What Black History Month Means to: The Administrator

http://buy-generic-clomid.com buy discount viagra By Morgan Givens
Staff writer

Vice President of Academic Engagement Kim LeDuff can clearly recall the conversation she had with her then 90- year- old grandfather when she earned her job as a professor and associate director at the mass communications department at the University of Southern Mississippi.

“When I told him I got the job, he said that he must have misheard me,” LeDuff said.

LeDuff’s grandfather was a man who lived and experienced the turbulent events African Americans faced in the South throughout the 20th century, from Jim Crow laws to the racial riots in the Martin Luther King Jr. era.

“In his mind, and as a man who grew up in the South,” LeDuff said, “he never thought he’d never see the day that a state so segregated would get to the point where his black granddaughter would have that opportunity.”

(UWF Marketing Department)

For those who are not familiar with Southern Miss or the Hattiesburg area, the campus and city are located in Forrest County, Mississippi. Forrest County was named in honor of Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest. Forrest was not only a figure of importance in the history of the Civil War but is also known for being one of the first leaders in the Ku Klux Klan.

Although the name of the county remains the same, times have changed.

LeDuff, who also holds a bachelor’s degree from the historically- black Xavier University, is originally from New Orleans. After her time at Xavier, she earned her master’s degree from the University of Maryland-College Park, then earned her Ph.D. from Indiana University. Being interested and involved with the media throughout her college career, she focused on the criticism aspect of it and dedicated a lot of her research to the topic.

It was at this point where she decided to teach and take the academic route instead of pursuing a career in reporting. Her teaching jobs include schools including her alma mater Xavier, Hampton University and Southern Miss before landing her job as the chief diversity officer at the University of West Florida in 2013.

Her main objective when she accepted that role was to create a diversity plan for the university, which she and her office achieved last year. With the completion of the plan she published a report that stated clear goals for UWF on a diversity and inclusion standpoint.

“When I talk about diversity, I like to think about it as inclusion,” LeDuff said. “One of the things I love about a college campus is that you have all these people from all over the world and communities from all over our country and region coming together and I think we all learn and grow from that interaction.”

The goals stated in the diversity plan included improving retention, graduation rates, improving and sustaining a culture where all identities feel included and that UWF serves as a center for diversity. In the three years, the data was compiled for the report and,  the results show that these goals were clearly met. Retention rates increase from 71 to 77 percent from 2014 to 2017. The total number of degrees awardedrewarded to minority students including not just African American students, but Asian and Hispanic students as well, rose from 2,631 to 3,060.

With all the work and dedication put into the diversity report, LeDuff has made her purpose obvious and that’s to help make UWF be a place that looks at diversity as an accepting concept that values all the unique aspects, and still recognizing what we all have in common. As she stated in her message in the report, there is still much work to be done, and she sees this month as a time to reflect and celebrate.

“When you think about all the struggles that people have faced,” LeDuff said, “I think they deserve to be acknowledged. I think for people who lived through these times it’s a moment to see how far we’ve come, or possibly reverted. Times have reminded us how much more needs to be done as a society and a community.”

(UWF Marketing Department)

With today’s climate and the visible racial tensions our country faces, LeDuff finds it easy to see the big picture in what she does every day doing diversity work, which she says is work that’s never done. This is especially prevalent when she says that it simply being human nature to a degree seek differences and self segregate, which she finds unfortunate and sees that a way that prohibits growing and learning.

“Being someone who is a news junkie and coming from a media background, I find it being difficult watching the news right sometimes,” LeDuff said. “But it’s a conversation that I often have, and I feel that what we are feeling is the beginning of what I hope will be a seismic shift. When society really is facing a change, sometimes you have to hit rock bottom before you can bounce back.”

Instead of seeing today’s troubling times in a negative light, LeDuff paints a picture where society exceeds and arrives to a better place in the future. She looks back at history and emphasizes this is not the first hardship our country and people have faced and credits months like Black History Month and other cultural celebrations throughout the year as times to reflect how far we have come but how much more work needs to be done.

“In my heart of hearts, I want to believe we’re all trying to find our way and rather thinking of it negatively, I like to be hopeful,” LeDuff said. “And I feel like we will emerge together and stronger.”