The University of Southern Mississippi prides itself on having one of the most diverse student bodies in the region, if not the nation. The University’s campuses in Hattiesburg and in Long Beach host students from all corners of Mississippi, every region in the United States and more than 70 foreign countries. Approximately 37 percent of the University’s students are from underrepresented groups.
That diversity creates the opportunity for a rich cultural and educational experience for all Southern Miss students, faculty and staff. As a point of policy, the University offers all people equal access to educational, programmatic and employment opportunities, regardless of age, sex, sexual orientation, disability, pregnancy, gender identity, genetic information, religion, race, color, national origin, or veteran status. Beyond that, though, is a commitment outlined in USM’s mission, vision and values to ensure all are welcomed and included in the University’s community of scholars.
The University recently made financial investments supporting its commitment to inclusion. Last month, USM announced the hiring of Dr. Latonya Guillory as Director of Affirmative Action/Equal Employment Opportunity, and has also added an assistant director position for that office. USM leaders have also allocated new resources to create two graduate assistantships in support of the University’s Title IX operations, led by Dr. Rebecca Woodrick Malley.
In addition, the group tasked with taking a supporting role in University conversations related to inclusivity is the Institutional Diversity Committee, a group of faculty, staff, students and community leaders, selected by USM leadership to ensure the University lives by the values it professes. Formed in 2015, the committee’s purpose is to identify and address issues of inclusivity by constructively engaging the University community and advising USM leaders on policies, procedures, and programs that encourage the University to operate by the values expressed in the non-discrimination policy statement.
“For our students to succeed in a global economy, they need to learn how to respect and to work with people who are different from themselves,” said Dr. Douglas Bristol, chair of the committee and an associate professor of History. “The Institutional Diversity Committee helps Southern Miss teach students the value of diversity by ensuring that the University respects and works with everyone in the University community.”
The committee has among other activities established bylaws, made recommendations to the University’s Executive Cabinet and weighed-in on events related to diversity and inclusivity issues.
Most recently, the committee passed a resolution that offered heartfelt condolences to the people who lost loved ones in the Orlando nightclub shooting and reaffirmed USM’s commitment to safety of all students, faculty, and staff. “Members of the LGBTQ community in South Mississippi reached out to members of the Institutional Diversity Committee and said they felt unsafe in public spaces in the aftermath of the shooting in Orlando,” Bristol said.
“As the #BlackLivesMatter movement has taught us, part of being inclusive means recognizing that all groups do not respond the same way to events in the news,” Bristol added. “The purpose of our resolution was to reassure them that Southern Miss is not only committed to their safety on our campuses, but is also working to protect them from discrimination and harassment.”
Bristol and Andre Heath, Assistant to the Dean of the College of Science and Technology for Strategic Initiatives, lead the committee, which has a representative from each college and division along with administrators who supervise diversity efforts. Heath serves as the committee’s vice chair.
Meetings are open to all members of the University community, as well as those with an interest in issues related to diversity and inclusion.
For more information on the committee or to read the Orlando resolution in full, visit the USM Institutional Diversity Committee’s Facebook page at Facebook.com/USMIDC, or email Douglas.Bristol@usm.edu.
To view the University’s complete mission, vision, values and goals, visit: https://www.usm.edu/about/vision/vision-mission-values.