COLUMBUS, Miss.– Diversity, equity and inclusion aren’t “buzzwords” to Dr. Shahara’Tova Dente.

Dr. Shahara’Tova Dente

Instead, learning from and being influenced by teachers who looked like her motivates Dente’s work as assistant professor of English & Women’s Studies and graduate director of Women’s Leadership at Mississippi University for Women. Dente teaches the subject matter she does because she sees herself, her community and her culture reflected in it and she wants that and more for those who come after her.

Dente’s inspiration helps explain why she was recently selected as The W’s recipient of the Excellence in Diversity and Inclusion Award. She will be recognized with honored faculty from each of Mississippi’s public universities Feb. 17 at the annual Diversity and Inclusion Awards ceremony of the Mississippi Board of Trustees of the State Institutions of Higher Learning in Jackson.

“My first reaction to the nomination was shock and denial. This is only my second year at The W, and my first instinct is to always think about who might be more deserving,” said Dente, who is The W’s nominee for the IHL’s Excellence in Diversity and Inclusion Award. “After learning I’d won the award, I was still shocked, but I am honored that someone recognized the ‘little’ things I’ve been doing and thought it worthy of recognition.”

Dente said people learn how to be their best by interacting and learning from those who are different, come from different backgrounds, have different skill sets and by opening their eyes to a range of perspectives. She said people won’t grow if they don’t do that, which is why she always looks for ways to bring more people into conversations, whether that be through her classes, her program initiatives or the committees she works on.

Dente put that vision into action by organizing a three-speaker series to help celebrate Black History Month.

Dr. Ashley Burge, a scholar about author Morrison, kicked off the series.A second discussion led by Dr. Briana Whiteside focused on Octavia Butler. . Dr. Regina Bradley will wrap up the series with a discussion about Outkast and the history of Southern hip-hop at 6:30 p.m. Feb. 24.

There also will be a virtual student panel at 6:30 p.m. Feb. 16. Dente said the panel will be made up of volunteers and it is open to students at The W and Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science.

The W President Nora Miller said Dr. Dente is an “outstanding, meritorious faculty member” who is a pleasure to have on staff.

“Dr. Dente has demonstrated excellence in advancing diversity and inclusion on our campus in teaching, research and service,” Miller said. “Since joining The W in 2020, Dr. Dente has fully immersed herself in campus life and embraced community efforts to integrate DEI into all facets of campus and curriculum.”

Dente said the best award she could earn would be continuing to see the work to promote diversity, equity and inclusion manifest into tangible results on campus and in the community. She said she will keep doing her part to make that happen.

“Awards and accolades are nice, but I want my work to matter outside of all of those things,” Dente said. “I want students to remember the things we discuss in class and apply them. I’d like to see a regular lecture series that celebrates Black culture and history. I have so many other ideas for future programming and courses, and I’m happy that The W is receptive and supportive of those ideas. Maybe next year I’ll get to nominate someone who does even more than I could have imagined.”