Diversity and Community Engagement
The University of Mississippi

Archive for February, 2021

Meet Shaddia Lee – OCE Area Coordinator for Youth Education and Community Development

Posted on: February 26th, 2021 by crpauley

“My name is Shaddia Lee, and I am a junior from Jackson, Mississippi.  I am pursuing a degree in public policy leadership with a minor in psychology. After graduation, I plan to attend law school.  My greatest passion is to help guide my friends and family through any situations they are experiencing. I also like to encourage others to be their best in life.

Within the Office of Community Engagement, I will be working with Youth Education and Community Development this year. I will have the opportunity to work with many different organizations within the community focusing on the youth of the LOU community. I could not be more excited to be working in this issue area within this community. Since the age of thirteen, I have been working with young children throughout daycares and community centers teaching them basic elementary and middle school curriculum. The opportunity to help these organizations and connect students to the LOU community is so worthwhile.

When not in class, I enjoy spending time with friends and family, watching Netflix, and playing piano. I am currently serving as the Community Service Chair for the Honors College Minority and Engagement Executive Board, and I am also an Ole Miss Honors College Ambassador, a member of the NAACP of the University of Mississippi, Sally McDonnnell Barksdale Honors College Student, Honors College Peer Mentor, The University of Mississippi Gospel Choir, Executive Community Chair Leader for Minority Engagement Club, Trent Lott Leadership Member, ESTEEM Women of The University of Mississippi, Black Student Union Member, Christians United Full Gospel Baptist Church Lead Musician, Ruffalo Noel Levitz Call Center Ambassador.”

If you are interested in working with organizations that focus on Youth Education and Community Development, get in touch with Shaddia by sending an email to engaged@olemiss.edu.

Meet Caroline Leonard- Andrew Goodman Foundation Fellow

Posted on: February 26th, 2021 by crpauley

“Hi! My name is Caroline Leonard, and I am a freshman from Ocean Springs, Mississippi. I am majoring in Chemical Engineering and International Studies, and I am in the Arabic Flagship Program. While I don’t have any set plans for after graduation, I know I want to continue to work with the people around me to help foster an engaged and active community.

I am very excited to represent the Andrew Goodman Foundation on campus to work to help spread information about and to advocate for voting rights and access. Civic engagement and community engagement go hand in hand, and it is important to make sure everyone has access to the information and resources they need so they can vote. Voting is one of the most direct ways we can show our representatives what we want, so it is important for everyone to have access to the polls so they are being represented how they want to be and so that they can choose representatives who share their same passions.

Community engagement is important to me because it allows you to give back to your community by getting involved in things you care about. I think working in your community not only helps you connect to the people around you, but it allows you to grow by learning and experiencing new things, taking leadership roles, and fostering a sense of belonging. I have always loved working with people and learning about them while being involved in my community.

My favorite part of the LOU community is how friendly everyone is. While I have not been in Oxford for very long, I have met a lot of great people both on and off campus. No matter where you go or who you meet, someone will always say hi and tell you a little bit more about the area. Additionally, there are a lot of opportunities to work with people who have similar passions to you, whether it be environmental conservation, advocacy, or recreational events. Recently I learned about the South Campus Rail Trail near the South Campus Recreation center, and I am really excited to go explore the area.

If I had a superpower I would want to be able to speak every language. I love to travel and to learn about new places, and so much of a culture exists in its language. I would love to be able to talk to everyone around the world!”

If you are interested in getting in touch with Caroline about all things related to voting rights and access, civic engagement, or to hear more about The Andrew Goodman Foundation, email engaged@olemiss.edu.

Meet Tyra Lockett – OCE Area Coordinator for DEI & Civil Rights

Posted on: February 26th, 2021 by crpauley

“Hello, my name is Tyra Lockett. I am currently a sophomore Biology major with a minor in Chemistry from Brooksville, MS. Upon graduation, I plan to go to medical school to pursue a career in pediatrics. Nothing fills my heart more than knowing I can give back to my community through volunteering and assisting in any way I can during my free time. Oxford is now my home away from home and I treat it as such.

School, volunteering, and staying an active member in organizations occupy most of my time. When I am not swamped with work and other important duties, I binge watch Criminal Minds to crush on Spencer Reid. I am a LuckyDay Scholar, CONNECT mentor for the Center for Inclusion & Cross Cultural Engagement (CICCE), member of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, and an active member of the Increasing Minority Access to Graduate Education (IMAGE). During my time at the University of Mississippi, I have grown to appreciate my decision to pursue my undergraduate years here.

My favorite aspect of the LOU community is the support and close-knit aspect that it exhibits. Whenever there’s an event, no matter the time or place, the community finds a way to come together to make sure everything’s a success. Having a support system like the LOU community is a blessing. Growing up in a poverty stricken area, I am so grateful to witness and experience the innovation and initiative of the LOU community that drives me even more to make a difference, essentially at a young age. Being a college town also helps boost these initiatives since the young minds all over our campus are capable of greatness.

This year I will be working as the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) & Civil Rights Issue Area Coordinator for the Office of Diversity and Community Engagement. I cannot wait to begin working alongside well versed individuals to alleviate problems in the community that often get overlooked and to support local organizations. Hopefully, I will be able to gain skills and knowledge to exceed my capabilities and also motivate others to overcome challenges during this process.”

If you are interested in working with Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) & Civil Rights organizations, please email engaged@olemiss.edu to get in touch with Tyra.

Community Chats – Afton Thomas

Posted on: February 25th, 2021 by elpayseu

“Nothing is impossible.” – Afton Thomas

Our team sits down with Afton Thomas, associate director of programs for the Center for the Study of Southern Culture, on this episode of Community Chats. At the Center, Thomas works to create synergy across institutions not just on the university’s campus but throughout the LOU community and beyond by documenting and elevating the history of all Mississippians. Tune in to hear how she and the rest of the team at the Center are working to keep the voices and history of all Mississippians alive.

Originally from St. Louis, Thomas’s educational background is in theater, something she is still passionate about, but her love for community has led her to serve not only through theater education but also through hospitality management, project coordination, and human resources. In the LOU community, Thomas has served as project coordinator for the Southern Foodways Alliance, on a steering committee for Leadership Lafayette, and even with our very own Jody Holland as a board member of the Lafayette Oxford Foundation for Tomorrow.

The Center for the Study of Southern Culture was founded in the 1970s to “investigate, document, interpret, and teach about the American South.” Under the umbrella of the Center are three institutions: Living Blues magazine, the Southern Documentary Project, and the Southern Foodways Alliance, an organization founded in 1999 as a result of southern studies master’s thesis that Thomas has worked closely with in the past. “To think that an institute can grow from a project with an academic program, I think, is beautiful,” Thomas said.

As associate director of programs, Thomas describes herself as a “yes person,” always willing to undergo new projects and collaborate on new ideas. “I rarely say ‘no’ to a thing,” Thomas said, “Nothing is impossible.” This is a mindset, according to Thomas, that makes the position exciting but also challenging. “I had a Christmas list, and I had to be kind of reeled back in,” Thomas said “Not having enough time to do all the ideas we have [is a challenge].”

Despite this challenge, she says the biggest reward is learning something new every day on the job. “The learning never stops,” Thomas said, “I’m inspired by the work [our students] do and try to find ways to elevate it.” Her colleagues, students, and partnerships are always pushing forth new ideas and initiatives that will highlight and elevate the history of the people of Mississippi.

Currently, the Center is collaborating with community engaged projects like Behind the Big House, a project we featured last September through our Faculty Lunch & Learn series. They are also collaborating with the Black Power at Ole Miss Task Force, which highlights the 1970 protests on the UM campus and the subsequent arrests and suspension of the Ole Miss Eight, and the Invisible Histories project which aims to document the forgotten voices of Mississippi’s LGBTQ+ community.

Thomas says that she is looking forward to the fall, also, as the Center is already planning even more projects including Mississippi Voices, a three-day event in collaboration with the Ford Center that includes a one-woman show that brings to life the story of Fannie Lou Hamer.

“We are resource rich,” Thomas said, as a final message. “We are fortunate, in the LOU area, to have so many resources and great people.” She commends the nonprofits and historians working constantly to lift up, educate, and improve our community.

To keep up to date on ongoing and future projects from the Center, visit their website southernstudies.olemiss.edu and follow them on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter (@southernstudies across all platforms). You can also contact Thomas directly at amthoma4@olemiss.edu.

Watch this episode and all other episodes of Community Chats on our Facebook (@UMengaged) and YouTube (Engaged UM), and listen to our podcast on Spotify and iTunes. Make sure to like, comment, and share this series as we continue to highlight community leaders across the LOU area.

Download the full PDF transcript.

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UM Votes: Exploring the Role of Poll Workers

Posted on: February 11th, 2021 by elpayseu

In this blog post, OCE Voting Ambassador Libby Foley delves into the role of poll workers in making elections work. Learn about what is involved in serving as a poll worker and what these volunteers do.

If free and fair elections are the foundation of our democracy, then poll workers are the pillars of that foundation. In recent elections, the job of poll workers have been especially vital to maintaining the integrity of elections. However, what poll workers actually do, how they are selected, and what the requirements of being a poll worker are still a mystery to most people. This blog post will help to demystify the job of a poll worker, and explain how important they are to our democracy.

Who Can Serve as a Poll Worker

Firstly, there is a certain set of requirements that one must meet in order to apply to be a poll worker. In Mississippi, those requirements are as follows:

  • Be registered to vote in Mississippi
  • Be entitled to compensation
  • Be at least 18 years of age
  • Be a resident of the county in which you are applying to be a poll worker

An important note is that students that are 16 or older, are enrolled in high school, and have a residency in the county or municipality, may apply to be a poll worker with a recommendation from their principal. 

Application Process

If one meets these qualifications, the next step in the process of becoming a poll worker is applying. To apply, one must fill out the “poll worker portal” on the Secretary of State of Mississippi’s website, or go to the following link:


After applying, and once being accepted, the next step poll workers go through is required training. There are many different duties of poll workers, and many of them are very specific, minute details that must be followed, and extensive training is required to prepare poll workers. 

Once someone has successfully completed their training, they can then work as a poll worker on election days, as long as their training was completed within the 12 months prior to the election they are serving in. In Mississippi, the compensation for poll workers is usually $75 minimum on election days, and could be more depending on the poll workers specific duties.

For individuals in Lafayette County, you can also directly apply by contacting the county’s Elections Commissioners Office, at the email elections@lafayettecoms.com, and submit your name, phone number, address, and confirmation of being a registered voter.

What Poll Workers Do

Speaking of poll workers duties, now it is time to understand what poll workers actually do. Firstly, there are several different types of poll workers. The different types of poll workers that Mississippi employs are as follows: general poll managers, receiving and returning managers, initialing managers, alternate initialing managers, and bailiffs*. 

General poll workers – According to the Mississippi Poll Manager Guide, commissioned by the Mississippi Secretary of State, the role of the general poll managers is to:

  • safeguard all election materials;
  • ensure only qualified voters are voting;
  • ensure that voters are only voting once;
  • ensuring photo IDs are valid and match the individual;
  • ensuring votes are made in secret,
  • providing voter information and instructions to those in line;
  • assisting voters with questions;
  • completing post-election reporting requirements;
  • and processing absentee ballots.

Thus, there are numerous, very important, duties that poll managers have in general that protect the integrity of an election. 

Receiving and returning poll workers – The Receiving and Returning poll manager has duties that are slightly more specific. Their duties include:

  • obtaining the box(es) for their polling place that contain the ballots and other necessary materials;
  • keeping track of the number of ballots received from the circuit clerk prior to the election;
  • ensure that the ballot boxes are not tampered with;
  • opening the boxes and distributing materials on the morning of the election;
  • sealing the boxes and machines after the election;
  • returning unused ballots to the election headquarters;
  • and processing paper ballots. 

The initialing manager – The initialing manager, who can not be the same person as the receiving and returning poll manager, has the important responsibility of placing their initials in the proper area of each blank ballot, initialing in the receipt book after a voter signs their name, and then giving the initialed blank ballot to the voter. Obviously, these duties only pertain to paper ballots. The alternate initialing manager is responsible for these duties if the initialing manager is not present or not able to perform these duties.

Bailiff – The final poll manager that the Mississippi Secretary of State’s office highlights is the bailiff. This position requires appointment by a party executive committee, election commission, or by the other poll managers. Their duty is to open the polls, keep order in line, line up voters to wait while helping the general poll managers verify identifications, prevent campaigning within 150 feet of the precinct entrance, stand at the end of the line of voters at 7pm and announce the close of the polls while still allowing those already in line to vote, and finally, check credentials of poll watchers. Thus, the bailiff’s duties deal largely with maintaining a productive environment that is free of campaigning, coercion, or voter intimidation.

These different poll workers all play an important role in preventing election tampering, and without them our elections would be chaotic, controversial, and subject to large amounts of corruption. Without poll workers following these specific duties, there can be no election. Serving as a poll worker is among the most selfless and important civic duties one can undertake, and should any of the aforementioned duties interest you, apply to be a poll worker at the following link!


*For DRE/OMR counties, Opening/Closing Poll Manager is also included in their list of poll worker positions. DRE/OMR are certain types of voting equipment, and the opening/closing manager is in charge of this equipment, for the counties that utilize it.



For your reference:

Libby Foley

Libby Foley

Community Chat – Nicholas Crasta

Posted on: February 11th, 2021 by elpayseu

“If you don’t step up, who will?” -Nicholas Crasta

In the first new episode of 2021, Anthony and Jody chat with Nicholas Crasta, president of the UM Black Student Union (BSU). He discusses the role of the BSU on campus and their goals for the new year. Tune in to hear how the BSU is working towards making our community and campus a welcoming space for everyone.

Crasta, originally from Vicksburg, Mississippi, joined the BSU as a general member his freshman year. Since then, he has worked his way up in the organization, holding the position of director of recruitment his sophomore year and vice president his junior year. “I worked my way up and got to work with some really great student leaders,” Crasta said, “It propelled me to take off and see what I could do.”

While running for BSU president, his campaign centered around his vision for making the BSU not only a safe space for students, especially minority students, but also an organization of social activism within the community. As a part of this vision, he created the positions of directors of political action to highlight the BSU’s political activity in the community and create more balance between the social and political aspects of the BSU. Crasta says that the BSU has “great natural leaders” within the cabinet and multiple committees pushing forward the mission of the BSU.

Especially in today’s political climate, Crasta said one of the biggest challenges for the BSU is having their problems, feelings, and emotions taken seriously. “Everybody’s trying to feel safe and excel in every area of life,” Crasta said, “Once you’re living it and experiencing so many different issues, you have no choice but to step up.” He has emphasized the role of mentorship with his position to make the LOU community a better place for future generations, taking inspiration from black student leaders before him.

One of the greatest rewards of Crasta’s position, to him, has been witnessing minority students feel safe and welcome in a predominantly white institution. “We’re trying to uplift and foster a sense of community at the University of Mississippi,” Crasta said. It is important to him and the BSU team that minority students at the university feel safe and welcome.

You can catch up on this and all other episodes on our blog, Facebook and YouTube, and you can even listen as a podcast through Spotify and iTunes. Make sure to tune in every Friday at noon on our Facebook (@UMengaged) to catch the newest episodes of Community Chats.

Download the full PDF transcript.

Watch on YouTube.

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The Pulse – Progress Report on GivePulse

Posted on: February 9th, 2021 by elpayseu

In this post, OCE Area Coordinator Madison Alliston provides updates on GivePulse implementation and our collective impact of community engagement for spring 2021. 

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” -Mahatma Gandhi

Volunteering is one of the most selfless acts someone can do. Giving back to the community helps individuals become more connected to others while making a difference. That’s why the Office of Community Engagement (OCE) decided to partner with GivePulse last semester. This online service platform connects students with non-profits in the Oxford community and across the country looking to make a lasting impact.

Over the past few months, the OCE team has been hard at work getting community and campus organizations onboarded and acquainted with GivePulse, and you can already see the impact it’s making. This progress report shows just how much impact our GivePulse community has already made, and we’re just getting started.

So far, the University of Mississippi (UM) community has…

1). Connected with 1,033 students and community organizations in Oxford,

2). Received over 370 community impacts,

3). Logged 1,388 volunteer hours from students, and

4). Produced an economic impact of $37,743!

The best news of all is that more and more students are joining UM’s community each day! So far, 10 major student groups and organizations have joined the UM community page including the Luckyday Scholars, UM Athletics, and Grove Grocery. Over 60 community service organizations and nonprofits have joined the UM GivePulse page, and new opportunities are being posted constantly.

In just the first few months, GivePulse’s volunteer program has already made an impact in the Lafayette-Oxford-University community, and we are just getting started. Students are seeing the value of volunteering. They are logging onto GivePulse, finding a service organization that suits them, and making a lasting impact. We are so excited that campus and community partners are utilizing GivePulse, and we cannot wait to see where we go from here!

Have you joined GivePulse, yet? Go to olemiss.givepulse.com to create your profile and find opportunities to get engaged.

If you are a community group interested in becoming an affiliate, fill out this form to provide us with the information we need to get you set up. Our area coordinators are standing by to assist you in building out your page and connecting with our community.

Be on the lookout for more GivePulse updates, tutorials, and events every week, and don’t miss out on our Issue Area Roundtables where campus and community members will come together to discuss the issues affecting our community. Register for the first roundtable on the environment and sustainability here.

For more information:

Recognizing 2020-21 Faculty Civic Champions

Posted on: February 5th, 2021 by elpayseu

The Office of Community Engagement, in conjunction with the Voting Engagement Roundtable, is pleased to recognize Faculty Champions for the fall 2020 semester. The UM Faculty Champions Program was created last year to invite faculty to support our institutional voting engagement efforts. Led by Na Youn Lee, Assistant Professor of Social Work, the program offers faculty different ways they can support student voting engagement through the classroom and support students in navigating the sometimes-confusing voter processes.

During the fall semester, participating faculty could choose from various civic learning opportunities: adding a voluntary voting engagement blackboard module to their course, inviting a voter ambassador to host a classroom presentation on voting, supporting DebateWatch programming, and connecting students with resources for out-of-state voting. Each learning opportunity used by the instructor earned them Civic Champion Points. 

We are thankful for the practices these faculty members integrated into their academic courses. These faculty were part of a select group of 49 faculty members across departments and disciplines who committed to integrate voting engagement into their courses in different ways. Their commitment helped raise student voter awareness and engagement across campus.

Through their efforts, UM students were able to hear class presentations from our student voting ambassadors and get them excited about participating in the electoral process. Class presentations included how to get registered to vote, the ins and outs of absentee ballots, and resources available to them, such as vote.olemiss.edu and msvotes.org. Their efforts also gave students access to individual consultations, notary support, and online voting resources. This nonpartisan work helped students to understand the process of voting and how to participate in our democracy.

Increasing political literacy is a crucial step in ensuring that students become informed leaders. Incorporating democratic engagement in an open and nonpartisan way in the classroom can serve as a way to invite respectful discussions across the political aisle. Civic education isn’t just for political science and public policy courses. The faculty who participated covered a range of departments and majors, such as Mathematics and Civil Engineering. 

We are pleased to recognize the following faculty members for their participation last fall. (Several participants opted out of public recognition and are not included in this list.) Thank you, all, for promoting student civic engagement.


Gold Level Civic Champions

  • Erin Parker
  • Maureen Meyers
  • Bryan Kessler
  • Carmen Sanchis-Sinisterra
  • Amy Fisher
  • Eliot Parker
  • Catarina Passidomo
  • Brian Droubay 
  • Kevin Cozart
  • Barbra Williams
  • Patricia Digby
  • Brent Marsh

Silver Level Civic Champions

  • Molly Pasco-Pranger
  • Julie Wronski
  • Ellen Foster
  • Ayla Gafni
  • Debora Wenger
  • Sara Platt
  • Virginia Moore
  • Meg Barnes
  • Hannah Allen
  • Daniel Stearns

Bronze Level Civic Champions

  • Carolyn Higdon


Announcing OCE Issue Area Roundtables

Posted on: February 4th, 2021 by elpayseu

The Office of Community Engagement is pleased to launch several new issue area roundtables to bring together campus and community partners interested in or engaged in specific issue areas.

Upcoming roundtable sessions are as follows:

We see campus and community partners as active participants in the planning and shaping of university-community engagement and are committed to efforts that supplement, strengthen, and build on good work already being done in the community. Our vision is that these shared creative spaces can highlight existing efforts, connect existing campus and community partners, and create catalytic opportunity to advance new collaborative ideas, designed with both student learning and community impact in mind.

You are invited to join us for any of the above sessions and to invite others along. Pre-registration is required at the above links. Sessions will be conducted virtually through Zoom and recorded. Disability accommodations are available upon request by contacting ogarrett@olemiss.edu.

We hope you can join us for these new conversations!

For more ways to connect with the Office of Community Engagement: