Mississippi Semester | Faculty-Student Research Supports Low-Income Communities

activismeconomicshistorywomen Barnard students have many opportunities to collaborate closely with faculty on their research through formalized programs such as the Summer Research Institute and community-based, social justice initiatives like the Harlem Semester. Likewise, the new “Mississippi Semester” course, taught by Professor of History Premilla Nadasen, allows students to explore, hands-on, the ways in which historical, political, economic, and social issues affect communities in Mississippi. 

This course is an example of how the College uses internships, research, and field placements in New York City and other locations to expand learning by connecting classroom experiences with co-curricular activities. In this way, students are given strong pathways to achieve their goals after graduation and throughout their lives. 

The Mississippi Semester 

Professor Premilla NadasenOver spring break (March 11-March 17), Professor Nadasen, along with nine Barnard and Columbia students, drove a rented van through Biloxi, the Delta, and Jackson to work with the Mississippi Low-Income Child Care Initiative (MLICCI)—an organization that advocates for low-income working parents to have access to affordable child care in the state. Students learned how economic insecurity disproportionately affects women in Mississippi and the impact the data can have on public policy. 

“The ‘Mississippi Semester’ teaches students about long-term collaborative relationships and how to work with an organization over a period of years,” said Nadasen, who has long engaged with community organizations in both instruction and scholarship. By engaging with communities and putting faces to data, students were able to connect course study taken on census and social exploration with real-world attempts at political empowerment.

The “Mississippi Semester” was inspired by students during the Fall 2016 semester, following the United States presidential election. Many were dissatisfied with how the electoral process played out and told faculty across departments that they wanted to increase their social activism.

“My colleagues and I started talking about alternate models for how to get students engaged and how to prepare them to work with community organizations,” Nadasen said. “In college, we prepare students for a certain kind of leadership, but different leadership skills are needed when you’re working within a community, such as how to communicate with someone who may have a completely different background from one’s own.”

“This partnership with Barnard College is so important to our organization because it will help provide us with the critical data we need to effectively inform Mississippi’s policymakers on key issues impacting low-income single mothers,” said Pamela Berry-Johnson, MLICCI director of communications. “But equally important for us as social justice change agents are the opportunities we’ll have to support the hands-on educational experience for these students and to help shape their sensitivities, perspectives, and ideologies as they relate to the intersections of race and gender.”

To create the Economic Security Index, students worked with the Empirical Reasoning Center (ERC) to collect census data and used a geographic information system. They interviewed local residents about their experiences with poverty, participated in community meetings, met with state legislators, and collaborated on the data to write op-eds. The information collected will be used to develop a visual digital map that organizations can use to lobby for programs.

Mississippi & Beyond

The dialogue between

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