was the perfect way for her to contribute to rural Mississippi.

Thacker Mountain Radio started as an idea between a book seller and local artists back in 1997 and has, for 23 years, been a staple of the LOU community. “We’re an old time radio show,” Alice says. Live shows at Off Square Books, the Lyric, and the Double Decker Festival are beloved traditions that draw out crowds from across the region. The show highlights authors, musicians, and other local artists and broadcasts across Mississippi and Alabama as well as other states.

To make this all possible, Alice has a team made up of their house band, The Yalobushwhackers, the host, Jim Dees, and sounds engineers as well as their volunteer board and Claire Byrne, the Assistant Director. They all work hard to ensure that Thacker Mountain Radio continues to promote arts and culture across the region. Especially now, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Thacker Mountain Radio has worked tirelessly, pivoting their communications methods, fundraising, and strategic planning to keep going. When asked what motivates her to do this work, Alice harps on her love for rural Mississippi. “I know why I wake up in the morning: arts and culture, celebrating our story, and making sure the world has access to it,” Alice says. “I believe in rural Mississippi.” Alice’s love for rural Mississippi shines through in this interview. She describes Mississippi literature and music as “unmatched” in the rest of the world, and the work she and her team does with Thacker Mountain sends that message to all listeners, young and old.

If you would like to learn more about Thacker Mountain Radio, visit their website at thackermountain.com and learn more about their upcoming fall season. You can also donate to their Thanks Thacker donation drive on their website, and be sure to check out their socially distanced videos from the Yalobushwhackers, the Thacker Mountain house band, on their Youtube channel. If you missed some of their summer shows, you can stream past shows through their show archives on SoundCloud. As always, you can find this interview and others on Community Engagement’s Facebook page, Youtube channel, or your favorite podcast provider.

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Community Chat – John Kohne, The Pantry

Posted on: August 19th, 2020 by elpayseu

“There’s a need, and I want to foster that need.” -John Kohne

For this episode of Community Chats, we are joined by John Kohne from The Pantry to discuss the ever present need of supplemental food in the LOU community. John discusses the processes and needs of The Pantry that provides some of this supplement to those in need. Tune in to learn more about The Pantry and what they’re doing to alleviate food insecurity here in Lafayette County.

Growing up in a Catholic church in St. Louis, Missouri, John Kohne gained a heart for community involvement early on in his childhood. After retiring from the Navy and working as a FedEx pilot, he moved to Oxford to be close to family where he quickly got plugged into the community through his church congregation. He began volunteering with The Pantry in 2012 and quickly fell into the process.

Run mostly by church congregations, The Pantry operates through two processes: screening and shopping. The screening process determines exactly what the needs are of individual clients, and then they are able to walk through and shop for what they need. In order to dignify the process, clients are able to actually walk through with a cart and shop for what they need instead of simply providing them with a box of predetermined goods. John harps on the compassion shown by everyone involved in running The Pantry. “This is a caring community,” John says. He is thankful, as well, to university students who come and are always excited to help and make a difference in the community.

The greatest rewards, according to John, come from seeing how the members of the community can work together to ease the burden of food insecurity and from coming in contact with people who have the same heart for service as he does. Recently, the COVID-19 pandemic has greatly changed how these processes unfold. Churches must mitigate how they distribute food. Also, the food they receive from Mid-South Food Network and the MS Food Network begins to dwindle shortly into the year, especially considering how the pandemic has increased food insecurity. While The Pantry will accept food donations, John cautions community members in how they collect this food. He suggests following safety protocols  by collecting from your own pantry and not organizing a large food drive. You can still help while also keeping yourself and others safe.

The Pantry operates once a month, two days out of the week. To get involved, contact them at (662)832-8001. Also, be sure to watch this episode on our Facebook, Youtube, or on your favorite podcast provider.

Community Chat – Alonzo Hilliard, Interfaith Compassion Ministry

Posted on: August 19th, 2020 by elpayseu

“This community has been a really great community, and it just keeps getting better.” -Alonzo Hilliard

For this episode of Community Chats, we are joined by Alonzo Hilliard with Interfaith Compassion Ministry (ICM). He discusses the mission and work of the organization as well as the need for affordable housing in Lafayette County. Tune in to learn more about what ICM does and how you can help push their mission forward in assisting those most in need in the LOU community.

Born and raised in Lynchburg, Mississippi, Alonzo attended the University of Mississippi, moved out to Texas, and finally came back to Lafayette County where he lives with his wife. He has 4 children and 10 grandchildren whom he adores. And while he recognizes how fortunate he is to have his basic needs met, he realizes that there is a large population in our community that does not have the same fortune. That is why he started volunteering with ICM about 5 years ago. “It’s great to give back,” Alonzo says. He wanted to work to ensure that everyone in the LOU community can live comfortably and affordably on a fixed income.

ICM assists those in our community who cannot have their needs met on their own income. Their services include transportation, temporary housing, utilities, counseling, and even school supplies and children’s clothing. ICM strives to help at least 10 families a day by providing these services by screening clients and assessing their needs individually. Over 30 church congregations contribute to this work through donations and volunteer time, but Alonzo says that there is always a need for donations and urges the community to contact them or donate through the United Way.

Along with the work he is doing at ICM, Alonzo is also actively involved in organizations that integrate ex-offenders back into society and in affordable housing investment groups. He discusses the great need for affordable housing in Lafayette County, especially to those on a fixed income. “This community has been a really great community, and it just keeps getting better,” Alonzo says. He goes on to thank the community for all the support it has given to ICM over the past 20 years.

If you would like to learn more about Interfaith Compassion Ministry, you can visit their page on the United Way website or contact them at (662)281-1002. You can also watch or listen to this episode on Community Engagement’s Facebook page, Youtube channel, or on your favorite podcast provider.

Due to poor audio quality, a full transcript is unavailable.

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How to Be An Anti-Racist, Reading Guide Part 2

Posted on: August 12th, 2020 by elpayseu

As part of the Stronger Together initiative, the Office of Community Engagement is hosting book discussions this summer based on Ibram X. Kendi’s book How to Be an Antiracist. These small groups discussions are now closed for summer 2020.

For those who are reading along, here are some reflections questions from Chapters 10-18 to guide us in critical self-reflection as we do the important work of becoming antiracist. Part 1, with questions for Chapters 1-9, is available here.

White – Chapter 10 

Kendi discusses the suppression of black votes in the 2000 presidential election and the role that racist policies had in Bush’s election. As we face the 2020 election and voter suppression is again a topic of concern, what might an antiracist approach look like? How can we be advocates for antiracist voting policies?

In the current conversation around the confederate statue on the Square, one of the Lafayette County board of supervisors that voted to keep the statue was quoted as saying that he, too, had been a victim of racism.  Kendi also asserts, “To be antiracist is to see ordinary White people as the frequent victimizers of people of color and the frequent victims of racist power.” (p 128) How is the supervisor’s encounter with racist power not an excuse for continued racist policies? How do racist policies hurt everyone, whites included?

Kendi mentions a billboard that proclaimed, “Antiracist is a code word for antiwhite.” (p 131) How would you respond to someone who made this claim? Kendi, in response, argues, “White supremacist is code for anti-human, a nuclear ideology that poses an existential threat to human existence.” How has racism harmed whites, as well, and the human race collectively?

Black – Chapter 11

“This [powerless] defense shields people of color in positions of power from doing the work of antiracism, since they are apparently powerless, since White people have all the power. This means that people of color are powerless to roll back racist policies adn close racial inequities even in their own spheres of influence, the places where they actually do have some power to effect change.” (p 140) Kendi gives numerous examples of Black on Black racism. What examples can think of that involve Black antiracism? Consider the difference in the Lafayette County vote and the Bolivar County vote on the removal of confederate statues.

Kendi comes back to the duality of racism and antiracism as an either/or. “When we stop denying the duality of racist and antiracist, we can take an accurate accounting of the racial ideas and policies we support.” (p 143) Kendi talks honestly about his own racist and antiracist moments. If you feel comfortable sharing, discuss some of your own racist and antiracist moments after reflecting on the reading thus far. How has the text shifted your understanding of your own racial understanding and biases?

Kendi discusses Black racism, particularly in police brutality against Blacks (p 147). He says that diversifying police forces was supposed to address racism. However, he recounts the violence of Black police officers against Black individuals and their involvement and/or complicity in numerous officer-perpetrated violence. How is the intentionality of antiracism work different from diversity work? How is it essential in reducing police violence and racism in policing?

Class – Chapter 12

“To love capitalism is to end up loving racism. To love racism is to end up loving capitalism.” What do you make of Kendi’s argument that capitalism and racism are conjoined twins, two sides of the same destructive body? (p 162)

Kendi talks about Senator Warren’s proposal to disentangle capitalism from theft and racism and secism and imperialism. How might we begin to promote equitable economic policies? Are reparations a way to correct some of the historical economic racism and injustice?

Space – Chapter 13

Kendi talks about the need for Black space – “They desired to separate, not from Whites, but from White racism. Separation is not, always segregation. The antiracist desire to separate from racists is different from the segregationist desire to separate from ‘inferior’ Blacks.” (p174) What do you make of Kendi’s distinction here?

He also discusses the Plessy case and Brown v Board of Education desegregating the schools, as de-legitimizing the separation without addressing the inequities of funding, resources, and equal opportunity. He cites Dr, King’s opposition to integration in the schools as well – “People with such a low view of the Black race cannot be given free rein and put in charge of the intellectual care and development of our boys and girls.” What is your response? 

How does this perspective inform the way you think about integration? Current racial inequities in the schools? The need for Black space and culture?

How might space antiracism inform space on our university campus? What evidence do you see of both integrated and protected racialized spaces? 

Gender – Chapter 14

Kendi asserts that “To truly be antiracist is to be feminist. To truly be feminist, is to be antiracist.” (p 188) Do you agree? 

He argues that gender racism impacts White women and male groups of color, whether they see it or not, and gives several examples. What examples have you seen? What impacts has gender racism had on your life? What evidence have you seen of its impact at the university or in our community?

Kendi concludes this chapter by sharing his journey, recognizing first “the intersectionality of my ethnic racism, and then my bodily racism, and then my cultural racision, and then my color racism, and then my class racism, and when I entered graduate school, my gender racism and queer racism.” (p191) What has your journey been like? Where you have recognized your own racism and what are areas you still struggle with? 

Sexuality – Chapter 15

Kendi recounts that the most violated and oppressed of all the Black intersectional groups is those of poor transgender Black women, with an average life expectancy of 35 years (p196). What is your response to this staggering statistic? What do you know of the Black trans lives matter movement?

“To be queer antiracist is to see homphobia, racism, and queer racism- not the queer person, not the queer space-as the problem, as abnormal, as unnatural” (p 197). What would queer antiracist policies look like on a university campus?

Kendi discusses Black intersectionality with class, gender, sexuality, notably not religion. What do you make of this omission? How might intersectionality with religion intensify or mitigate queer racism?

Failure – Chapter 16

Kendi begins this chapter with a definition of Activist, “One who has a record of power or policy change.” What are your thoughts on this definition? Using this definition, do you consider yourself an activist? Why or why not?

“What if we measure the radicalism of speech by how radically it transforms open-minded people, by how the speech liberates the antiracist power within? What if we measure the conservatism of speech by how intensely it keeps people the same, keeps people enslaved by their racist ideas and fears, conserving their inequitable society?” (p 211) – What do you think of this definition of radical and conservative speech? How might this re-frame the way you think about anti racist action?

“As racist ideas intend to make us ignorant and hateful, racist terror intends to make us fear.” (212) How does moving beyond cowardice or fear become a pre-requisite for social change? See page 207 and the support for antiracist policies after they passed. How does seeing fear not materialize en-courage us to continue to advance anti racist policies?

Success – Chapter 17

“Racism has always been terminal and curable. Racism has always been recognizable and mortal.” These words are hopeful and inspiring, as we do anti racism work.

What do you think of the successive steps that Kendi identified in his journey to be an anti-racist? What steps are you willing to take? (p225)

Make your own anti racist pledge. What will you commit to do as an antiracist activist? What can we do collectively to demonstrate our commitment to be antiracist?

Survival – Chapter 18

“The source of racist ideas was not ignorance and hate, but self-interest.” (p229) How does this perspective on racism shape our efforts to change it? 

Kendi outlines clear steps we can all take to eliminate racial inequity in our spaces (231-233). Have you seen examples of this kind of antiracist work done successfully? How can we implement these steps on our campus and in our community?

Kendi compares racism with stage 4 metastatic cancer. As he shares his denial and coming to terms with his own cancer, he sees our denial of racism and its ravaging effects on our country and our world. Given George Floyd and the growing visibility of racial violence, given national protests and seemingly new white consciousness around racism, are we moving beyond denial to a racial reckoning? What signs of hope do you see? 

How might we build continued momentum around antiracist policies to promote lasting change? How can we translate these demonstrations into Kendi’s form of activism – promoting antiracist policies and antiracist policymaker on campus, in our community, and around the world?

Final Wrap-Up

What are your big takeaways from Kendi’s book? What resonated with you? What has sparked a new way of thinking, feeling, or being in the world?

What surprised you or bothered you? Are there ideas you want to explore more deeply, or some that made you uncomfortable? 

What are the next steps in your journey? How do you want to continue to learn and to engage? How can we continue this journey together, toward allyship and action? 

Community Chat: Jody Holland (LOFT)

Posted on: August 5th, 2020 by elpayseu

“There’s this nonprofit sector out there that’s really caring and giving, and they’re making a difference.” -Jody Holland

On this episode of Community Chats, Erin talks with Jody Holland, executive director of the Lafayette Oxford Foundation for Tomorrow (LOFT). With their annual Night for Nonprofits fundraiser coming up this month, Jody discusses the great work being done by LOFT partners across the community. Tune in for more information about LOFT’s Night for Nonprofits and how you can get involved and help local nonprofits improve the quality of life in the LOU community.

Born and raised in Mississippi, Jody attended Delta State University for his undergraduate degree and then went to Mississippi State University to obtain his PhD. He ended up in Oxford as a visiting professor in the Department of Public Policy Leadership and was won over by the LOU community’s welcoming atmosphere. He ended up going through Leadership Lafayette and discovered a job opening within LOFT thanks to his connections made there. As executive director, Jody works hand in hand with LOFT’s board of directors to plan programming and write grants for local nonprofit partners. “I facilitate this organization because my board’s so awesome,” Jody says. He credits the board of directors and local partners for the success of the foundation.

LOFT is dedicated to enhancing the quality of life in the LOU community by partnering with local nonprofit organizations to provide funding and networking opportunities. Through their work, LOFT gives out upwards of $50,000 to local organizations and raises awareness for the work of these organizations through events like their Night for Nonprofits. The Night for Nonprofits is an annual fundraiser that highlights the good work of local nonprofits and allows the community to donate to them. “We raise money to try to give them, but they do the work in this community,” says Jody. While it is usually held at the Powerhouse, the fundraiser this year will be held virtually on August 13 at 6 p.m., and each nonprofit will record a 90-second video to highlight their work and their needs. Tune in to learn more about what those specific needs are and how you can help.

You can learn more about LOFT on their website loftms.org or by watching the first installment of Community Chats. You can also watch or listen to this episode on Facebook, Youtube, or your favorite podcast platform.

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