By ZACK PLAIR
Taking on the predominantly men’s world of athletics might be a challenge for any female athletic department employee at a major university. That was especially true for Ann Carr, who spent eight years of her career as an academic adviser for the Mississippi State University football team.
But Carr proved herself equal to that task, along with many others in her time at MSU, which began as a scholarship women’s basketball player and has since led to a position as senior associate athletic director.
Her work promoting diversity, understanding and community service through her job also earned her MSU President Mark E. Keenum’s recommendation for a Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning Excellence in Diversity Award.
MSU and its Division of Agriculture, Forestry and Veterinary Medicine each nominates a staff member annually to compete for the IHL honor among nominees from other Mississippi colleges and universities, according to MSU Director of Diversity and Equity Tommy Stevenson. This year, the agriculture division nominated emeritus adjunct entomology professor Frank Davis. Though neither won the statewide honor, the IHL recognized both nominees at an awards banquet last week in Jackson.
Stevenson said K.C. Morrison, professor and department head political science and public administration, was MSU’s most recent IHL Diversity Award winner, earning the title in 2011.
Through Carr’s position as senior women’s administrator with MSU athletics, she oversees the volleyball, women’s basketball and softball programs, while also working with student athletes through the Templeton Academic Center.
She serves on the president’s commissions on the status of minorities and women. She also works with the campus’ Carnegie organization, which involves student athletes in community service through such things as reading programs, canned food drives and Toys for Tots.
“(Through that program) we reach children that may not (otherwise) have an opportunity to see and speak to athletes from Mississippi State,” Carr said. “We make sure groups of athletes get out into the the community, and that means that small kids in our community can (have their lives) touched by these athletes.”
Carr also advises both the Student Athlete Advisory Council and undergraduate M Club, and helps MSU student athletes through the Champs Life Skills Program.
For Carr, promoting diversity is a task that stretches from the playing field and classroom to the community and the workplace. Especially with the latter, Carr said she took that role very seriously.
“It’s not so much anymore that people are afraid to hire minorities or women,” she said. “I think sometimes you instinctively hire someone who looks like you. If there’s no one there to remind you to take the blinders off, then not even really knowingly, you continue to do the same thing over and over.”
A Brookhaven native, Carr completed both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at MSU before going to work at the university as an academic counselor. She moved into administration five years ago.
Her biggest challenge, she said, was her eight-year stint advising the football team, where she traveled with the players and coaches and even met with prospects and their parents during the recruiting process. Even in that role, Carr said she earned and was treated with respect.
“They always felt I was honest and I knew how to stand my ground,” she said. “Being a former athlete at Mississippi State, maybe I was just as arrogant as they were. Sometimes we had conversations that were tough, but the players respected me, and I’ve had good working relationships with all the coaches I’ve worked with.”
Keenum noted in his letter nominating Carr for the Diversity Award that she cosponsored a recent Men of Color Conference at MSU, as well as an upcoming Women of Color Conference where she will be featured speaker. He said Carr had also been instrumental in shaping the NCAA’s Minority Equity and Gender Equality plans.
“Ann’s hard work and leadership have been instrumental in advancing diversity on our campus and throughout our community,” Keenum said in the letter. “Her high energy and commitment to helping others have served Ann well in the countless initiatives in which she has been involved. Her efforts have touched the lives of so many individuals and produced benefits within our Bulldog family and far beyond.”
Carr said she appreciated the recognition.
“I’m really honored the university saw fit to nominate me. I feel like I was among an excellent class (of nominees),” she said. “It’s nice to know even when you don’t think people are watching, they are, and they recognize when you try to do something good.”
Scientific research and achievements have opened many doors for Frank Davis, but his personal efforts to diversify MSU’s entomology department and treat everyone equally, regardless of race, religion, gender or even language barriers, have led to some of his most unique life experiences.
Growing up on a cotton plantation near Greenwood in the 1940s and ‘50s, Davis interacted regularly with the predominantly African-American hand labor in the fields. He said he recognized, through means like segregation, however, that whites and blacks were treated very differently.
But an epiphany he had in seventh grade while studying documents like the Constitution, Bill of Rights and the Gettysburg Address in American history, jarred him to the harsh realities and stark social contradictions of the times.
“It was about then that it really dawned on me that we were being treated one way by the Constitution and my black friends were not,” Davis said. “And that’s when I really began thinking about the fact that we all should be treated equally.”
Davis earned his bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees at MSU during the crescendo of the Civil Rights Movement before joining the USDA as a research scientist and later becoming an adjunct professor with the university. He was working on his doctorate in the early ‘60s when MSU’s first black student, Richard Holmes, enrolled.
Though he didn’t make speeches, attend rallies or necessarily proselytize his pro-integration beliefs while he was a student, Davis said he didn’t hide his sentiment either.
“It was very sad to me was was going on at that time,” Davis said about the resistance to integration. “People knew my feelings, and I think they respected them, even when I was a student.”
In the late ‘60s, Davis said he joined the Race Relations Committee in Oktibbeha County and he and his wife, Carole, continued to work with the team with planning annual Martin Luther King Jr. and Black History Month events.
But through his work, Davis has made it his mission to travel around the world to learn about other cultures, while also working to introduce the world to Mississippi.
Over the years, Davis has traveled to the Philippines, China, Kenya, Mexico, Argentina and South Africa to help entomologists with their host plant resistance programs. Also during that time, he’s met students abroad that he’s brought to Mississippi State to study under him. During one semester in particular, he said he worked at MSU with graduate students from the Philippines, Pakistan, South Africa and Argentina all under one roof.
“Having the opportunity to go to (those countries) was such a wonderful experience,” he said. “(Mississippi) is, of course, my home. It’s been phenomenal for me to entertain (the foreign students), bring them here and show them Mississippi hospitality. They came here knowing about Mississippi’s past problem, but they left having experienced that hospitality.”
Davis retired from USDA in 1999 and later helped MSU establish an insect rearing center. He is also the training coordinator for a one-of-a-kind international insect rearing workshop within the Entomology and Plant Pathology departments. The program has completed 15 workshops since 2000, each with 26 attendees, and students from more than 26 countries have attended over that span. The 16th workshop, scheduled for November, is already sold out.
Vice President for Agriculture, Forestry and Veterinary Medicine Gregory Bohach said he nominated Davis for the IHL award because of his extensive body of work promoting diversity on campus and his work promoting agriculture around the world.
“It’s really the passion that he and Carole both have for promoting diversity and how they have been a part of diversity efforts in the Starkville community,” Bohach said.
Davis said he was proud of how MSU had embrace diversity and accepted other cultures in all of its departments. He added that when he thought about how much Mississippi, in general, had evolved since the ‘60s, it made him smile.
“To think about how far we’ve come, it is absolutely incredible what has happened over the years in society,” he said. “We need to continue the progress and not go backwards.”