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Professor Gives Back to Alma Mater

July 11, 2013


Returning to Millsaps as a faculty member is an important part of Dr. Stephanie Rolph's life story.

"Millsaps inspired me to spend my career mentoring students the way I was mentored during my time here," said Rolph, B.A. 1999, who returned to the College in 2010 as a visiting professor of history and is now an assistant professor of history. "What motivates me is not just mentoring college students, but mentoring Millsaps students and continuing the unique mission of this institution. Millsaps encourages creativity, collaboration, and local investment in a way that I'm not sure I could find at another institution."

Dr. Stephanie Rolph

She intended to attend law school after graduation, but her plans changed when she had trouble imagining anything but a classroom career. "It became impossible for me to envision anything else," she said.

Rolph, whose expertise is in the civil rights movement, said she avoided southern history while in graduate school at Mississippi State University for fear of being pigeonholed into provincial topics that had been covered.

"I can honestly say that I didn't choose civil rights. It really just unfolded before me as a much more interesting story than I ever expected. The work in Mississippi and the entire South was a product of global events and its contributions were not nearly as provincial as I once believed. That realization has become the focus of my scholarship."

Rolph recently secured an advance contract from Louisiana State University Press to publish a book based on her dissertation for her doctorate that she received at Mississippi State University. The manuscript, "Whiting Out the Movement: Organized Resistance to Civil Rights and the Rebirth of Conservative Politics," looks at white resistance to civil rights in the South in order to capture the re-appropriation of race through the conservative movement of the 1960s.

Dr. Stephanie Rolph

Focusing her research on the Citizens' Council of America, a Mississippi-born organization that is as an example of white resistance to civil rights, Rolph now works just over a mile from the Mississippi Department of Archives, where she conducts research, and within minutes of other sites of historic significance. "Being in Jackson is really beneficial for me because it keeps me very connected to the environment where the civil rights movement took place," she said.

Millsaps faculty members have the opportunity to continue their educations by cultivating expertise in new fields, and that's especially appealing to Rolph. "For me, those fields have included community engaged learning and public history, two things that I'm passionate about even though I haven't had a real background in them. Millsaps has been an ideal place for me to partner my individual expertise with practical opportunities in the Jackson area and in our state. I want our students to be able to describe Millsaps in the same way."

She has shared her knowledge of research with students in her Afro-American Heritage class as part of a community engaged learning opportunity. Her students researched in partnership with the University of Richmond the movement of slaves from 1861 until 1865. With funding from the University of Richmond and the National Endowment for the Humanities, the research has potential to be a multi-year project, she said.

Looking through newspaper articles at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Rolph and her students looked for news about what slaves were experiencing during the Civil War. "Are they tending to run away when the war breaks out? Are they staying at home? Are they running away to Union lines? Are they being sold? Are they being passed down through probate court? All of that is being tracked in the newspapers."

The research is a slow, pain-staking process, but the work is very meaningful for students, she said.

In all that she does, Rolph said she keeps in mind how as an undergraduate she enjoyed the College's collaborative learning experience where faculty valued students as developing scholars. "To this day, I often refer to my students as scholars instead because that's how I see them," she said.

Nota Bene: In July, Dr. Rolph and Dr. Suzanne Marrs are hosting Landmarks in American History and Culture workshops for teachers - "One Place, One Time: Jackson, Mississippi, 1963", coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the murder of Medgar Evers. Read more about the workshops on the Eudora Welty Foundation website.

Read this and other stories from the Summer 2013 Millsaps Magazine.