CANDIDATE RECAP: Cox places emphasis on communication, collaboration


CW / Keely Brewer

Keely Brewer | @keelykbrewer, Staff Reporter

Lady Cox is no stranger to the SEC. A 1998 graduate of Mississippi State University, Cox went on to earn her master’s degree from Auburn University followed by a doctorate in higher education from the University of Georgia. 

“I absolutely love the SEC, and what I love about it is the competition,” she said told a Ferguson theatre audience on Wednesday.

Cox grew up in Starkville, Mississippi, home to a student population nearly matching the town’s population. Located only an hour away from Tuscaloosa, her family made frequent visits to University Mall to shop. These trips were often accompanied with a stop at Krispy Kreme, a luxury she said Starkville did not have at the time. 

“For me, my whole life, Tuscaloosa and The University of Alabama has been a place where good things happen,” Cox said. “Where you’re ahead of the curve.” 

Cox is the fourth of five candidates to present in an open forum for the vice president of student life, a position that opened after David Grady’s resignation in July. An 11-member committee, announced in late September, narrowed down the search to five candidates, who have been held presentations since last week.

She jokingly remarked that she felt lucky to be considered for the position given her previous decade of experience at Auburn. 

During her time as an undergraduate student at MSU studying communication management, Cox was a member of Chi Omega. She recognized the disparities between her own college experience and the one students face today, stating that her job is to “amplify our voices” rather than recreate her own experience. 

“My sophomore year in school, I started getting letters that looked not too dissimilar from this,” Cox said, displaying an image of a stack of hand addressed letters. “They came from different states, they had different handwriting, but the messages were always consistent. The messages would talk about me, about my family, they’d talk about what I was up to on campus and they would end with describing how they wanted me to die.” 

She kept these letters private, but said she was living with fear that manifested in a spiral of low academic performance until her dad discovered the letters. MSU’s dean at the time was contacted, and a conversation opened between him and Cox. 

This experience with the dean altered her previous belief that she could solve this problem on her own, and she said she credits the dean stepping in for her success and her continued passion for supporting college students. 

Nevitt Sanford’s theory of challenge and support is a tool Cox uses to navigate the evolving student experience. This theory is founded on the belief that students experience more growth when facing challenges, but these challenges must be accompanied by increased support. For Cox, this requires being in tune with the challenges students face outside of a classroom setting to recognize where they need guidance. 

Throughout her career, she has often heard the role of student life compared to a firefighter, putting out fires quickly to minimize damage. She said she believes the position is better compared to an air-traffic controller. 

“[Student life] can see what is on the horizon,” Cox said. “We know the students that are coming onto our campus…and we know the students that are on the ground, what they need, how to help them refuel, get them the supplies that they need and then we can encourage them to take off.” 

When Richard Spencer, an American neo-Nazi and whitesupremacist, visited Auburn’s campus, students gathered in protest and Cox was left to find a solution. She said she was only able to resolve the issue through collaboration with different divisions at the university. 

Cox said she believes building community is the most important role of student life, especially at a large flagship institution. One-on-one interactions with students are necessary to foster inclusive environments, she said, and these environments can only be created through conversations with students who are not always encouraged to give feedback. Rather than just encourage students to come to her, Cox emphasized the importance of going out to find them. 


Audience member Melinda J. King, assistant vice president of UA’s Career Center, asked Cox to identify the challenges she anticipates from this role and how she would address them, given that this is the first time she would be responsible for an entire division. 

“The biggest challenge particularly coming from another university is almost always going to be understanding context,” Cox said. “There’s a need to understand the history of the university… what works at one school isn’t necessarily going to work at another.” 

She said her familiarity with the staff at UA would aid a smooth transition to the position. 

Tamara Varner from the office of student involvement asked Cox to identity the diversity work she has done for students at previous institutions. 

Cox cited one of her experiences as a young professional in Memphis, Tennessee, when her visit to the National Civil Rights Museum exposed “atrocities” about Mississippi, her home state, that she was unaware of before. She said having conversations with students about integrating our history into our future is priority, and alternative student break trips at Auburn are a way to accomplish this. 

She also observed patterns in student organizations that she said barred entry for students who could not afford professional attire for the interview required for entry or the fees required to gain membership in a club. This limited involvement to students of a particular economic background, so breaking down these barriers has been a goal during her time at Auburn. 

Alicia Browne, director of housing administration, asked a similar question surrounding efforts to promote and retain diversity within her staff. Cox said the demographics of the staff at Auburn changed through the implementation of new hiring practices to produce a staff that can support the needs of diverse students. 

One audience member noted her designation as Auburn’s administrator of the year in the past, which Cox credited to the comfort her students have confiding in her about things happening around campus that need to be addressed. 

“Change is scary, and it creates a lot of fear,” Cox said. 

In the midst of the leadership changes taking place on campus, Cox said using her connections to build a collaborative team with an open channel of communication would create a smooth transition into the role of vice president for student life. 

You can listen to a recording of the talk here and a livestream of the Q&A here. Pope’s CV and an evaluation form are available on through your myBama login until the end of the day on Thursday. Candidate information and feedback forms open the day before each presentation and close the day after. The next candidate will present at the Ferguson Center Theatre on Thursday, Jan. 23 from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Stay tuned for continued coverage of this search process.