OXFORD, Miss. – Creating a support mechanism for individuals to better incorporate racial awareness is the goal for the new academic director at the University of Mississippi’s William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation.
Jennifer Stollman, whose background is in American history anthropological theory, began her job last month, which offers her a chance to merge her interests of higher learning and education with activism.She returns to campus after a decade, having been a visiting assistant professor in history and Southern studies in fall 2002, when she taught lectures on American and Southern studies and created graduate seminars on evolution of gender and sexuality in the South of the 19th century.
Stollman’s specialties are the construction of collective and individual identities, specifically having to do with race, class, gender, religion and sexuality.
“I have the opportunity to merge my interests of higher learning and education with activism, without a particular political bias, but getting individuals to be engaged,” Stollman said. “Essentially what I do is, in addition to creating curriculum that promotes racial awareness and anti-racism, I am also working on the campus as a supportive mechanism for individuals who want to better incorporate racial awareness in their classroom, in their co-curricular programming and in their professional development.”
Susan Glisson, director of the William Winter Institute, said Stollman’s work will have a positive impact on the university.
“We are excited about the support and leadership she will bring to efforts on campus to deal honestly about race and to help lead the state and nation in improving race relations,” Glisson said. “Dr. Stollman is both a recognized expert in her field and has won every teaching award available at every university at which she’s taught. More importantly, she understands and appreciates the important connections between community service and academic research and is gifted at building bridges between the two.”
Stollman aims to create awareness about the world locally and globally, and for people to understand the benefits and responsibilities about being an engaged person in the world.
“How do you do that? By encouraging students that they have a vested interest in becoming involved,” she said. “Even though they are members of a particular identity category, in race, class or sex, that they perceive as being oppressed, they have a responsibility to work towards social justice and equity.”
In her short time on campus this semester, the reaction to her role has been positive, she said.
“People have been very open to my getting involved as a facilitator and supporter across campus from departments to administrators to student groups. They’ve been quite open and receptive,” Stollman said. “I think Mississippi is a unique state and as a consequence it understands, especially since this is the flagship university, that it has responsibilities to its own state and its own citizens but also to the nation and how we proceed with respect to anti-racism. People are nervous and anxious because these are difficult topics, especially race. We are generally not aware of the tools we can use to promote honest and safe conversation about race or other identities.”
Stollman earned a bachelor’s degree in American history and English literature at the University of Michigan, a master’s in American history from Wayne State University and a doctorate in American history at Michigan State University. She has taught at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colo., Miami of Ohio in Oxford, Ohio, and Salem College in Winston-Salem, N.C.
She has two dogs, a Scottish terrier named Lincoln and a cockapoo named Maizie, and she is an avid road cyclist and music listener.