University’s first diversity chancellor takes the reins

Posted on Jan 26 2017 - 8:04am by Jennifer Froning

Katrina Myers Caldwell is trying to understand the University of Mississippi. 

As the university’s first vice chancellor for diversity and community engagement, Caldwell said she wants to, “help build on the programs that have already been established that have been very successful and to look for, in terms of progress, what changes we may make in the future around the university.”

Caldwell has spent the last 20-plus years in the Midwest working with different institutions to handle diversity. She said she is looking forward to building a portfolio on diversity and community engagement for the campus.

Caldwell was born and raised in Memphis, Tennessee, until she left home to attend Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia. She said Spelman is where she first became interested in studying diversity.

“Even though the time I grew up was … integrated, there was still a lot of racial tension that I didn’t quite understand,” she said. “I didn’t have a true sense of what that history was until I went away to college.”

Caldwell said she has been looking forward to returning to the South and has many reasons for wanting to come to Ole Miss.

“I’m really intrigued about the University of Mississippi’s history and its legacy,” she said. “I think now the way diversity, equity, inclusion work is happening in the world, in terms of innovation and progress, places like Mississippi are important, I think, in terms of diversity.”

Caldwell’s said her goal is to hear people’s perceptions of their experiences on campus and in the community. She plans on relating what she has heard from students to her own experience and then making suggestions about how the university should move forward.

When Caldwell isn’t working, she said she loves enjoying a good novel or dancing in local Zumba classes. Lately, she said meditation has helped her understand her inner self.

She said she is looking forward to spending time with her Mississippi, Tennessee and Arkansas family. In June, her husband and kids are joining her in Oxford, and she said she is ready to show them around her new town.

Caldwell said she loves small town living and is excited to live in a college town for the first time. She even has a full list of restaurant recommendations from her foodie friends familiar with the Oxford scene.

“I have a long list of eateries I’ve got to get to before the end of the year,” she said. “I like the Square a lot. I haven’t met a food option there that I haven’t enjoyed.”

Caldwell is looking forward to both living in Oxford and getting to know the students through their perspectives this year. She said she is always willing to talk in order to improve diversity and community engagement at Ole Miss.

“I’m pretty open to listening. Even though I’ve had 20-plus years of experience, you can still learn something from some of the most unanticipated places, from some of the most unexpected individuals, people who you never think I can learn something from.”