Among the many strengths of Millsaps College is the opportunity students have to work closely with their professors. One example of this is the Ford Teaching Fellowship Program, which aims to attract qualified students into college teaching by encouraging the development of a close working relationship with a full-time faculty member.
Wayne Dowdy, a rising senior at Millsaps, is a participant in the program, working with Dr. Stephanie Rolph, associate professor of history. Dowdy and Rolph first connected when he was a student in her Ventures class on the history of Confederate symbols. “I understood quickly that Wayne had a very sharp, analytical approach to history,” Rolph said.
Rolph is currently working on her second book, examining how the radical right helped shape the neo-conservative movement in the 1960s and 1970s. Dowdy has been an instrumental part in both helping Rolph sift through the mass amount of research she has accumulated and adding to it.
A large part of this research has involved looking at how the California Republican Party embraced the radical right over the years. Being a southern scholar, Rolph focuses much of her studies on white supremacy. Scholars have historically drawn a bright line between the radical right and conservatism, but Rolph has found that line to be fairly blurred.
“The research I’m doing suggests that the differences between the two were much more subtle,” she said. “In a place like California, we have assumed that racism wasn’t as easy to detect as it was in the segregated South, that California conservatism was race neutral. I’m finding that not to be the case.”
To explore this, Dowdy and Rolph traveled to UCLA to take a deep dive into the California Assembly papers there. Between the two of them, they ended up with over 3,000 pages of documents, and Dowdy was able to get firsthand experience with primary source research. He spoke on the value of being able to work with his professor and receive active feedback, instead of waiting for edits on drafts of a paper. “It was a cool experience to do research together,” he said. “I got to ask questions as I was doing the research about what’s important and what things mean.”
Having the opportunity to work with and mentor students like Dowdy was always a dream job for Rolph. She graduated from Millsaps in 1999 and was eager to return after completing her graduate studies at Mississippi State.
“Millsaps was my whole reason for wanting to be a professor,” said Rolph. “I had such incredible teachers while I was here. I’m very grateful that I get to keep the Millsaps mission going with my own students. I want them to be confident in what they’re bringing to the table.”
Rolph went on to say that this mission is certainly realized through the Ford Teaching Fellowship Program, because while it is a mentorship opportunity, it is also very collaborative, and helps professors make sure they are bringing fresh perspectives to the table. “That’s one of the reasons I appreciate Millsaps and working with scholars like Wayne. They keep me on track and offer some new ways to think about my research.”
Dowdy has also seen the great advantage of being educated in Millsaps’ small and personal environment. He started his first year unsure of what he wanted to study, and it was after he took Rolph’s Ventures class that she encouraged him to major in history. “It’s hard to overstate how influential Dr. Rolph has been in terms of the directions I’ve taken and my research interests,” he reflected.