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First African American woman voted new ASB President

 

Kimbrely Dandridge wasn’t trying to make history when she decided to run for Associated Student Body president at the University of Mississippi.

“For me to be the first African-American woman elected to the presidency of the ASB just shows how far our university has come,” she said. “To me, it is not about being the first but about setting a leading way for the people that follow; I’m really excited.”

Dandridge’s deputy chief of staff, sophomore Tim Abram, said he looks forward to the day where race won’t play an issue in an election.

“I would say it is a long time coming,” Abram said. “I’m ready for the day to come where this kind of thing doesn’t matter.”

Dandridge attending Ole Miss was a big deal for her family. Her mother has a two-year degree from Northwest Community College, and her father never went to college. Dandridge’s mother, Deborah, said she is proud of her daughter, especially considering the lack of education in their family history.

“My father, he only had a third-grade education, and my mother only had an eighth-grade education,” Deborah said. “For their granddaughter to get the kind of education she would achieve, it is a big accomplishment.”

Dandridge said she understands the importance of being a first-generation college student, attributing her drive to take advantage of every opportunity to that.

The Como native didn’t always have her sights set on the presidency. Dandridge said her goals were a little different as a freshman.

“I just always had in my mind that I would run for Homecoming Queen one day,” she said. “I don’t know what changed from then until now, but here I am, ASB president now.”

Dandridge’s involvement in her sorority, Phi Mu, and presidency of the Black Student Union both played an integral role in her road to the ASB.

“I can’t think of anyone that I know that has been in a predominantly white sorority at a predominantly white institute that has been the president of the Black Student Union, and not only that, but at the same time have to overcome so many things and different obstacles of being in both organizations,” she said. “Trying to find the balance between the two has been a struggle.”

Dandridge joined the BSU her freshman year and was immediately taken under the wing of some student leaders. She was told that someone like her could potentially lead some day, and they encouraged her to run for office. Dandridge was then elected secretary of the BSU as a sophomore, which propelled her toward her presidential run the following year.

“My theme for everything is to leave something better than I found it, and I can honestly say with the BSU, we are leaving it better than we found it,” she said.

Being involved in the BSU was one thing, but joining a sorority that was majority white was a different story.

Dandridge said she doesn’t remember signing up for rush her sophomore year, or even why she decided to rush in the dominantly white sororities.

“When I first got in Phi Mu, people were talking about me being black and in Phi Mu,” she said. “Some people didn’t want me in there. Me and my sisters you know, we fought through it (and) we stuck together. They didn’t care whether I was black, they didn’t care if I was white, they just cared about me as a sister and I value that so much because they were there for me during that time.”

While being black in a dominantly white sorority presented its fair share of challenges, Dandridge said she has no regrets.

“I wouldn’t change it,” she said. “It’s been a growing experience, and I have learned so much about myself in there, and I think the girls in there have learned so much about themselves and also about me.”

A lot has changed at Ole Miss in the 50 years since James Meredith’s admittance. In 2000, Ole Miss elected its first black ASB president, Nic Lott, who recently gave a speech in the Student Union, kicking off a series of events for Black History Month.

“I tell my friends all the time — other schools joke about us, ‘Oh, you guys are that racist school,’ ‘Oh, the KKK comes there,’ but you know what? I look at all of that stuff as learning experiences,” Dandridge said. “I don’t think at any other institution you learn so much, not so much academics, but about yourself and about the world around you. 

“I think Ole Miss puts the world in your hands, and you see so much of it — you see love, you see every part of the world here at Ole Miss; you see the good, the bad, the ugly.”

Though only a toddler when Meredith was admitted, Dandridge’s mother remembered learning in school about the race riots at Ole Miss and President John F. Kennedy calling in the National Guard. She said there were still problems on campus when she was in college at Northwest. 

“It was a struggle for blacks to attend Ole Miss, even in the ‘80s,” she said.

Even today, Ole Miss has problems with diversity on campus. Dandridge said she believes the university is doing a good job and is making steps in the right direction, but after working as an RA, she said some issues like campus housing need improvement.

“When I was an RA we had conflicts, numerous conflicts dealing with students who had never been around different cultures and had never been exposed, but I can honestly say, as an RA, I saw so many students grow,” she said. “They really grew by the time they left freshman year. Maybe that is a conversation we can have — you know, what we can do to make the residence halls more diverse?”

Dandridge said she is concentrating on ways to unify the student body, to make sure all students from different races, cultures or lifestyles can share a place on campus and to celebrate what makes them different.

“I think Ole Miss has a ways to go,” she said. “I would love to see a multicultural center on campus; that is something I am going to work on this year as president.”

Dandridge has already sketched plans for the center, proposing the Lamar Law Center as a potential location. She said having a multicultural center would allow students to celebrate different cultures and would provide an ideal place for international events.

“In the real world it’s not going to be black and white; it’s going to be everybody,” she said. “We are going to have to learn how to work together, and I think my experiences here have prepared me for the real world.”

With her ASB presidency just beginning and several experiences already behind her, Dandridge said she is just happy to be here.

“You know, we have our flaws and we are not a perfect university at all, but I am proud to be an Ole Miss Rebel.”