UPDATE: Enrolling men for decades, MUW seeks new identity

JACKSON — Wesley Ellis is a professional photographer, husband, dad and all-around nice guy. No one would mistake him for a female, yet his 1998 diploma is from Mississippi University for Women.

“Being a male grad from the W, it has never hindered my ability to get a job,” Ellis, 35, said last week from his photography studio in Forest.

Mississippi University for Women has been enrolling men for more than 25 years, and administrators say it’s time to choose a new name that better reflects the mission of the campus in Columbus. Men made up about 16 percent of the nearly 2,400 students last fall, the most recent statistics available.

MUW president Claudia Limbert will announce her choice for a new school name on the campus Monday, though she doesn’t have final say in re-branding the school. A majority of the 12-member state College Board must agree on a new name, and the board’s recommendation will be forwarded to the 174-member state Legislature in January.

Those with inside knowledge of the process say Limbert’s recommendation will be Reneau University, after Sallie Eola Reneau.

In 1856, the outspoken 18-year-old Reneau wrote to Mississippi Gov. John J. McRae and urged the state to establish a public female college to educate “the indigent and the opulent.” Legislators endorsed her plan, but didn’t put any money into it for decades. The school finally opened in October 1885.

Business groups, including the statewide Mississippi Economic Council, have been working with Limbert to promote a name change in hopes of helping MUW boost enrollment.

Read more in Sunday’s Daily Journal newspaper.

Emily Wagster Pettus/The Associated Press