University of Mississippi Administrator hopes to build up community

By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal

OXFORD – Brandi Hephner LaBanc grew up with a police officer father and a nurse mother and as an adult gave up accounting to become a college administrator.
The Ohio native is the new vice chancellor for student affairs at the University of Mississippi. Initially, she was attracted to Ole Miss by the prospect of being involved with both campus life and admissions.
“I liked the organizational model of how it works here,” she said. “But the real attraction was when I got here.”
Hephner LaBanc couldn’t help noticing how friendly nearly everyone she encountered was.
“It’s the family mentality. Everyone says ‘Welcome to the Ole Miss family,’ and I think they mean it,” she said. “I kind of fell in love. It’s a place that gets into your blood.”
Hephner LaBanc comes to Ole Miss from Northern Illinois University. She was assistant vice president for student affairs there on Feb. 14, 2008, when a gunman opened fire in a classroom of 250 people, wounding 21 and killing five others and himself.
“It took us aback: ‘Holy cow, this can happen here!’,” she said. “But a culture of care was heightened.”
The next few days were a marathon of visits and phone calls, helping individuals and the university community start recovering from the trauma. The experience left Hephner LaBanc permanently changed.
“It made me more thoughtful about our interactions with students, making sure they’re getting involved with a campus community,” she said. “It’s important to have relationships with students.” Leaving behind some of the relationships at NIU that were forged in shared tragedy was the hardest part about coming to Ole Miss, she added.
One challenge Hephner LaBanc relishes is Ole Miss’ opportunity to draw more Mississippians to higher education and to return them equipped to improve their lives and their communities. Toward that effort, she hopes to build on the accomplishments of her predecessor, Larry Ridgeway, before gradually introducing some of her own approaches to leadership.
“His legacy has been a solid foundation and an exceptional staff,” she said. “It’s not about coming to town and changing things up; it’s about listening and getting integrated into the fabric of this community.”
errol.castens@journalinc.com