Antonow Honored with 2021 UM Diversity Innovator Award
Outreach College Programs Director recognized for commitment to equity and inclusion
OXFORD, Miss. – Laura Antonow, of Oxford, was honored this month for her work at the University of Mississippi and in the Oxford community for advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Now in its second year, the UM Diversity Innovator Award highlights faculty and staff who are partners and leaders at the university demonstrating a commitment to the education and fair treatment of all.
Shawnboda Mead, interim vice chancellor for diversity and community engagement at UM says that this year’s award winners were selected for their exemplary contributions that are making a difference for University faculty, staff, and students.
“Each awardee has dedicated their professional efforts to ensuring our community can achieve its goals through embracing individual difference and prioritizing equitable practices,” said Mead.
As the director of college programs in UM’s Division of Outreach, Antonow works to open the doors of opportunity for students to participate in meaningful experiential learning that can lead to career advancement through the UM StudyUSA and Internship Experience programs.
Also, under her direction is the UM iStudy program that allows students to complete UM courses from anywhere in the world in order to stay on track for graduation. The program has grown exponentially over the years and includes providing access to iStudy courses for incarcerated students in Mississippi who are working to continue their education.
While overseeing this growing department, she has also served as the chair of the Chancellor’s Commission on the Status of Women, investigating and proposing ideas to UM officials on how to correct and prevent gender-based pay inequities among other initiatives.
“My work with the Chancellor’s Commission on the Status of Women has been some of the most rewarding work in which I have been involved,” Antonow said.
“Collaborating with women faculty, staff, and students from across campus has been enlightening, empowering, and very productive.”
The Commission shared recommendations regarding childcare, women's professional advancement, violence prevention, work-life balance, and parental leave issues.
Antonow also became UM’s first Child Care Fellow in 2018, researching student-parent needs and creating a five-year plan for the expansion of childcare at UM.
As an instructional assistant professor in UM’s Higher Education department, Antonow says she has had the opportunity to teach courses that focus on ethics, equity, and social justice that facilitate open and honest discussions around race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, national origin, political ideology, and more.
“It has been particularly rewarding to work with the next generation of educational leaders,” Antonow said. “Some discussions can be challenging, but with the diverse group of practitioner-scholars we have in the Ed.D. program, it has been inspiring.”
Antonow grew up in Oxford and graduated from the University of Texas at Arlington and later the Parsons New School of Design in New York. She worked in architectural lighting design in New York City before moving back to her hometown in 1995 to start a design practice and be closer to family.
Antonow said that she has seen many changes for the better in our community over the years, and she has been happy to have played a role.
“Conversations about diversity and inclusion were not as common when I moved back to Oxford in the 90s. People did good work that helped further the efforts, but it’s more clearly defined now.”
In 1997, as the then-president of the Yoknapatawpha Arts Council, Antonow was involved with President Clinton's "One America: The President's Initiative on Race" dialogue where she was able to speak about the role the arts can play in building community across race.
In 2004, she was involved with the creation of PFLAG in Oxford- an organization that provides support to families, friends, and members of the LGBTQ+ community.
“I feel like there has been a cultural change over this past year,” said Antonow. “This past summer, with racial violence and the massive protests in response, have made me realize that I have so much more to learn and to do myself.
“People are realizing that this equity work to include all has to be part of the infrastructure, it can’t just be a few well-intended people trying to fix everything.”
Antonow said she is most interested in pursuits that result in real change.
“I acknowledge people from different backgrounds are part of the community, and I want to do whatever I can to make sure their voices are heard; that they are in positions of influence; and that they have the economic and political means to help themselves and help others.”
“I believe people who are in a position to help create change have an obligation to try to make things better for everyone.
“That is why my commitment to this work is so important to me.”
Antonow shares this year’s award with George Door, UM professor of music; Arthur Doctor, director of fraternity and sorority life at UM, and Katie McClendon, the director of student affairs for the department of pharmacy practice at the UM Medical Center.