Award recognizes those working for a more equitable campus community
The University of Mississippi‘s Division of Diversity and Community Engagement has honored four students with the Diversity Innovator Student Award in recognition of their efforts to create a more diverse and equitable campus.
The awards went to Ainsley Ash, a 2021 public policy leadership graduate from Meridian, Mississippi; Kam’ron Bracey, a graduate student in the School of Education from Jackson, Mississippi; Devika Ganapathy, a senior elementary education major from Kennesaw, Georgia; and Bobby Hudson III, a senior public policy leadership major from Gulfport, Mississippi.
This award recognizes students who leave a legacy felt long after their graduation, said Sarah Piñón, UM assistant director for cross cultural engagement and programming.
“This award recognizes students who have gone above and beyond in the areas of diversity, equity, and inclusion on campus,” Piñón said. “These students and many others on our campus are making profound contributions to diversity and inclusion that will leave an impact long past their time.”
The inaugural award was presented to staff and faculty in 2020, and this year is the first year that students are receiving the award.
As a first-generation college student, Ash put together a mental list of people and resources that helped her navigate the university, while noting systems that could be adjusted to make UM more accessible to students like her. That list became an informal network and eventually the First Generation Student Network, which helps students access the resources and information that others take for granted while providing helpful programming such as resume writing workshops or yoga classes.
Ash also developed the Mississippi College Access Project, which connects prospective students with current college students. The program prepares high schoolers with tutoring, financial education resources, mock interviews and advising from active Mississippi college students.
She said the recognition, while unexpected, is certainly motivating.
“I think it’s nice to know that this work that I have been doing is seen as legitimate in the eyes of people I admire,” Ash said. “To be recognized by the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement – there is no one else I would want to say, “Job well done” more, because I know the work they do and aspire to be like them.”
Bracey received the Diversity Innovator Student Award for his social media and outreach work at the School of Education, specifically his efforts to attract and retain students from minority populations.
While the campus was closed due to COVID-19, Bracey used social media to help the school stay in contact with students and keep them updated and engaged. He also brought together a panel of Ole Miss alumni and education experts to discuss teacher equity and pay gaps in the state’s education system and answer students’ questions.
“The school district I came from wasn’t the best, but they wanted to make sure they met each student’s needs equally,” Bracey said. “That’s why the teacher equity gap is important to me.
“We want to figure out why there is a big gap in teacher pay and how low-income students are affected by that, based on the districts they’re in.”
The work is fun because he gets to have an impact on how diverse the teacher pool is in Mississippi, he said. Bracey is serving as a graduate assistant in the School of Education but eventually plans to teach middle school. Read more of Bracey’s story here.
Ganapathy served as both vice president of membership for RebelTHON and the Associated Student Body principal of philanthropy during the COVID-19 pandemic. With each role, she prioritized expanding both service and volunteer opportunities to a broader and more diverse constituency.
“RebelTHON gets a reputation for being a Greek event because so many people involved are Greek,” Ganapathy said. “I love that community and am a member, but I made it a point to reach out to all organizations – student organizations, multicultural organizations – to try to get everyone to participate.
“There is still a lot to be done, but we’re off to a great start.”
Similarly, with the ASB’s Adopt-A-Basket program, she worked to provide holiday meals for university employees with different cultural and dietary needs. Besides providing more types of meal baskets, she oversaw the creation and distribution of 178 total baskets, which is the most in the program’s history.
“The Division of Diversity and Community Engagement has always supported me and always found a way to make our ideas come to life,” she said. “I’m truly honored.”
Bobby Hudson III
Hudson became interested in advocacy work when he was appointed as student liaison to the Campus Climate Survey working group, which ultimately resulted in the universitywide Pathways to Equity strategic plan.
“That allowed me to be involved in conversations about race and diversity at the university,” Hudson said. “And I realized I have a passion for improving equity and pursuing equitable solutions, both here on campus and at home in Gulfport.”
Hudson took what he learned from the working group, as well as through his involvement with the Center for Inclusion and Cross Cultural Engagement, and created the North Gulfport Advocacy Coalition, which addresses topics of concern in primarily Black communities within Gulfport. The coalition organizes events, programs and resources for the communities it serves, such as moderating a town hall between municipal candidates and anti-gun violence block parties.
This summer, Hudson founded and served as the lead organizer of the Gulfport Citywide Juneteenth Celebration Committee.
By JB Clark