Graduate School

The University of Mississippi

Physics Professor, Modern Languages Department Selected for Diversity Award

By Nathan Towery

Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

Each year, an individual, group or graduate program is recognized for efforts in promoting inclusiveness at the University of Mississippi in graduate education. This year, both an individual and a program were recognized. The Department of Modern Languages along with Cecille Labuda, associate professor of physics and astronomy, received the award.

The Department of Modern Languages is inherently diverse, said interim chair Dan O’Sullivan. People from many different cultures and countries are represented within the department, and one of the department’s main goals is to promote diversity.

“We prepare a lot of American students for that cross-cultural understanding, which they do by hosting language tables, lectures and workshops that are open to all students,” O’Sullivan said.

“We are so involved in cross-cultural understanding because in order to speak a foreign language you need to have some idea about that culture,” he said. “It really feels like a slice of the globe. On any given day, you can come in here and hear half-a-dozen different languages.”

Labuda said that the physics department traditionally has struggled with diversity. One way the department combated that was to host a conference for undergraduate women in physics back in 2015.

“One of the major goals was to encourage these undergraduates to go to physics grad school … and basically to help give them the confidence to do that,” Labuda said.

The conference was a success in that many of the attendees went on to graduate school.

Labuda also promoted inclusiveness at the graduate level by establishing a group for graduate women in physics.

“It’s a way for all of us to get together and celebrate women in physics and to learn about what women in physics are doing,” she said.

“You have to relate to the students in a way that they feel comfortable integrating with the department. This is very important if you want the department to become more diverse.”

She said the group is open to anyone who wants to discuss what women are doing in the physics world.

Labuda and the Department of Modern Languages received their awards at the doctoral hooding ceremony on May 12.