February 24, 2017 By
Ole Miss sociology of religion professor Willa Johnson was one of the many honorees in this year’s diversity awards being recognized for the work they do to bring more inclusion to every type of student on campus.
Johnson, as well as Hamed Benghuzzi, professor and chair of clinical health sciences at UMMC, was recognized at the ceremony, which took place Feb. 16 in Jackson. Honorees include faculty from various schools in Mississippi. Each recipient was presented with a plaque by Shane Hooper, IHL trustee and chair of the diversity committee. Chancellor Vitter was also in attendance.
“This is an award given by the governing board of all eight public universities. We nominate someone from UM, and the other schools nominate someone from their institution,” Assistant Provost Donald Cole said.
Requirements and criteria for the IHL Excellence in Diversity and Inclusion Award include a 1-2 page memo from the university’s president on the nominee’s ability to create an inclusive and supportive campus and clearly demonstrating a consistent pattern of diversity and inclusion activities, among other things.
Johnson entered the university’s department of sociology and anthropology in spring 2010 and is now a tenured professor. Johnson received a Ph.D. Master of Arts from Vanderbilt University and formerly trained as a biblical scholar. Johnson is known for her efforts to increase inclusion and diversity on campus. The associate professor of sociology has received multiple outside grants for her research projects and public programming. In 2013, she was awarded with the $32,000 Cummings Foundation Fellowship by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial and Museum in Washington, D.C.
Johnson explained how shocked she was and how this award isn’t about her but about everybody who helps to diversify this campus.
“Well, I certainly felt honored and surprised,” Johnson said. “I always look at this kind of work as mostly partner work. I say this to recognize the group work we do on campus. I don’t think of this as just an award about me.”
Johnson also stated that it takes a lot cooperation, coordination and money and that she thinks all these different people and departments on campus deserve credit.
Johnson recalled hearing that she was up for IHL excellence award.
“I just got a phone call from Dr. Cole,” Johnson said. “He said that he and the chancellor wanted to put my name forward for the work I’ve put in over the years here. I gave them my résumé and what kinds of programming I’ve did, and I think they were satisfied with me this year.”
Students at Ole Miss also feel that the diversity awards is a great way to celebrate achievement in our community.
“It is much needed for our university to consistently acknowledge these students, faculty members and staff who continually work to improve the university,” junior broadcast journalism major Terrence Johnson said.
Johnson said diversity means a space for accepting and valuing difference and a chance not just to see African-Americans but also for racial justice across the board.
Johnson said she believes more value needs to be placed on other people, whether they are Jewish, Muslim, Atheist, gay, etc. She also feels that being truly diverse means making ourselves uncomfortable and listening a lot.
“Diversity is about not just inclusion, but the value of others, and I think if we can grasp that, we can do a good job by our students,” Johnson said.