Three UM Professors Launch Racial Climate Study

Professors to examine students' experiences with racial and ethnic issues

A monument to James Meredith, the first black student at the University of Mississippi, stands on campus. Photo by UM Brand Photography.

A monument honoring James Meredith, the first black student at the University of Mississippi, stands on campus. Photo by UM Brand Photography.

OXFORD, Miss. – Three University of Mississippi sociology professors are launching a comprehensive study to understand racial and ethnic issues on campus and are seeking student participants to chronicle their experiences in online diaries.

Professors Kirk A. Johnson, Willa M. Johnson and James Thomas are seeking volunteers to confidentially journal their experiences with race issues at UM. The identities of the students will be known only to the investigators. For now, the study is expected to last at least until the end of the school year, but the hope is to continue it through coming academic years.

“We’re casting a broad net, so all students are eligible to participate,” Kirk Johnson said. “We want to hear from undergraduate or graduate students, those taking classes on the main campus or satellite campuses and those from all races and ethnic groups as long as they have some sort of racial and ethnic experience to share.”

The professors will collect diary entries and then analyze them to see what sort of factors lead to everyday incidents of racial and ethnic tensions or conversely, racial and ethnic cooperation. The professors are still making arrangements for other universities to join the project, so for the time being, UM is the only school being studied.

Students who wish to enroll in the study can click this link on or after Aug. 24. The link takes students to an online consent form, after which they’ll be directed to the diary website. There’s also a brief tutorial that explains how to write a diary entry.

Deadly riots ensued when James Meredith became the first black person to enroll at the university in 1962. Over the years, other racial incidents have been reported at the university. In response to those incidents, Chancellor Dan Jones recently issued a comprehensive report with recommendations for making the university a more welcoming environment for all. Part of that recommendation is that the university deal head-on with issues of race.

Willa M. Johnson said the university is in a unique position to study the issue.

“We think that the University of Mississippi is well situated to discuss these things,” she said. “We think our history gives us an opportunity. Rather than just look at this as the grave problem that it truly is, we look at it from the perspective of the opportunity that it affords the University of Mississippi to both understand race and also to put scholarship out that explains prejudice, both where it comes from, how it’s expressed in all its iterations.”

Since the nation elected its first black president in 2008, many wonder if the country is “post-racial,” Willa Johnson said. She doesn’t believe that’s the case, but thinks the study can be a valuable look into how racial and ethnic dynamics work.

“We’re not post-racial, but where are we?” she added. “That’s what we’re trying to figure out.”

Professors who would like their students to participate in the diary project for extra credit should contact Kirk Johnson at

UM to Screen ‘Justice Is a Black Woman’

Civil rights attorney Constance Baker Motley biopic to be shown Sept. 3 at Overby Center

Mosley_Poster JPEGOXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi will host a screening of “Justice Is a Black Woman: The Life and Work of Constance Baker Motley” at 6 p.m. Sept. 3 at the Overby Center for Southern Journalism and Politics.

Producer Gary Ford will participate in the showing of his award-winning biographical movie, narrated by journalist Juan Williams. It tells the story of Motley, the civil rights attorney who acted as legal counsel for James Meredith on his case to become the first black student at UM. Major cases she handled throughout her career also led to many schools, universities and businesses being desegregated.

Some of the most important events in Mississippi history are covered in the movie, said Curtis Wilkie, Overby Fellow and Kelly G. Cook Chair of Journalism at UM.

“It’s so important to Mississippi history that young people today see this and learn about some of the actors that were involved in all of the enormous changes that took place in this state in the late 1950s though 1960s,” Wilkie said. “(Motley) was a major figure, and I think it’s important that students today know about her.”

The event is co-sponsored by the university’s College of Liberal Arts, School of Law, Overby Center, Provost’s Office and Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College. The screening is the first of a planned series of annual events focusing on issues of race that are to be held early each academic year. The events are intended to create a respectful community discussion to help sensitize students and encourage them to think about and discuss race.

“Constance Baker Motley is a singular figure in the civil rights era,” said Richard Forgette, interim dean of the College of Liberal Arts and professor of political science. “She’s someone people need to know more about. This is an opportunity to learn more about her, but it’s also an opportunity for the university community to have a dialogue about race. The hope is people can watch the video and there will be a good discussion afterward.”

Motley, a native of New Haven, Connecticut, served as a New York state senator and worked as a lawyer with the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund. She successfully argued 10 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Wilkie said she was one of many strong women who fought racism and segregation during the civil rights movement.

“So often in the movement, the guys took credit for so much that was done, but there were so many influential, powerful women who were involved,” Wilkie said. “I think of Fannie Lou Hamer and also Marian Wright Edelman, who was a great civil rights lawyer. Judge Motley was also a major figure. She did her work in the courtroom rather than demonstrating in the streets, but she was a major figure in the civil rights movement, no question about it.”

She was a key legal strategist in other cases that helped desegregate schools, buses and lunch counters. Motley wrote the original complaint in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case, in which the U.S. Supreme Court struck down school segregation.

She was also the first African-American woman to argue a case before the Supreme Court, Meredith v. Fair, which won Meredith the right to enroll at UM in 1962.

In 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson also appointed Motley as the nation’s first black female federal judge.

Following a long legal career, Motley died in New York in 2005.

The production team for the documentary included Michael Calia, director of the Quinnipiac University Ed McMahon Mass Communications Center and director-producer of the film; Susan Bailey, scriptwriter; Lynn Bushnell, executive producer; and Gary Ford, co-producer who wrote his dissertation on Motley.

For more information, contact the UM College of Liberal Arts at 662-915-7178 or

Sexuality Emphasis Added to Gender Studies Minor

UM becomes first in Mississippi to offer program

Gender Studies

Sarah Isom Center for Woman and Gender Studies is offering a new emphasis in sexuality.

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi’s Sarah Isom Center for Women and Gender Studies is offering a new emphasis in sexuality beginning this fall semester.

The new field of study will allow students to study sexuality in an open and engaging academic environment. Sexuality studies explore the social construction of sexuality, ways in which society shapes and determines its meanings, as well as the differences that exist within various cultures and moments in history.

The curriculum will feature two courses in the emphasis each semester, including a new course in queer theory and a course on Oscar Wilde this fall. The new program grew out of faculty concerns that the university needed a safe space for educational discussions about sexuality, said Jaime Harker, interim director of the Isom Center.

“It became clear that students needed more opportunities to be educated about issues of sexuality,” Harker said. “As faculty, we decided that setting up an academic program, where students could learn and ask questions in a structured environment, was one way to address this larger need for education.”

UM is the first in the state to offer the sexuality emphasis through a gender studies minor. However, a number of universities across the country have already incorporated programs in sexuality/queer studies, including Indiana University, New York University, and the universities of Florida, Maryland and Ohio.

“This new sexuality emphasis through the gender studies program at Ole Miss reflects the university’s commitment to undergraduate education built on inclusion, a perspective that embraces the complexities and diversity of human experience,” said Jaime Cantrell, a visiting assistant professor of English who will teach the queer theory course cross-listed with the Department of English and the Isom Center.

The term “queer” has historically been used in a number of ways, meaning things ranging from the strange to pejorative, Cantrell said. However, though her teaching, she is far more interested in providing an introduction to what queer theories do than defining what queer theory is.

“Certainly it suggests an anti-normative positioning in terms of sexuality, but someone who is heterosexual might also identify as queer with regard to their particular sexual preferences or pleasures,” she said. “Queer is an inclusive, fluid label that allows individuals to acknowledge that anti-normative positionality without necessarily revealing how or in what contexts.”

Harker hopes that the addition of these courses will begin a needed dialogue.

“We hope to continue to offer new and interesting courses such as the ‘South and Sexuality’ course in the spring,” Harker said. “We need to learn how to discuss sensitive topics in an unemotional, factual manner. The more institutional support this program has, the more it becomes a part of the fabric of our university.”

The Isom Center, named after the university’s first female faculty member, was established in 1981 to address the changing roles and expectations of women students, faculty and staff. The center is responsible for integrating scholarly research on women’s and gender issues.

New Journal Examines Culture of American South

Inaugural article explores post-civil rights foodways

Study the South

Study the South

OXFORD, Miss. – The Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi has launched Study the South, a new peer-reviewed, multimedia online journal.

The journal, which is published and managed by the center, exists to encourage interdisciplinary academic thought and discourse on the culture of the American South, particularly in the fields of history, anthropology, sociology, music, literature, documentary studies, gender studies, religion, geography, media studies, race studies, ethnicity, folklife and art.

The title of Study the South itself is unusual, since it takes the form of a command.

“The commands are to take both the subject matter and the methods of study seriously, to conduct the study as part of a community of scholars and to study in ways that address topics of lasting importance,” said CSSC Director Ted Ownby.

James G. Thomas Jr. and Ownby serve as senior editors, and an editorial board composed of CSSC faculty and staff is in place.

Study the South also offers an invitation to join the effort to expand the questions, methods and topics of Southern studies.

“It encourages innovative approaches or, as Eudora Welty wrote, ‘all serious daring,’” Ownby said. “In encouraging interdisciplinary scholarship, it encourages work that not only tells about the South, to paraphrase William Faulkner, or documents the South or interprets the South, but work that uses all the tools available to good scholars.”

The first article published in the journal is “How to Eat to Live: Black Nationalism and the Post-1964 Culinary Turn,” written by Jennifer Jensen Wallach of the University of North Texas. She explores the alternative foodways of various black nationalist groups in the wake of the civil rights movement. Wallach’s piece goes alongside the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed segregation at spaces of public accommodation such as restaurants.

Wallach’s article is available via the center’s new website at

Future issues of the journal will include calls for papers on topics the Center for the Study of Southern Culture has defined, and others will come from submissions from authors.

Second UM Fulbright Scholar Named

Michael Shea plans to teach English, study literary and cultural connections in Argentina

Michael Shea

Michael Shea

OXFORD, Miss – Both a poet and a scholar, Michael Shea earned a Master of Fine Arts in May from the University of Mississippi. Now he is headed to Argentina as a 2014 Fulbright U.S. Student Award winner, the university’s second Fulbright Scholar of the year.

Shea will participate in the English Teaching Assistant program, which places Fulbright recipients in classrooms abroad to provide assistance to the local English teachers. ETAs help teach English language while serving as cultural ambassadors for the United States.

A native of Clearwater, Florida, Shea is interested in the connections between Argentina and American literature and culture

“As a student of Spanish, it was the ability to contextualize my language skills through literature that allowed me to fully understand my new tongue,” Shea said.

With an English teaching assistantship to Argentina beginning in March 2015, Shea plans to establish a community poetry workshop where students will read poems by American poets and attempt to write their own works in English to encourage cross-cultural awareness and language acquisition.

“I hope to offer my students a similar experience by teaching English through poetry, while also fostering greater understanding between the two nations on a grass-roots level,” he said.

Shea also wants to establish a virtual reading series in which American poets will be invited to read their work via video chat programs to a live Argentine audience (and vice versa), creating an international dialogue.

This opportunity “will allow me to lay a strong foundation for future studies in global literature and translation,” Shea said.

“As a graduate student in our Master of Fine Arts program, Michael Shea has demonstrated a high level of talent, creativity and dedication,” said Derrick Harriell, assistant professor of English and African-American Studies. “He’s been a model for our program and is extremely deserving of this distinguished honor.”

At UM, Shea was the senior editor of Yalobusha Review, the university’s literary journal, while coordinating the monthly Trobar Ric Reading Series.

In Argentina, Shea plans to seek out contemporary Argentine poets and translate their work into English, a project that will continue with the eventual goal of publication upon his return to the U.S. He also plans to pursue a doctorate in comparative literature, with a specialization in Pan-American poetics. Shea’s parents are Michael and Annie Shea of Clearwater.

“We are proud of Michael’s award and his vision and poetic sensibilities,” said Douglass Sullivan-Gonzales, dean of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College. “We hope that his sojourn in Argentina enables him to understand the depth of dilemmas facing humanity and that he retraces successfully the paths that the great Argentinian poets have trod.”

Shea is the university’s 14th Fulbright U.S. Student Award winner since 2000. Katie Shuford also won a Fulbright to Hungary this year. Last year, Ryan Ezelle won a Fulbright to serve as an English Teaching Assistant in the Dominican Republic.

Established in 1946, the Fulbright Program is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government and is designed to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries. The primary source of funding for the Fulbright Program is an annual appropriation made by the U.S. Congress to the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Recipients of Fulbright grants are selected on the basis of academic or professional achievement, as well as demonstrated leadership potential in their fields.

Students interested in applying for the Fulbright U.S. Student Award are encouraged to contact Debra Young of the Office of National Scholarship Advisement at

High School Students Study Chinese at UM

Mississippi StarTalk introduces prospective students to the Chinese Language Flagship Program

Students attended

Students participating in the 2014 StarTalk program

OXFORD, Miss. – Exceptional high school students from 13 states recently received intensive instruction in Chinese through the Mississippi StarTalk program at the University of Mississippi during summer session 2014.

Each of the 29 high school sophomores and juniors selected were given full StarTalk scholarships to delve into a cultural program that introduced them to China, its people and the culture.

While earning six hours of college-level Chinese credit, students were introduced to the University of Mississippi’s premier undergraduate Chinese Language Flagship Program, one of only 12 such programs in the United States. They also had the chance to sample the college experience.

Adam Jackson, a sophomore at Episcopal Collegiate School in Little Rock, Arkansas, took Chinese 101 this term and enjoyed studying the language while taking the illustrative glimpse into college life.

“I’m glad I got to get a feel for college and learn Chinese,” Jackson said. “I’m starting to look at colleges now and it was helpful to experience living in the dorm and experiencing other aspects of college, like time management.”

StarTalk was created eight years ago to meet the United States’ economic competitiveness and national security needs in learning critical languages. The program can take a student interested in learning the language and teach them enough to enroll in a Chinese language program in college, said Alex Kynerd, program coordinator and 2007 participant.

“It’s a rewarding experience getting to see new students learn the language,” Kynerd said. “Many of them start the class knowing zero Chinese and leave with the ability to talk about their family, friends, hobbies and write diaries in Chinese.”

Jackson had studied Chinese at various camps, but lauded Mississippi StarTalk as the most fulfilling experience to date.

“I had a really good teacher here, and I learned a little more than I expected,” said Jackson.

He intends to submit an application to participate in Mississippi StarTalk next summer.

Other participants in Mississippi Startalk 2014 included: Vincent Bolfer of Edmond, Oklahoma; Jacob Crossno of Hernando; Amira Coger of Olive Branch; Tina Guo of Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin; Andarion Hawkins of Coldwater; Kristin Howitt of Perkinson; Taylor Jackson of Rogers, Arkansas; Haley Jones of Mandeville, Louisiana; Elizabeth Keefer of Jacksonville, Florida; Jacqueline Knirnschild of Brunswick, Ohio; Ashleigh Moore of Ocean Springs; Saloni Nahar of Buffalo Grove, Illinois; Alessandra Otondo of Starkville; Kayla Owens of Oxford; Lance Pagel of Edmond, Oklahoma; Thomas Ramsey of Huntsville, Alabama; Hunter Reid of Valdesse, North Carolina; John Russel of Valley Park, Missouri; Jack Sauls of Carriere; Gunner Spahn of Senatobia; Emily Spencer of Newville, Pennsylvania; Jake Stewart of Ocean Springs; Jasmine Stoudemire of Clinton; Carmen Stowe of Birmingham, Alabama; Matthew Travers of Chesterfield, Missouri; Sidney Wester of Jonesboro, Arkansas; Katherine Williams of Hattiesburg; and Hanson Zhou of Dry Ridge, Kentucky.

Business Strengthens Study of Cultural Identity

Cathead Distillery supports UM's Southern Foodways Alliance

Cathead Distillery owners Austin Evans, left, and Richard Patrick have committed support to undergird the efforts of the Southern Foodways Alliance at the University of Mississippi.

Cathead Distillery owners Austin Evans, left, and Richard Patrick have committed support to undergird the efforts of the Southern Foodways Alliance at the University of Mississippi.

OXFORD, Miss. – Cathead Distillery has committed long-term support to the Southern Foodways Alliance at the University of Mississippi, as the company recognizes food as a powerful cultural product of the American South.

Based in Jackson, Cathead Distillery is a longtime supporter of music as an important aspect of cultural identity and plans to provide similar funding to the SFA.

“The SFA is honored to partner with Richard Patrick and Austin Evans of Cathead Distillery,” said John T. Edge, SFA director. “They’re great corporate citizens, committed to investing deeply in the South’s culinary and cultural capital.”

Evans and Patrick founded Cathead Distillery in 2010, as Mississippi’s first legal still since the state repealed Prohibition in 1966. They share a love of Mississippi’s music, folk art, literature and food, and, along with distiller Phillip Ladner, produce a number of vodkas, including several seasonal flavors.

“We’ve known about and worked with the SFA folks for a long time,” Patrick said. “We value their mission to tell stories through food and drink. We see meaning in what the SFA does and the impact they’re making, so supporting them in a larger way was a no-brainer.”

Funds from Cathead Distillery’s investment will help strengthen SFA’s ongoing oral history and film work.

An institute of the university’s Center for the Study of Southern Culture, the SFA recently joined with the College of Liberal Arts to endow a professorship in the growing academic study of foodways on the Oxford campus. The study of foodways provides another important facet for UM students to explore in understanding the world around them. In addition, this scholarly study offers a different avenue for students to gain a heightened sense of various cultures.

Together, Cathead Distillery and the SFA will continue to draw chefs, writers, eaters and drinkers from across the country to the state of Mississippi.

For more information on the Center for the Study of Southern Culture, go to For more information on the Southern Foodways Alliance, go to For more information on Cathead Distillery, contact Melany Mullens at or 540-314-8089, or Ashley Zink at

University to Host STEM Summit July 18-19

Meeting focuses on impact of forensic science on 21st century workforce

Students learn about forensic

The second annual STEM Summit will take place July 18-19.

OXFORD, Miss. – Representatives from governmental agencies, including the FBI and DEA, grades K-12 and higher education are scheduled to participate in a national conference this weekend at the University of Mississippi.

The second annual Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Summit meets July 18-19. The two-day event is being sponsored by UM’s forensic chemistry program, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Department of BioMolecular Sciences, the Mississippi State Crime Laboratory and the Committee for Action Program Services-Analytical Training Laboratory.

“The focus of this summit is to continue the effort to create a consortium of colleges, universities, corporations and government agencies,” said Murell Godfrey, UM director of forensic chemistry and associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry. “Our purpose is to address how forensic science will have an impact on the U.S. and the 21st century workforce.”

Scheduled UM speakers Friday include Godfrey; Tucker Carrington, director of the Mississippi Innocence Project and professor of law; and Maurice Eftink, UM associate provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs. Other presenters are Darrell Davis, former director of the DEA South Central Laboratory and CEO/president of CAPS-ATL, and Sam Howell, director of the Mississippi State Crime Laboratory.

Friday events include tours of the university’s marijuana field and medicinal plant gardens, the city of Oxford and an agency panel discussion featuring representatives from the Army Crime Laboratory, Mississippi State Crime Laboratory, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, DEA, FBI and Aegis Analytical Laboratory.

Saturday’s session includes presentations by Christopher McCurdy, UM professor of medicinal chemistry and pharmacology, and representatives from the UM STEM research panel, Bay Waveland Middle School, Oxford-Lafayette County schools and the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science.

Registration is $100 for out-of-towners and $50 for Oxford residents. For more information, contact Murrell Godfrey at 662-915-5143 or visit

University, Americorps VISTA Partner for Community Service

Visiting Grisham fellows build a community garden at Crenshaw Elementary School

Grisham fellows

Grisham fellows help build a community garden at Crenshaw Elementary School

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi’s commitment to service was demonstrated recently when administrators took visiting Grisham fellows from Dallas, Texas, to Crenshaw Elementary School to build a community garden during a weeklong campus visit.

With help from Mclean Institute for Public Service and Community Engagement and Americorps Volunteers in Service to America, the fellows helped lift some cultural barriers and made a difference in a small Mississippi community.

Kathy Trabue, Americorps VISTA federal volunteer, said she was thrilled to work with UM to help make that difference.

“We have some cultural isolation here in Mississippi and we try to break that down a bit,” Trabue said. “Seeing that happen makes my students from Dallas believe they can come to Ole Miss and serve the community.”

The fellows had a chance to work with college students and to visualize themselves as college students. They learned about the university and themselves as they prepare to make decisions on where to get a college education.

Cora Bunker, assistant principal at Crenshaw Elementary, was thrilled to partner with UM on another project. Volunteer projects can help open young people’s eyes not only to community service, but also to the endless possibilities that begin with attending college.

“Ole Miss has been an incredible partner throughout the past couple of years,” Bunker said. “The university gets out here to volunteer and they get us out there, and the kids get a different look at the college experience.”

Grisham fellow Victoria Hernandez said she traveled from Dallas because she loves the university and wanted to gain leadership experience.

“I thought it was a cool trip because of the leadership opportunities,” Hernandez said. “I wanted to make a difference outside the state of Texas, and taking part in this garden is a big part of making a difference for me.”

The volunteers constructed benches and tables so the entire Crenshaw community can enjoy the new community garden. An Americorps VISTA representative will stay in the area and help the community maintain the garden.

The McLean Institute for Public Service and Community Engagement creates pathways through which the university cultivates mutually beneficial partnerships to enhance the quality of life for all Mississippians and instill a commitment to community and civic engagement in all members of the UM community.

VISTA was founded as Volunteers in Service to America in 1965 as a national service program designed specifically to fight poverty in America. In 1993, VISTA was incorporated into the AmeriCorps network of programs.

Grammy Nominee Spotted on Campus

Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

Nancy Maria Balach Schuesselin (center). Photo by Robert Jordan of Ole Miss Communications

A 2015 Grammy nominee has been spotted on campus.

In fact, one of the university’s very own music professors has been selected as a Grammy quarterfinalist out of nearly 7,000 nominees for the 2015 Grammy Music Educator Award.

Nancy Maria Balach Schuesselin, an associate professor of music, joins music educators from prestigious music education programs around the country who were nominated.

Schuesselin has been a faculty member at UM since the fall of 2000 and teaches studio voice, undergraduate diction, graduate pedagogy and vocal methods for instrumentalists.

She also is the creator/editor of, an online video library on vocal subjects, and she hosts the Beat, an interactive interview series live streamed from the Ford Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Mississippi.

Schuesselin was nominated by UM music student Heather Higginbotham, a rising junior who has been working with her on the living music online resource. She was notified that she was a nominee in March.

“I was flattered beyond measure when I was notified that Heather had nominated me.  I love teaching and what I get to do each day at Ole Miss. We have amazing students!” Schesselin said.

According to the Grammy Foundation website, one recipient will be selected from 10 finalists and will be recognized for his/her remarkable impact on students’ lives. The winner will be flown to Los Angeles to accept the award, attend the Grammy Awards ceremony and receive a $10,000 honorarium. The nine finalists will each receive a $1,000 honorarium and the schools of all 10 finalists will receive matching grants. The honorariums and grants provided to the finalists and schools are made possible by the generosity and support of the Grammy Foundation’s Education Champions Converse, Disney Performing Arts, Ford Motor Company Fund and Journeys.

“Of course I would be thrilled to win, but it wouldn’t simply be me winning,” she said. “The ‘win’ would be for the University of Mississippi and all of the wonderful students and teachers we have here in Oxford.  Most importantly, I would be elated to have the Music Department at Ole Miss showcased on such an enormous platform.”