Isom Fellowships Create Collaborations Across Campus

Eight faculty members participate in inaugural interdisciplinary program

OXFORD, Miss. – The Sarah Isom Center for Women and Gender Studies at the University of Mississippi has chosen eight faculty members for its inaugural two-year fellowship program.

The program is designed to support research projects conducted by faculty in the areas of gender and sexuality. The support includes grant-writing support, research assistance and the organizing of conferences or symposia.

“We believe this program will continue to grow and engage diverse faculty,” said Jaime Harker, Isom Center director. “We are so grateful the provost has assisted us in the implementation of this program, which will build a network across campus and serve as a catalyst to promote interdisciplinary work.”

Harker said she was overwhelmed by the initial support of the program and hopes to continue offering fellowships in the future. The fellowships are made possible through funding from the Office of the Provost.

“Research on many of the issues facing society today requires perspectives from multiple disciplines and varied expertise,” Provost Noel Wilkin said. “Interdisciplinary collaborations stand to develop more robust solutions and advance perspectives that will benefit society more broadly.

“This approach is critically important to advancing the academic excellence called for in the Flagship Forward strategic plan. I appreciate the leadership that Dr. Harker and the Isom Center are exerting to facilitate this important work.”

The program’s inaugural fellows are Alysia Steele, assistant professor of multiplatform journalism; Rhona Justice-Malloy, professor of theatre arts; Susan Allen, associate professor of political science; Peter Wood, instructional assistant professor of theatre arts; Catherine Kilgore, adjunct instructor of law; Johnoson Crutchfield, assistant professor of educational leadership; Amanda Winburn, assistant professor of counselor education; and Kenya Wolff, assistant professor of early childhood education.

Steele’s project involves having students record interviews with and photograph elderly women in Oxford for a documentary examining their lives in the Great Depression, civil rights movement and women’s liberation movement. Students will create multimedia pieces to improve their digital literacy through podcasts, videography, photography and print stories while archiving local history. She plans to begin the project in spring 2019.

Justice-Malloy plans to create a women’s playwright summer residency to support emerging artists. She also will develop classes on contemporary women playwrights, all of which will be in conjunction with a national movement to increase the number of plays created by women, called “50/50 by 2020.” The long-term goal is to create a theater festival producing selected plays developed in the summer residencies.

Allen is completing a book detailing the diverse experiences of women through civil conflict. The project will be framed within the literatures of both gender studies and political science, and she is developing further research regarding how armed conflict and economic sanctions influence the position of women in local economies, as well as the participation of women in the labor force.

“As more civilians have been caught in the crossfire or armed conflict, it is important that we study and understand how women – who have been traditionally excluded from the battlefield – are affected by the changing nature of conflict and its ever-expanding consequences,” Allen said.

Wood will focus on avant-garde female artists, including symbolist playwrights and futurist and surrealist artists, as well as performance artists in the 1970s and ’80s. While the focus is on theater and live performance, this research also will explore women working in multiple genres, including painting, sculpture, poetry and cinema. The goal is to enhance instruction through new courses and possible art exhibits and film series at Ole Miss.

“I’ve always been fascinated with avant-garde and experimental theater forms and the more I study them, the more I realized that many of the women involved have been marginalized in the histories of these movements,” Wood said.

He hopes to bring the stories of those women back into the conversation.

“The work that many feminist performance artists created between the 1960s and 1980s has had a profound impact on solo performance and experimental theaters but is often relegated to a side conversation rather than being examined as foundational to contemporary forms of performance art. This work is meant to demonstrate just how important these women performance artists were and, in many cases, still are.”

Kilgore is interested in the history of women in the development of legal aid and civil rights lawsuits in Mississippi. She is exploring the possibility of developing an undergraduate pre-law course on women and the law.

Crutchfield will examine teacher perceptions of gender’s influence on leadership effectiveness by surveying teachers. He will use the results to create a professional development seminar addressing gender bias.

Winburn will study the role of school counselors, particularly in vulnerable and at-risk populations in Mississippi. She plans to conduct case studies of schools and investigations of teacher attitudes while also analyzing the distress students suffer from lack of advocacy.

“I am interested in better understanding how advocacy on behalf of the school counselor impacts student outcomes,” Winburn said.

This research should provide an understanding of barriers that school counselors face and allow them to develop advocacy competencies to better serve students, she said.

“I believe this line of research aligns with gender studies as we continue to fully evaluate and build a more equitable and accepting K-12 learning environment,” she said. “Educators who increase their own self-awareness and better understand their ability and competencies toward advocacy will more fully align and operate within a social justice perspective.”

Wolff plans to investigate the role of gender and identify formation in early childhood education as the notions of gender continue to evolve. She also will examine approaches for working with pre-service teachers to increase their knowledge base surrounding issues of gender and anti-bias curriculum.

These participants will join Carrie Smith, instructional associate professor of psychology, who was named an Isom Fellow earlier. She is working on the problem of sexual assault and teaching an introductory gender theory course this fall.

“All of these projects are exciting, innovative and will invigorate our curriculum and our research focus,” Harker said. “They also meet the larger goals of the Flagship Forward strategic plan by enhancing the quality of academic programs, supporting faculty excellence, increasing research and creative achievement, increasing entrepreneurship, and fostering an intellectual and engaged community.”

The participants will contribute to the center through research topics, teaching and service. Each fellow is to develop a new cross-listed class with the gender studies program.

“Although the Isom Center is within the College of Liberal Arts, our mission is much broader than that,” Harker said. “These projects show what you can do practically with what is learned, and these partnerships show why the lens of gender can illuminate things you wouldn’t see otherwise.”

Any faculty interested in collaborating with the Isom Center through gender and sexuality research is encouraged to contact Harker at For more information about the center and its programs, visit