Diversity and Community Engagement
The University of Mississippi

Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College

Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, The University of Mississippi Logo

Five-Year Equity-in-Action Plan


The Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College attracts a diverse body of high-performing students to the University of Mississippi. Established in 1997 through a gift from Jim and Sally Barksdale, the Honors College merges intellectual rigor with community action. It offers an education similar to that as prestigious private liberal arts schools and universities, but at a far lower cost. Small, discussion-based classes, dedicated faculty and a nurturing staff enable honors students to experience intellectual as well as personal growth.


The Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College prepares citizen scholars who are fired by the life of the mind, committed to the public good and driven to find solutions.

Commitment to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

The Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College (SMBHC) strives for diversity, equity and inclusion in our academic spaces and within our community. We commit to fostering an environment in which diversity of thought, experiences and identities are welcome, and we recognize the dignity of each person. We recognize the historical context of exclusionary practices in the classroom and beyond at the University of Mississippi, and we commit to ensuring equitable opportunities during students’ SMBHC tenure. Following best practices under the leadership of the National Collegiate Honors Council, we honor our “responsibility to promote the inclusion and success of academically motivated learners from all communities, understanding that each of us holds varied, intersectional identities.”

We endeavor to cultivate citizen scholars, requiring deep personal reflection of our past, transparent reckoning with our present, tolerant consideration of different points of view, civility in discussions and disagreements, and elevation toward the best versions of ourselves. We ask our honors staff, faculty and students to hold us accountable, and know that we hold ourselves accountable through critical self-reflection and self-monitoring.


The SMBHC Equity-in-Action plan becomes the cornerstone of our work to sharpen our vision and evolve our mission over the next five years.


Over the next five years, the SMBHC will strive to address, monitor and evolve four strategic activities in the following areas: Community Action Challenge & Curriculum, Underrepresented Population Support, Programming & Engagement, and Recruitment & Admissions. Data collection, assessments and implementations will be measured according to Short, Medium and Long time periods. Specifically, Short equals six months to one year; Medium equals one to two years; and Long equals two to five years.


  • Jennifer Parsons, subcommittee chair and associate dean
  • Rachel Coleman, academic counselor and records coordinator
  • Kunal Shah, network administrator

PATHWAYS TO EQUITY: University of Mississippi
Institutional Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Strategic Plan

The University of Mississippi (UM) continues its commitment to excellence and making a positive difference in society through higher education. Pathways to Equity stands as our institutional guidepost for addressing and advancing our institutional mission through centering on diversity, equity and inclusion. Our complex institutional history coupled with our rich culture of student, faculty and staff striving for inclusive change has led us to the solidification of this institutional plan. Pathways to Equity works in concert with the university’s strategic plan to leverage university-wide, college/school-level and departmental transformative initiatives that cultivate a more diverse, equitable and inclusive campus.

With Pathways to Equity, the University of Mississippi aspires to achieve the following statements by the conclusion of this plan:

  1. The University of Mississippi consistently and comprehensively articulates diversity, equity and inclusion as essential in fulfilling the mission, vision and values of the institution.
  2. The University of Mississippi is organizationally and culturally equipped with the knowledge, skills and awareness to continue advancing diversity, equity and inclusion.
  3. A campus climate is fostered that ensures all individuals are valued and supported, and feel a sense of belonging at the University of Mississippi.
  4. The University of Mississippi demonstrates decreases in disparities across underrepresented groups in the enrollment, retention and graduation rate at undergraduate and graduate levels.
  5. The number of underrepresented groups employed at the University of Mississippi is increased to reflect a talented and diverse workforce at all organizational levels, especially tenure-track faculty, managerial positions and executive leadership positions.

Guiding Principles

The development of this plan requires us to address individual, social, organizational and systemic factors that create and sustain inequities that prevent all members of our community from fully participating and thriving at the University of Mississippi. As we embark on this journey together, we must commit to the following shared principles:

  1. Equity-mindedness[1] – We embrace the institutional responsibility and agency to actively address the challenges and disparate outcomes at all levels of our community. This requires us to be data informed and connect best and promising practices to generate high-impact change for underserved groups in our community.
  2. Institutional Accountability – We must ensure efforts outlined throughout Pathways to Equity are acknowledged in the established systems of recognition, performance and accountability. It is vital that we work to account for the advancement of these goals in our ideas of success, merit and reward. Further, we must account for, honor and recognize faculty, staff, administrators and students in their commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.
  3. Transparency – In our execution of Pathways to Equity, our success is predicated on a highly accessible and collaborative process that actively involves university stakeholders to work as meaningful partners. To that end, we will consistently, publicly and broadly share our intended actions, goals and measurable impacts of this plan.
  4. Innovation – Actualizing diversity, equity and inclusion will require us to deeply examine and rethink our policies, practices and procedures at the University of Mississippi. Each unit and individual across campus is invited to offer thoughts, ideas and perspectives as we thoughtfully consider ways to make our institution more equitable and inclusive through an intersectional lens. This disposition of robust inquiry and evidence-based imagination will create a community of learning, growth and development as we collectively engage in this complex work.
  5. Alignment of Critical Resources – During this planning process, we have navigated a global health pandemic that has shown the vulnerabilities in our systems that disparately affect underserved and under-resourced communities. As we continue to navigate these unprecedented times, we must not falter in our commitment to creating a more diverse, equitable and inclusive community. We must recognize that our commitment to equity is more important than ever.


The following goals represent the University of Mississippi’s commitment to the advancement of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). These overarching goals represent interconnected priorities that are applicable to UM broadly, from our comprehensive divisions down to individual teams. We aim to have all units see meaningful alignment of these goals with their work. We will ensure UM embraces the transformative nature of diversity, equity and inclusion across all levels of the institution, addressing challenges to DEI at every corner of our institution by combining contextual understanding with internal and external expertise.

  1. Advance Institutional Capacity for Equity
    Infrastructure, Information, Systems, Education and Processes
  2. Cultivate a Diverse and Equitable Community
    Recruiting, Retaining, Advancing and Succeeding
  3. Foster an Inclusive Campus Climate
    Support, Value and Belonging


The SMBHC aspires to advance the overarching goals and spirit of the University of Mississippi’s Pathways to Equity by minding four strategic activities within the SMBHC. Over the next five years, the SMBHC commits to address, monitor and evolve four strategic activities in the following areas: Community Action Challenge & Curriculum, Underrepresented Population Support, Programming & Engagement, and Recruitment & Admissions.

I: Community Action Challenge & Curriculum

Community Action Challenge (CAC) is expected of all honors students. Since 1997, the challenge to each honors student: become an agent of change in your community. Each semester, students make a difference by volunteering at least 10 hours, and use the CAC to outline the scope of their concerns and dreams, explore what it takes to have a lasting impact, and transform their communities and themselves.

The Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College will commit to increasing engagement with relevant societal themes addressing equity, diversity and inclusion. Assessing and revamping the community action challenge and specific honors course offerings presents a unique opportunity to advance equity through academic excellence. The SMBHC commits to positioning the CAC expectation to increase students’ engagement with relevant societal themes that address equity, diversity and inclusion.

As part of this effort, the SMBHC will explore opportunities for experiential learning, and will intentionally engage community partners as educators through course offerings, internships and research/capstone projects. This will increase our students’ cultural competencies as well as engaging in fulfilling the mission of citizen scholars.

There will be an audit of reported CAC hours to assess how students currently fulfill the CAC requirement and who are already established community partners. SMBHC staff will work with campus partners such as the McLean Institute to identify potential community partners, and work with other academic units to create opportunities for research. SMBHC staff will expand course offerings that have an experiential learning component. We will collaborate with diverse faculty and staff constituencies to ensure that the course critically engages with contemporary social, economic and historical issues.

CAC with a DEI component may include projects that identify and remove barriers; improve fairness or equity within systems, institutions and outcomes; and establish an inclusive understanding of how opportunities and occasions for success and achievement can be made available to all people.

Examples include previous partnerships with M Partner communities in places such as Ecru, New Albany and Pontotoc; translating materials and organizing activities like a health fair for Latinx communities in north Mississippi; and assisting with increasing college access through schools and organizations such as Mississippi College Access Project and Get2College.

Areas Responsible: SMBHC staff, honors faculty

Resources Statement: Audit of reported CAC hours (Baseline: 2016-19 audit)

Institutional Capacity:

  • Short: Prioritize fundraising for experiential learning projects and courses within the SMBHC
  • Medium: Increase the number of honors courses that incorporate CACto 30%
  • Long: Create a new staff member position to work with students on identifying appropriate CAC projects or opportunities, to establish cross-campus partnerships dedicated to community-engaged learning, and identify and apply for grants related to advancing community-driven work; staff member will also help faculty build CAC into honors courses

Diverse and Equitable Community:

  • Short: Pre-assessment of the number of CAC projects that incorporate elements of addressing DEI issues
  • Medium: Reach 20 CAC projects that demonstrate a commitment to addressing DEI issues in society
  • Long: New staff position will work to match DEI-related CAC projects to honors students’ passions and career paths; establish a faculty liaison for each DEI-related CAC project

II: Underrepresented Population Support

The Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College will create more programming and meaningful engagement opportunities for our diverse and underrepresented populations, including Men of Color (MOC) and LGBTQIA+ communities. Strategies that support the retention of MOC is paramount for the SMBHC. In order to create a safe, supportive space for MOC, we will partner with the Center for Inclusion and Cross Cultural Engagement (CICCE) and our diverse faculty and staff to host quarterly sessions where we check in, learn about their experiences, share insights and grapple with challenges.

The SMBHC will also draw on nationwide best practices for creating a more inclusive space for LGBTQIA+ students by partnering with CICCE to increase participation in ally training among all constituencies, and including gender-neutral language in our policies and statements. Additionally, we will establish an LGBTQIA+ student organization for the SMBHC that will provide community and support for our students.

Area Responsible: SMBHC staff

Resources Statement: Conduct climate survey of the Honors College Minority
Engagement Council and survey all SMBHC students who identify as MOC and/or LGBTQIA+

Institutional Capacity:

  • Short: Establish quarterly touchpoints for underrepresented students, specifically MOC and LGBTQIA+ populations. For example, designated SMBHC upperclassmen, staff or faculty meet with honors MOC to discuss challenges, questions and observations
  • Medium: Establish annual speaker series connected to the recruitment, retention and graduation of underrepresented populations; collect annual report of staff and faculty feedback regarding implementation of best practices and areas of success and failure
  • Long: Host the National Society for Minorities in Honors conference on the University of Mississippi main campus in 2024

Diverse and Equitable Community:

  • Medium: Identify factors contributing to attrition among underrepresented populations in the SMBHC

III. Programming & Engagement

The Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College commits to fostering an inclusive environment in our efforts to attract and retain a diverse student, faculty and staff population. The SMBHC understands the significance of representation and inclusion as key factors in building and maintaining a diverse intellectual and social community.

The SMBHC will explore opportunities to further engage our underrepresented student communities, particular students of color and alternative entry (Honors Scholars program entrants) through programming initiatives.

Areas responsible: SMBHC staff (organization advisers); student organization leaders

Resources Statement: The SMBHC will review and evaluate the current efficiency and inclusiveness of current programming objectives by conducting a 2021 survey.

Institutional Capacity:

  • Short: Audit number of events held for underrepresented populations through the Honors College Minority Engagement Council, the Honors Senate and the SMBHC First-Generation Student Network.

Diverse and Equitable Community:

Areas of emphasis/focus to include:

  • Short: Commitment to increasing cultural visibility in current SMBHC programming by hosting one event per fall and spring semester.
  • Medium: Create five annual activities specifically for members of the Honors Scholars (formerly Junior-Entry) program by 2022
  • Medium: Foster increased collaboration between established SMBHC governing bodies like the Honors College Minority Engagement Council (HoCoMEC) and Honors Senate and nongoverning bodies such as the SMBHC First-Generation Student Network at Honors Ambassadors by organizing one annual event.
  • Medium: Bias Awareness Training & Diversity Education for SMBHC staff and student leaders of SMBHC organizations and groups on an annual basis
  • Medium: Establish a dedicated SMBHC staff member to serve as an adviser and mentor to all student organizations within the SMBHC by 2022

Campus Climate:

  • Short: Pre-assessment of Honors Senate director, SMBHC First-Generation Student Network president, and HoCoMEC president gauging how equipped they are to foster an inclusive honors community
  • Medium: At least 70% of all honors students (approximately 1,700) will report feeling engaged and included in honors programming efforts in a 2022 survey

IV: Recruitment & Admissions

The Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College will commit to a more inclusive and equitable recruitment and admissions process for future SMBHC students. Building relationships with key stakeholders and including current students like those in HoCoMEC will aid in our mission of building a more equitable admissions process.

Building relationships – School Counselors

The SMBHC will perform intentional outreach to counselors from high schools and community colleges where we receive a rising number of both nonwhite and African American applications. Data from SMBHC application years, MOST conference attendance and Office of Admissions data will be used to inform which schools we target. From there, the SMBHC will commit to building relationships with these counselors through outreach and programming. Special attention will be paid to Mississippians, but efforts will reach nationwide and globally.

Continuing relationships – Campus Partners

The SMBHC will continue to grow relationships with key campus partners like those in CICCE and the MOST program. The coordinator of enrollment and engagement will continue to serve on the MOST advisory board and relay developments back to SMBHC leadership. MOST Conference participants will learn about the SMBHC through breakout sessions during the summer and continued follow-up from HoCoMEC connections during the school year.

The SMBHC will also continue working with the Office of Admissions, including the transfer admissions counselor and new coordinator of diversity recruitment, to further develop outreach to students of color and African American students.

Areas responsible: SMBHC staff, Honors Minority Engagement Council, SMBHC
First-Generation Network, Honor Senate and Honors Ambassadors

Resources statement:

  • Current resources: SMBHC recruitment and enrollment data
  • Needed resources: Admissions and MOST recruitment data

Institutional capacity:

  • Short: Pre-assessment of how many high school and community colleges the SMBHC contacted in 2019; pre-assessment of how many current honors students were involved in recruiting practices on behalf of the SMBHC in 2019
  • Medium: Increase by 50% the number of recruitment events to targeted high schools and community colleges from the pre-assessment figure
  • Medium: Increase the number of current SMBHC students we involve in our recruitment process by 50% from baseline number; adapt strategies and outreach based on their input and feedback
  • Medium: Benchmark best strategies at peer honors programs and colleges to inform effective practices

Diverse and Equitable Community:

  • Short: Identify factors that lead to students not completing or submitting an honors application (e.g., why aren’t some students applying to our program?) by surveying current UM students who are not members of the SMBHC

Inclusive Campus Climate:

  • Long: Increase honors students of color population from 18% to 22%; increase Black student population from 5.2% to 10%. As of February 2021, the SMBHC has 1,707 enrolled honors students. Of those, 303 (18%) report being other than white, and 88 (5.2%) report being Black or African American.

V: Policies and Procedures Transparency

The Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College commits to more transparency regarding our policies and procedures. Building trust between honors staff, faculty and students begins with clearly stated and communicated policies and procedures housed on our website.

Areas responsible: SMBHC staff, specifically the dean and the associate deans

Resources statement: All decision-making processes related to Freshman Ventures, the Barksdale Award, Portz nominations, honors fellowships, honors research funds, honors conference travel funds, honors course equivalencies, admissions decisions for general applications as well as scholarship candidates, budget allowances for honors student groups, faculty stipends, Honors Senate election practices, honors commissioning ceremony speaker selections, academic discipline procedures, Honors Scholars program admissions process, reentry into the Honors College and explicitly stated grounds for SMBHC dismissal will be shared on the SMBHC website.

Institutional capacity:

  • Short: The associate deans will compile a list of frequently asked questions and answers relating to funding, including honors fellowships, honors research funds and honors conference travel funds to be posted on the SMBHC website; the associate dean for communications will add budget allowances for honors student groups to the SMBHC website
  • Medium: The associate deans, records coordinator and accountant will create an SMBHC internal handbook of policies and procedures for all areas aforementioned
  • Long: Publicly house an SMBHC handbook of policies and procedures on the SMBHC website



[1] Bensimon, E.M., Dowd, A.C., Witham, K. (2016). Five principles for enacting equity by design. Diversity and Democracy, The Equity Imperative. Winter 2016, Volume 19, No. 1.