Rhodes Honors Professors Charles McKinney and Marsha Walton With Clarence Day Awards for Outstanding Teaching and Research

two professors dressed in academic robes hold award plaques

Dr. Charles McKinney and Dr. Marsha Walton were presented Rhodes College’s highest faculty honors for teaching and research at the college’s annual Awards Convocation held on campus.

McKinney, the Neville Frierson Bryan Chair of Africana Studies and an associate professor of history, received the Clarence Day Award for Outstanding Teaching. Walton, a professor of psychology, received the Clarence Day Award for Outstanding Research and/or Creative Activity. The awards, first given in 1981, were established by businessman and Rhodes alumnus Clarence Day and are provided by the Day Foundation.

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The Clarence Day Award for Outstanding Teaching is given to a member of the faculty who has demonstrated excellence in teaching over the previous three years as determined by the assessments of students and colleagues, the effective use of imaginative and creative pedagogy, and a strong record of motivating students to embrace a life of continuing study.

In making the presentation, Provost Milton Moreland said, “Professor McKinney has established himself as a beloved teacher and mentor who regularly challenges students to think clearly and deeply about questions of race, rights, and freedom within the context of American history, contemporary American culture, and the Memphis region.”

Many of McKinney’s nominators have gone on to become teachers and professors in Memphis and across the country. A former student wrote, “As a teacher, I now employ many of the techniques that I found so effective in Professor McKinney’s class. Not only was Professor McKinney's teaching style engaging, unique, and consistent, but the texts he chose reflected perspectives and voices that were commonly missing from the general conversation on civil rights.”

 “I never missed his class because the work that we did was too important; the knowledge shared was too powerful,” commented one former student.

Another nominator stated that “most importantly, what Dr. McKinney provides in his classroom is a safe place to confront uncomfortable truths. Each student comes to this material from a different experience, some from a place of privilege, others not. The heavy emphasis on discussion allows students not only to engage the text, but work through the challenges this subject matter can pose to a student’s value system and core beliefs.”

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The Clarence Day Award for Outstanding Research and/or Creative Activity is presented to a member of the faculty who has demonstrated that research and/or creative activity is an integral part of his or her vocation and who has published or performed outstanding works over the previous three years that have gained scholarly recognition or critical acclaim.

“For the breadth and depth of her scholarly achievements as a scholar of psychology, and for the successful merging of her scholarship with her roles as a professor and mentor, I am pleased to recognize Professor Marsha Walton as this year’s recipient of the Clarence Day Award for Outstanding Research and Creative Activity,” said Moreland in his presentation. 

Walton joined the Rhodes faculty in 1979 and has helped build the Department of Psychology for the past four decades. In the course of her career, she has authored or co-authored more than 80 conference presentations and 27 research publications and book chapters. She has collected stories from thousands of children over the course of her career to better understand how young minds understand and navigate phenomena such as conflict resolution, peace-making, bullying, moral behavior, and friendship. 

Central to Walton’s research is the idea that children come to understand their social worlds through narrative reflection. Her research has had a significant impact on the fields of moral and social development and has influenced her pedagogy both through her mentoring of student researchers and through her psychology courses.

Walton also has published and presented her research with current and former students. Dozens of these students have pursued doctorates as a result of her mentoring. Walton’s recent book, Conflict Narratives in Middle Childhood: The Social, Emotional, and Moral Significance of Story-Sharing, is a culmination of many of the narrative research projects she has conducted over the last 20 years with her students.