The Black Alumni Reunion weekend kicked off Thursday afternoon with one of the first events being an alumni and student networking panel called “Success Looks Like Me.” At the panel, six former students from different backgrounds and career paths talked about their experiences at the university and what their lives are currently like in the workforce.
Norris E.J. Edney III, National Pan-Hellenic Council coordinator of Greek affairs, moderated the panel and said he was extremely impressed by all the panelists’ accomplishments.
“These panelists, when I look at their bios, these are my aspirations,” Edney said.
Ole Miss alumnus and former White House intern Teresa Jones said her time at the university prepared her to succeed in a world where many people were different from her.
“I had all of these different circles of people who came from different backgrounds, and it prepared me for my professional career,” Jones said. “It does not matter what room I’m in or who’s in the room because I know who I am and I have dealt with this before time and time again for four years.”
Jones said that while some of her experiences at Ole Miss were difficult and disheartening, she’s thankful because they readied her for the real world.
Edney continued the panel discussion by explaining that several of the panelists had left the state to pursue their careers, asking the panelists about their own personal reasons for seeking a career outside of Mississippi.
LaToya Green, director of Walmart Technology, said she left the state because she was offered a very good job somewhere other than Mississippi.
She said although her career path led her away from her home state, it does not mean she will never return and bring her experiences back.
“Just because in the moment I left to go follow my dreams in technology and follow my passions doesn’t mean that life can’t bring me right back here,” Green said.
The panelists were then asked to discuss times when they felt as if their skin color played a negative role in their careers.
“I’ve often heard people say that black people have to work twice as hard to get half as much,” Edney said.
Carl Griffon said that from his experience, he has noticed that African Americans have to put forth more effort in the workforce.
“I still have to try a lot harder than a lot of other people and people still assume that I don’t know as much or that I’m not going to work as hard,” Griffon said.
He went on to say that it not only affects people of color but also women.
“Women have it so much harder as well and you add to that being a black woman, you make it even harder,” Griffin said. “I see it, but I’ve made sure to understand that a color does not define who I am. I’m going to continually work as hard as I can and eventually I’ll get to where I need to be.”
Jones said while she hasn’t seen black people having to work twice as hard as white people in her profession, she has seen women and people from lower income backgrounds having to work disproportionately harder than men.
She talked about her experience as a White House intern and how one of her black male colleagues, whose parents both attended Ivy League schools, took the internship a lot less seriously than she did, often times arriving late and leaving early.
“Even though we were both black, we had completely different perspectives on the world, completely different perspectives on the White House and completely different perspectives on the black community as a whole,” she said.
Although there was a clear difference in work ethic, Jones said her male colleague still received better treatment than her at times.
Toni Avant, director of the Career Center, said she was excited to hear what all of the panelists had to say.
“We have a great group of panelists assembled, some of these, I would deem my children and some of them I’m just now getting to know today,” Avant said.
The Black Alumni Reunion will continue through the weekend with events including more alumni panels, a concert, step show and bus tours.