The College of Liberal Arts at The University of Mississippi fulfills the tripartite mission of teaching, research and service primarily through its departments and programs, but the College centers and institutes also make valuable contributions to this mission. The College welcomes three new centers, each of which supports a different aspect of the mission: the Center for Writing and Rhetoric teaches students the art of writing well; the Center for Civil War Research is a focus for research and public discussion on that important event in American history; and the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation provides outreach to help mend our social divisions on race.
William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation
Established in 1999, the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation was welcomed into the College of Liberal Arts last year. The institute has accomplished important work, including helping create the Mississippi Civil Rights Education Commission to implement Senate Bill 2718, which makes civil rights education in Mississippi’s public schools mandatory; fostering One Mississippi, a student-run coalition that promotes social integration at UM; and supporting Neshoba County residents in their creation of the Philadelphia Coalition that pushed for the prosecution and conviction of Edgar Ray Killen for the murder of civil rights workers in 1964.
The institute continues to hold its “Welcome Table” retreats, providing a safe place in which members of divided communities can learn to listen to and trust each other. So far, this year’s retreats were with residents from Oxford, Greenwood, Philadelphia, and McComb.
The institute also is continuing the Mississippi Truth Project, which seeks to create a culture of truth telling in Mississippi. It is partnering with the University of Southern Mississippi to hold training sessions for those who go out and record oral histories in the state’s communities.
“These oral histories will be available to teachers in K-12 classrooms as part of Senate Bill 2718’s mandate to teach civil rights as well as to citizens who will use them to identify appropriate policies to remediate lingering inequities,” said Susan Glisson, executive director of the Winter Institute.
And now the Winter Institute has been challenged by Chancellor Dan Jones to take its work to the next level.
“The University of Mississippi desires to be a leading force for reconciliation around the world,” he said. “We offer ourselves not as experts but as fellow pilgrims on the pathway to reconciliation.”
The institute’s advisory board is creating a committee to help respond to the challenge of reaching out beyond the state’s borders.
“We are excited to explore new arenas of service and have much planning to do,” said Glisson. “There are many sources of conflict around the globe, and we are eager to learn from other efforts to transform those conflicts to help improve our work here at home.”
As a first step toward expanding its scope, the institute sponsored a symposium on world reconciliation during the week of the chancellor’s inauguration, which featured panelists Desaix Anderson, 35-year veteran of the U.S. Foreign Service, W. Ralph Eubanks, author of “Ever Is a Long Time: A Journey into Mississippi’s Dark Past,” and Robert Springs Jr., CEO and president of Global Resource Services, Inc., an international humanitarian aid and development organization.
Center for Civil War Research
Associate professor of history John Neff has been bringing the most renowned scholars and enthusiasts together in search of a more thorough understanding of the events and memory of America’s bloodiest conflict. Thus far, his efforts have yielded four annual symposiums, several public lectures and the creation of the Center for Civil War Research.
“We hope the center will serve as a forum, one that will provide the opportunity for the exchange of ideas and interpretations among historians and the general public,” Neff said. “The center should be a place where people of all levels of interest can explore the Civil War in meaningful ways.”
In conjunction with the history department’s annual Porter Fortune Symposium, the center will sponsor a fall conference focusing on topics related to the coming of the Civil War and the war itself.
Joseph Ward, chair and associate professor of history, shares Neff’s vision for the center.
“Under Professor Neff’s leadership, the Center for Civil War Research is becoming an important resource for those who wish to learn not only about a crucial moment in our nation’s past but also for those who wish to explore the ways in which the war has had an ongoing influence in American history,” Ward said. “It is generating significant interest from both students and established scholars.”
From its inception, the center has garnered substantial financial support from donors.
“We wouldn’t exist without the incredibly generous gifts from our alumni and others,” Neff said. “It is especially gratifying to find people who are passionate enough about the study of war to donate money at this time of financial constraint. With the burgeoning national fascination for this crisis in American history, we are primed to become a focal point in both the academic and popular realms. This is a very exciting time for us.”
Center for Writing and Rhetoric
To meet reaccreditation requirements of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, the university identified a student learning outcome to enhance over the next five years – student writing.
To better address students’ writing needs, composition courses will be organized by the new Center for Writing and Rhetoric, and the Writing Center will be expanded. Robert Cummings, the center director, has met with faculty from across campus to completely rework the freshmen composition sequence. So far, curriculum committees are adopting new textbooks, creating a library of writing assignments, writing a best practices guide and rethinking every aspect of those courses so that they will support new program outcomes.
“We’re looking to adopt a new online portfolio package, revise our placement procedures, enhance our training and support of current teachers who want to enhance their students’ writing experiences,” said Cummings. “Every day I strive to earn the respect of all university faculty by helping them to improve the teaching of writing across the campus.”
“Dr. Cummings is providing strong leadership as we move to fulfill our goal of improving writing at The University of Mississippi,” said Glenn Hopkins, dean of the College of Liberal Arts. “With his guidance, we will improve our freshmen composition courses and begin thinking about writing across the curriculum initiative.”