Since stepping foot on the UM campus in the late 1960s as a student, Donald Cole has experienced firsthand the strides the University has made in the areas of diversity and inclusion.
When the Jackson native was asked to return to his alma mater in an administrative capacity, the decision was not difficult. Cole taught in the graduate school’s mathematics department until his work caught Chancellor Robert Khayat’s attention. Khayat asked Cole to come work in the Office of the Chancellor dealing with diversity issues on campus.
Cole now serves as the assistant to the chancellor concerning minority affairs. He looks for areas lacking diversity on campus and works to determine what action can be taken to improve them.
Diversity and inclusion have always been topics of interest to Cole, and though they weren’t necessarily subjects he chose to pursue at first, he has enjoyed the direction life has taken him.
“There was a need and still is a need for the University to have someone working in this area, and perhaps at the time, I was the most obvious choice,” Cole said. “Honestly, my passion is doing whatever I can do to promote the University of Mississippi. My love for this institution has outweighed any other desire that I have.”
Despite the progress made over the last 50 years, Cole said the University has room for improvement and the potential to be an example of inclusion going forward.
“At least in the area of race and race relations, I would like to see this institution be the leader of the nation in racial reconciliation,” Cole said. “I think we stand poised to do that. Black and white Mississippians alike have learned so much from each other, and I’d like to see the University of Mississippi lead the state in the dialogue for reconciliation.”
Overall, Cole is optimistic about the future of the University. He said he always uses the analogy of seeing the glass half-full instead of half-empty.
“I have seen it empty and I’m an optimistic person, so to see that glass half-full is very pleasing to me,” Cole said. “It shows me that the University is going in the right direction. The continuing legacy of leadership has promoted diversity at the University, and Dr. Vitter is made of the same mold in terms of leadership as our previous chancellors. “
With Black History Month having begun Monday, the University has several events planned in celebration.
“The committee in charge has planned an all-star program, and I’d like to see students partake in it as a part of the learning outside of the classroom,” Cole said.
He said the University has provided a venue for campus members to have good, healthy conversations but students bear the responsibility to take advantage of those opportunities.
“This is a time for listening, for reasoning and for dialogue,” Cole said. “This is a time to be rejuvenated.”
Cole said there is still much more to accomplish, though. He believes the University faces a special burden involving equality, diversity and inclusion because of its terrible past.
“Many people still view us as a university of the ’60s because they haven’t looked again since that time,” Cole said. “Because of that, we have to work very diligently to present ourselves as a university of the 2000s. There is no doubt that we are making strides toward that end. For some, it’s never fast enough. For others, sometimes the pace is too fast. It’s impossible to please all. The important thing is that we always move forward, no matter the pace.”