Religious Studies Department
Education: B.A. Rollins College; M.L.S. Rollins College; M.S. Florida State; M.A. Florida State; Ph.D. University of Wisconsin-Madison
Areas of specialty: Buddhism, Hinduism, and
Asian Religions in America.
It is hard to imagine a more peaceful person than Dr. Lola Williamson.
Her office, hung with tapestries and filled with Indian artifacts, is tucked down a quiet hall in the Christian Center. Behind her desk, "Dr. Lola," as she is sometimes called by favorite students, works on the curriculum for Millsaps' newest minor, peace studies.
"I initiated the process of developing the peace studies minor," she said. "I have heard there is a little bit of buzz about it on campus."
Williamson, who is in her fourth year of teaching at Millsaps, has a doctorate in South Asian religions, cultures, and languages. But Peace and Conflict Studies is an important mission for Williamson since her start at Millsaps College.
"My first year here they gave me a lot of latitude in developing courses," she said. "I knew I wanted to teach a class on religion and peace. I have done a couple of things in support of peace for Millsaps College. Two years ago, I arranged for a Hiroshima bomb survivor to speak at several locations in Jackson. We had a full house when he spoke here at Millsaps. Then last year, I invited a speaker who had founded a Gandhi Center for Nonviolence at James Madison University in Virginia. He brought a student with him - an intern at the Center - who got some of our students excited about possibilities for more peace-oriented programs at Millsaps."
The popular response to these programs got Williamson interested in what a peace studies minor -- and eventually a peace studies major -- could do for the college.
Currently, peace studies courses draw from the departments of Political Science, History, Philosophy, Education, Sociology/Anthropology and Religious Studies. Williamson hopes that some students will choose to create their own major by combining the Peace Studies minor with a related minor, such as Environmental Studies. By bringing the departments together, Williamson is illustrating the ideas she hopes to promote with the projected major.
Williamson hopes to eventually establish a center for non-violence.
Peace studies is not Williamson's only passion, however. She also serves as the advisor for Millsaps Muslim Student Association and the Millsaps Masala, which is the organization for students interested in Indian or South Asian culture.
"We only have two Muslim students at Millsaps," Williamson said. "But we have 30 members of the organization. A lot of students fasted during Ramadan with our two Muslim students, which is great." Williamson is impressed with how many students have joined the group. "Students here are so open and really want to support each other. The fact that students fasted to be part of someone else's religious beliefs says a lot for the school."
Williamson is adamant about welcoming students from different cultural backgrounds to Millsaps College, and she hopes her work results in breaking down stereotypes.
Williamson is a role model for students, and she cherishes the relationships she has forged.
"I really enjoy getting to know the students," she said. "I love being an advisor for student organizations."