Students at Smith Robertson Museum in Jackson:
Sociology of the American South is a new class offered in the Spring 2010 semester at Millsaps College. This class, instructed by Caroline Ellender, breaks down common assumptions and stereotypes associated with the American South and looks into how it became known as such a distinct region. The curriculum of the class focuses heavily on media and music as a way to engage such popular ideas associated with the South.
Sociology of the American South allows students to examine their own notions of the South and the historical factors that have influenced this region. Caroline and her students also explore how the connections between social factors - such as gender, class, and race - and health impact people's lives. Because of Millsaps' location in Jackson, MS (the South) students are also able to evaluate their own experiences and gain a hands-on understanding through exercises in the community.
When asked to describe her experience in the class, Katie Wilson said, "I think that Sociology of the American South has helped me get a better understanding of who I am as a southerner. It has also given me confidence in representing myself and the South in my future career and life." Ashley Martin, another student in the class, described her experience by saying: "This class allows students to challenge stereotypes and confront prejudices, delving into the heart of the common American belief that the American South is a problem for America. By exploring various aspects of Southern culture, I have been encouraged to ask myself why and how the South is conceived in this way." Both students describe the class as largely discussion based and a good opportunity for everyone to recognize the complexities of the region and its relationship to the larger American society.
Caroline Ellender, a professor of Sociology at Millsaps College, is currently working on her dissertation here in Jackson for her Ph.D. from the University of Kentucky. Her research focuses on how United States poverty policies and local perceptions of children's needs influence the implementation of programs aimed at helping low-income children living in Jackson. She is also looking into how class, gender, and race work together with age to shape how children see themselves and their worlds.
As a researcher in the South, the stereotypes she is met with on a day-to-day basis inspired her to create the Sociology of the American South class so that she and others are able to gain a sense of not only why the South is seen as such a specific region but also why it came to be perceived in this way.