Spotlight: Lola Williamson and “Religion, Peace and Justice”
For Dr. Williamson, teaching in the Community Engaged Learning Program means connecting the campus to the wider community. “Sharing what we know and who we are with others provides a win-win opportunity” she explains, “not only to others gain from our knowledge, but we learn best what we share with others.” This spring, her “Religion, Peace and Justice” class benefitted not only her students, but the Millsaps campus community and the Jackson-Metro area.
In addition to spending time in the classroom, students went out into the community and participated in the Campaign for Southern Equality’s WE DO March, listened to an immigrants’ rights speaker and talked with a Palestinian student to hear a firsthand experience about living in Gaza. Dr. Williamson secured multiple speakers to visit campus to talk about issues surrounding LGBT and immigrant justice issues.
The knowledge and experience Dr. Williamson provides the program are unique and critical to the program. Millsaps Alumna Chelsey Overstreet Hedglin (B.A. 2013) experienced firsthand how these experiences can help focus a student’s vision of vocation. Dr. Williamson’s passion for peacebuilding, “Influenced my passion for peacebuilding and social justice, which is now the main focus of my future in ministry.”
Dr. Williamson recognizes that the CEL teaching process is a learning experience in and of itself. She has tried various approaches when teaching CEL courses and those approaches have evolved over time. “I used to let students create their own projects, and have had amazing results with this approach. For example, one group of students worked with a Murrah High School history class on the Civil Rights Movement. After teaching two classes on the movement, they asked students to interview an older family member who lived through the era. They then turned the interviews into monologues, which my students videotaped and compiled. As a way of bringing the community outside of Millsaps onto campus, we had a program in the Leggett Center, which we called “Partners in Peace,” and sent invitations to the families of the Murrah students.
Ultimately, Dr. Williamson recognizes that the CEL journey is just as important as the end results. “I’ve come to realize that getting students off campus and interacting with people they would otherwise not have a chance to meet is valuable in itself.”