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Twenty-One Regional Studies Fellows Embark on Specialized Research Pertaining to Mid-South

Publication Date: 7/16/2012

Dr. Milton Moreland (standing) meets with Rhodes’ Regional Studies Fellows in a Memphis park during orientation week of the program.


The Rhodes College Institute for Regional Studies, founded in 2003, offers students a unique opportunity to engage in research in Memphis and the Mid-South region. The eight-week program brings together faculty from history, archaeology, music, art, religious studies, philosophy and film studies who serve as mentors to fellows while they embark on their own specialized research. In addition, fellows participate in a regional studies seminar, weekly group meetings, field trips around the Mid-South, and discussions of current events in the community.

The projects include explorations of art that reflects the history and aura of Memphis, local religious-based recovery programs, the rise of African-American dance and ballet companies in Memphis, efforts to promote healthy lifestyles and changes in diet, immigration in the Memphis community, the effects of busing in the 1970s on the Memphis City Schools System, and the many musical legacies of Manassas High School, just to name a few.

This summer’s program boasts of 21 fellows. They are Omolola Ajayi ’14, David Ash ’14, Annie Bares ’13, Chloe Bryan ’14, Mollie Bussey-Spencer ’13, Megan Doolin ’14, Ryley Erhardt ’12, Ben Evans ’14, Tanner Evins ’13, Christi Haynes ’14, Grace Hicks ’14, Anna Lockhart ’14, Jess Newman ’13, Alex Nollan ’15, Alex Piazza ’14, Summer Preg ’15, Emily Sullivan ’13, Jenna Sullivan ’15, Lila Turner ’13, Cicely Upham ’14 and Alex Wilkerson ’13. Rhodes Professor Milton Moreland serves as program director.

The Rhodes Institute for Regional Studies is made possible by the generous support of the Robert and Ruby Priddy Charitable Trust of Wichita Falls, Texas and the Mike Curb Family Foundation.

Here are the detailed descriptions of this year’s projects:

Institute Fellows Working With Prof. Tom Bremer:

Anna Lockhart: “A Heavy God to Bear”: The Emergent Church in the Mid-South
In Memphis, as with the nation as a whole, we observe a rapidly growing type of church community. “The Emergent Church,” as Phyllis Tickle refers to it, is informal and often housed in coffee shops, school buildings, or even private residences. It is no longer about stained glass windows, chiming bells, or tall white steeples. This project will produce a fiction story that will explore the new sense of community being created within these congregations. The story will also examine what brings people to leave their previous community in search of a different church home.

Cicely Upham: Healing Within A Religious Community: The Effects of Christianity as a Primary Support in the Rehabilitation of Women in Memphis
This project studies the use of Christianity in the Memphis region as a primary device in rehabilitating women who are suffering from issues such as substance abuse, domestic abuse, depression, and prostitution. Women are often more vulnerable to many of the negative repercussions that stem from households facing economic deprivation and underprivileged communities. Christian churches in Memphis often function beyond the spiritual needs of its adherents, acting as community centers too. This project will carefully examine a local religious-based recovery program in order to gain insights into how religion can benefit or hinder the lives of the oppressed.

Grace Hicks: Moving Past the Music: An Exploration of Reverend William Herbert Brewster′s Opinions and Beliefs on Race Relations, Civil Rights, and Ethnological Uplift
Born in 1897, Reverend William Herbert Brewster was a native Memphian and a prominent African American pastor of East Trigg Avenue Baptist Church in South Memphis. Reverend Brewster was a well-known and highly esteemed gospel composer and poet, as well as an influential community leader who was quite active and respected in the City of Memphis for decades. Though scholars of Memphis history have gained much knowledge of Brewster′s gospel influence and religious leadership, there is a lack of knowledge in terms of understanding his thoughts and influence with respect to civil rights, race relations, and ethnological uplift. This project will incorporate research into primary documents, exploring the different aspects of a Southern, African American religious leader′s opinions and beliefs on controversial social issues.

Institute Fellows Working With Prof. Victor Coonin:

David Ash: In Your Face (Any Face) – Moral Education through the Depiction of Civil Rights in Public Art in Memphis
This project will study the commissioned works of art in public spaces in Memphis whose content involves the ideal communion of black and white Americans. Through the example of Memphis’ peculiar place regarding the movement for civil rights for African-Americans, the project will research the opportunity to observe the peculiar capacity of art in public space to contribute to the moral advancement of the community in which it is located. Specifically, the placement of art in communal space demands a dialectic between the subjects that occupy that community, and by engaging in this dialectic, subjects in the community dispose themselves towards the discovery of moral truths by means of the use of reason.

Lila Turner: An Analysis of Qualitative and Quantitative Variables That Affect the Economic Performance of the Brooks Museum
The purpose of this study is to identify characteristics that affect the performance of the Brooks Museum and compare these to the same characteristics of other regional museums. This study will determine how well the Brooks Museum is performing in the community relative to other regional museums and why. I will then study how the performance of the Brooks Museum affects the overall economy of the city of Memphis to determine whether there is a causal relationship between the economic well-being of the museum and the economy and population of Memphis.

Megan Doolin: Memphis is ...: a Studio Art Project on the History of Memphis
This project will create a studio art project that takes the physical elements of an urban city to fabricate art that reflects the history and aura of Memphis. The type of materials to be used will reflect the city structure, history, and social identities. When these urban materials are removed from their atmosphere, their practical use is lost and can be seen as waste. The project will take objects from the city and use them to create something beautiful and site specific to Memphis.


Institute Fellows Working With Prof. Liz Daggett:

Christi Haynes: The New Faces of Civil Rights Activism in Memphis: Youth for Youth
This project involves the creation of a documentary film, which explores the new faces of the group called Youth for Youth in Memphis. This group advocates for equal educational opportunities for undocumented students by focusing on spreading awareness of the plight of undocumented youth and attempting to get the Dream Act passed. Through interviews and research, the documentary film will bring a visual awareness to this problem and communicate the group’s message to a larger audience by putting a human face on the issue of immigration in the Memphis community.

Summer Preg: Shining Light on Disabilities
This project seeks to shine a new light on a certain population in Memphis that has obstacles the rest of us may find very difficult to understand. This art based project will initiate conversations and relationships with the “dis” abled community and find out what is their perspective of the city, and how they would like to be perceived and attempt to translate this into photographs that illuminate the humanity in each of us.

Chloe Bryan: “I am a Memphis Woman”: An Audio Portrait of Memphis’ Adolescent Female Population
This project will produce an audio documentary focused on the adolescent female population of Memphis. The project will be written first as a piece of documentary poetics influenced by the work of, among others, Mark Nowak and Muriel Rukeyser. As a whole, the piece seeks to give voice to various demographics of adolescent females in Memphis, using primary information from interviews with the girls themselves. Interviews will be with girls ages 13-17 from various sectors of the Memphis community. The poems, while partially original work, will also heavily contain verbatim quotes from the interviews. This will allow for an easy translation into an audio format, where audio footage from the interviews as well as other audio effects will be meshed with the recorded poems.


Institute Fellows Working With Prof. Leigh Johnson:

Tanner Evins: Authenticity in Memphis: Uncovering What It Is To Be A Memphian
This project will explore an understanding of what it is to be a Memphian in light of the philosophies of existentialist writers, notably Martin Heidegger and Jean-Paul Sartre. The project is also interested in the famous psychological study conducted by Dr. Kenneth Clark, which suggests that segregation causes African-American children to have an unhealthy self-image.

Omolola Ajayi: The Morality of Homosexuality: Exploration of the Religious and Philosophical Implications of an Alternative Sexuality
This project will analyze the moral and religious implications of homosexuality. The goal is to deconstruct religious and philosophical theories pertaining to this subject to gain a better understanding of the pro/anti homosexuality movements and to attempt to answer a few complex yet pertinent questions in the local community.

Ryley Erhardt: Jazz Hands Snapping the Delta Blues
This project will investigate the relationship between different demographics and gay/lesbian/queer civil rights since World War II using specific historical moments as benchmarks. The project will compare local and national progress using a variety of publications biased in different directions.


Institute Fellows Working With Prof. Milton Moreland:

Annie Bares: Soul Food and the Emergence of Food Consciousness in Memphis
Like New Orleans, Memphis is an interesting example of a city that is known for its food culture, but is also consistently called one of America′s "unhealthiest cities." Using research from the burgeoning academic field studying foodways and interviews with chefs, business owners and community leaders in Memphis, I will analyze the role that traditional food plays in communities in the face of national and local efforts to promote healthy lifestyles and changes in diet.

Emily Sullivan: Reforming Sexual Education in Memphis City Schools
This research paper will examine sexual education in Memphis City Schools and the necessity of reform. The paper will propose ideas about changing how sexual education is taught in public schools, including Frayser High School (a school that recently received international attention for its apparent high pregnancy rate). The restructuring of how sexual education is taught will involve not only the content, but how the subject is treated by teachers.

Jess Newman: The Danger of the Binary: Political Power in the Intersex Body
This project will ask the reader to pause and seriously consider several ostensibly simple, and perhaps novel, questions regarding the implications of sex and gender for both the life of the individual and society at large. First, in a section explaining the oftentimes unsung nuances of sex, it will be shown that the “sex markers” (i.e. hormones, anatomy, etc.) we use to sort bodies into a binary of either/or (male or female) are at once idiosyncratic and subject to extrinsic influence. As the line between male and female is blurred, especially in the intersex body, we are forced to ask “what is sex, really?” Further, an exploration of sociological and psychological research highlighting the lingering, and oftentimes implicit, sexism of the workplace, the university, the home, et al., will ask readers to reflect on “how has this body shaped my life?”


Institute Fellows Working With Prof. John Bass:

Alex Wilkerson: A Decade of Legacies: The Musical tradition of Manassas High School in the 1950s
Inside the vibrant city of Memphis lies a school on the corner of Firestone and Manassas, Manassas High School. This school has produced numerous musicians, including jazz saxophonist greats Charles Lloyd, Frank Strozier and George Coleman. To individuals knowledgeable in the music industry, to have names such as these together in a single high school jazz band is incomprehensible. Thus, the main point of this project is to delve deep into the roots of jazz in Memphis, deep into the jazz program at Manassas High, to see how this phenomenon unfolded.

Alex Nollan: The Greatness of Manassas High School: Case Study of Jazz Musician Jimmie Lunceford
This project studies the origins and early history of Manassas High School in Memphis, TN, with a special emphasis on one of the most famous people connected with it: the saxophonist, music director, and band leader Jimmie Lunceford (1902-47). So many famous jazz musicians graduated from this high school that it is worthwhile to try to find the reasons for its success and musical mystique. Lunceford was the first high school band director in Memphis, putting together a band that is considered the greatest swing band to this day. Nine of the musicians in his band were graduates of Manassas. Among them were Louis Smith, Andrew Goodrich, Joseph Lambert, Ernest Newsom, and Charles Lloyd. Lunceford at the height of his fame was esteemed as the equal of Duke Ellington, Earl “Father” Hines, and Count Basie.

Alex Piazza: John Quincy Wolf, Jr.:Folklorist and Scholar
This research project will focus on the folklorist and scholar John Quincy Wolf, Jr. Wolf spent three decades as the chair of the English department at Southwestern (Rhodes) and taught folklore classes focusing on the delta region. During his time in Memphis, Wolf sent his students to record blues musicians, and he interviewed and befriended players including Gus Cannon, Furry Lewis, and Bukka White.


Institute Fellows Working with Prof. Charles McKinney:

Ben Evans: The 1878 Yellow Fever Epidemic and Public Health in Memphis
In the summer of 1878, yellow fever swept up the Mississippi River Valley, moving from New Orleans to the city of Memphis. Memphis already had a reputation for disease: its low-lying, swampy location and poor sanitation exposed the city to cholera, malaria, and yellow fever. When the disease entered Memphis, as it did in 1878, it travelled along the Mississippi River, the medium for Memphis’s wealthy cotton trade. Although the disease would subside after some months, the 1878 epidemic left an enduring impact on the city, including in the city’s public health. In 1878, the poor conditions of Memphis and the inadequate response by the city, which failed to establish an effective quarantine and relied on traditional methods of disinfection to combat the disease, allowed yellow fever to ravage the city. In response to this deadly epidemic, Memphis subsequently imposed drastic reforms to improve the city’s health and sanitation infrastructure to avoid the possibility of future epidemics.

Jenna Sullivan: The Rhythm of Unity: Collage Dance Collective′s Impact on a Divided Community
This project will study the gradual rise of African-American dance and ballet companies in Memphis, with a focus on Collage Dance Collective, which re-located to Memphis to participate in the recent “artistic renaissance.” This company’s mission is to extend the reach of professional ballet and to increase diversity in classical ballet training. By providing affordable dance training, celebrating cultural diversity in dance expression, and presenting talented African American dancers to Memphis audiences, Collage Dance Collective is challenging fundamental racial barriers—bringing a greater sense of social and artistic unity to the community.

Mollie Bussey-Spencer: Exploring the Effects of Busing in Memphis City Schools
This project examines the effects of busing on the Memphis City Schools System in the 1970’s. The thesis is that court-ordered busing in 1973 caused massive white flight, which resulted in the continuation of the de facto segregation of the school system.

Tags: Campus Life, Faculty, Research, Service, Students


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