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College of Arts and Sciences

Jenni Owen '15, right, participated in the new Prison-to-College Pipeline Program at the Mississippi State Penitentiary in Parchman, Miss., thanks to a connection Dr. Chuck Westmoreland, assistant professor of history, had with the program's leaders.

Graduate participates in groundbreaking Parchman program

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One recent Delta State graduate shined brightly last summer while working with imprisoned students at the Mississippi State Penitentiary in Parchman.

Jenni Owen, who completed her Liberal Studies Master of Arts in English with a focus on criminology in May of 2015, had the unique opportunity of participating in the groundbreaking Prison-to-College Pipeline Program at Parchman.

Owen became the program’s instructional associate through the help of Dr. Chuck Westmoreland, assistant professor of history at Delta State. Westmoreland put her in touch with the program’s leaders, Dr. Otis Pickett, assistant professor of history at Mississippi College, and Dr. Patrick Elliot Alexander, assistant professor of English and African American studies at the University of Mississippi.

The two professors were leading the new 10-week course on the civil rights movement to a group of students imprisoned at Parchman. During the course, students learned about a number of civil rights leaders, including Fannie Lou Hammer, who is remembered for her roots in nearby Ruleville.

The course also provided essential guidance in the rehabilitation and assimilation of imprisoned students into the general civilian population once their sentences are served.

Dr. Otis Pickett (l to r), Owen and Dr. Patrick Elliot Alexander.

Dr. Otis Pickett (left), Owen and Dr. Patrick Elliot Alexander.

“It was amazing getting to know the gentlemen in the facility,” said Owen. “Many of them had a strong passion for education, and I was grateful for the opportunity to get to know the men as individuals.

“The highlight of my experience was when I was able to work with the men one-on-one and assist them with their writing, or help tailor solutions to their specific needs,” she added. “For example, there was one student who had a hard time seeing words when reading, so I tried to write notes for him in a larger font so he could read the documents more easily.

“There was another student interested in writing poetry, so I brought Natasha Trethewey’s ‘Native Guard’ to share with him. Also, after my first session, I saw the eagerness of the men to learn, so I asked friends and family for donations and we were able to purchase a book for the gentlemen to continue reading once the course was through.”

Owen, who now works as an adjunct instructor of English at Holmes Community College in Yazoo City completed her undergraduate internship at the Stark County Sheriff’s Office in Ohio and wrote her thesis on officer communication in domestic violence situations. Thus began her interest in the criminal justice system.

When she began her studies at Delta State, she learned about bibliotherapy or therapeutic reading programs. Owen, with her criminology background, focused on how literature can help rehabilitate those who are incarcerated. This interest made her a qualified candidate to help with the Parchman program.

“The Prison-to-College program taught me to have more confidence in myself and my abilities,” said Owen. “The students were so grateful that I was there. At first I was a bit intimidated to be working with such respected professors, and was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to bring anything to the class, but by being genuinely me, I found that I could contribute and help the students.

“I also learned about some of the real struggles the students were going through. They were taking a college level class during the hottest months of the year, but they were still doing their best to complete their reading and writing assignments. The students put in so much effort to be able to participate in the class. Their dedication was amazing.”

Westmoreland said Owen’s commitment to the criminal justice system is just one of her strong points.

“Jenni has a strong commitment to helping others, and because of that, we are very proud of her work with the Prison-to-College Pipeline Program,” said Westmoreland. “As a student in the Master of Arts in Liberal Studies program, Jenni approached her work with a clear sense of mission and purpose. She wanted to integrate her passion for literature and the English language with a desire to help incarcerated people. Thanks to the wide variety of graduate courses offered in English and criminology, she was very prepared to work with the students in the pipeline program.

“She has done great work and will continue to make a positive impact on people who are too often forgotten in our society,” he added.

As the program continues to grow, Owen fully intends to remain involved.

“I’m currently planning on participating in the program at Parchman again this coming summer with Dr. Alexander and Dr. Pickett,” she said. “I look forward to assisting more with the educational aspect of the program and helping the students increase their writing skills.”

Owen said she will also help as the program plans to expand to the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility in Pearl under the leadership of Pickett and Dr. Stephanie R. Rolph, assistant professor of history at Millsaps College.

Upright Citizens Brigade Touring Company will host a free performance of sketch comedy and improv Nov. 13 at 7:30 p.m. in Jobe Hall Auditorium. Photo by Francine Daveta Photography.

Upright Citizens Brigade TourCo coming to Jobe

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Founded by Amy Poehler (Saturday Night Live, Parks and Recreation), Upright Citizens Brigade Touring Company will perform a night of provocative sketch comedy and absurd improv Nov. 13 at 7:30 p.m. in Jobe Hall Auditorium.

The event, free and open to the public, is sponsored by The Delta Players and The Union Program Council.

UCB TourCo is a veritable incubation lab for comedy talent, and its cast is hand-picked from the best improv comedians in the country. It has previously featured such luminaries as Jack McBrayer (30 Rock), Horatio Sanz (SNL), Ed Helms (The Hangover, Cedar Rapids), Ellie Kemper (The Office, Bridesmaids), Rob Corddry (The Daily Show), Rob Riggle (SNL, The Daily Show), and Adam McKay (Anchorman, Funny or Die), among many others.

As The Onion writes, “Catch the next generation of comedy superstars before they all sell out to [lousy] sitcoms and VH1 list shows.”

Don Allan Mitchell, associate professor of English, said the event promises to make the audience chuckle. download-2

“We need more laughter on this campus. After all, laughter is the best medicine,” said Mitchell. “The UCB’s sense of humor is definitely aimed at the college-aged crowd, but I think faculty, staff and community folks will also be interested in what cutting-edge improv comedy is all about. If you have ever been entertained by the likes of Dan Ackroyd, John Belushi or Chevy Chase, or more recent comedic stars like Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, then you will be seeing their direct descendants. The Upright Citizens Brigade Touring Company is the next generation of comedic talent, and the show will be completely created on the spot. Be prepared to laugh, and laugh often.”

Dr. Stuart Rockoff (right), director of the Mississippi Humanities Council, presents Dr. Michaela Merryday, associate professor of art history, with the 2015 Humanities Teacher Award.

Merryday honored as Humanities Teacher of the Year

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The Mississippi Humanities Council celebrates each October by awarding one humanities faculty member at each state institution with the Humanities Teacher Award. This year, from Delta State University’s Department of Art, Dr. Michaela Merryday was selected by faculty for the award.

Merryday accepted the award Monday in Holcombe-Norwood Hall, where she also presented on her publication “Westward Route 66 Takes Its Way: Ed Ruscha and the Promised Land.”

Merryday completed her undergraduate studies at the University of Vienna, Austria, and earned a doctorate in art history from Florida State University. Her research also focuses on contemporary public and political art practices.

 

Dr. Michaela Merryday was

Merryday to present on Ed Ruscha

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Dr. Michaela Merryday, associate professor of art, will host a free presentation “Westward Route 66 Takes Its Way: Ed Ruscha and the Promised Land,” on Nov. 2 at 6:30 p.m. in Room 151 of Holcombe-Norwood Hall.

The event, free and open to the public, is made possible by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to the Mississippi Humanities Council.

Merryday was selected by the Delta State University Department of Art as the 2015 Mississippi Humanities Council award recipient.

Her current work examines the role of culture in promoting sustainability, which is the subject of her publication, “Westward the Course of Route 66 Takes Its Way: Ed Ruscha and the Promised Land.”

In 1956, Ruscha set out on Route 66 from Oklahoma City to Los Angeles. The sites he encountered along the road eventually became the basis for his book, “Twenty-six Gasoline Stations,” and reappeared in paintings such as “Standard Station,” “Hotel,” “Norms, La Cienega, On Fire” and the large Hollywood sign.

The Hollywood sign not only marks the final destination, but also stands for the dreams and promises that have beckoned thousands to California.

“I want to suggest that Ruscha’s work presents a contemporary version of the myth of Manifest Destiny given visual form in the landscapes of 19th century painters such as Thomas Cole, Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze or Albert Bierstadt,” said Merryday. “Bierstadt presented the West to viewers weary of the trials of the Civil War as a beautiful and benevolent land, a paradise where one could start over again.”

Merryday completed her undergraduate studies at the University of Vienna, Austria, and earned a doctorate in art history from Florida State University. Her research also focuses on contemporary public and political art practices.

Most recently, she contributed a feminist reading of Marie Hull to Bruce Levingston’s monograph “Bright Fields: The Mastery of Marie Hull,” which was published this year by The University Press of Mississippi.

For more information, contact the Department of Art at 662-846-4720.

The photography exhibit "Muslim/American, American/Muslim" by Robert E. Gerhardt opens Nov. 5 at 4 p.m. at the Fielding Wright Art Center Gallery on the campus of Delta State.

Art gallery to exhibit Gerhardt’s photography

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The photography exhibit “Muslim/American, American/Muslim” by New York photographer Robert E. Gerhardt opens to the public Nov. 5 at 4 p.m. at the Fielding Wright Art Center Gallery on the campus of Delta State. The show will remain in the gallery until Dec. 11.

Gerhardt will introduce the exhibit and speak about his work at a public reception. The event also serves as an opportunity to meet the artist from 5-7 p.m. The lecture and reception are free and open to the public.

Gerhardt was introduced to photography via sociology and anthropology, and he became hooked on the medim when he took a class about documenting research projects. His interest in studying social behavior and human nature is apparent in his photographic work.

His series “The Straphangers” presents the diversity of New York as seen in its subways. “Life on the Border: The Karen People of Burma” documents the struggle of the Karen people confined to refugee camps at the border between Burma and Thailand. His most recent series, “Mic Check,” focuses on the #BlackLivesMatter movement and public protests.

Gerhardt became interested in documenting Muslim cultures in the United States “in 2010 after reading about a controversy over converting an unused convent on Staten Island in New York into a mosque and community center. Many local residents vehemently protested the intended repurposing at various community board meetings, including the shouting-down of a U.S. Army officer who simply asked if people would be willing to be good neighbors with the mosque.”

He contacted the Muslim American Society, which was behind the community center, and was invited to visit and photograph the society’s Brooklyn chapter. He spent several days a week at the center over the next year, where he came to know the members of the community and was invited to schools and homes where he learned about the everyday encounters with prejudice Muslims face in the post 9/11 era.

Gerhardt went on to photograph not only the Brooklyn community, but Muslim communities in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Virginia. He hopes the portrait he has created of the American Muslim communities will inspire his audience to learn more about the diverse Muslim cultures represented in the U.S. and open a dialogue examining common misconceptions.

The project has been shown at St. John’s University, Manhattan Campus, New York, N.Y.; Schuster Art Gallery, Gannon University, Erie, Pa.; Schuster Art Gallery, Gannon University, Erie, Pa.; Annex Gallery, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Indiana, Pa.; Sidney Larson Gallery, Columbia College, Columbia, Mo.; and will move on to the John B. Davis Gallery, Idaho State University, Pocatello, Idaho after its exhibition at Delta State.

In the spirit of Gerhardt’s project, the Delta State Department of Art and the university’s Quality Enhancement Program have partnered to present a series of events that will provide a forum for dialogue. The series begins with a public presentation by Dr. Ahm Reza, assistant professor in biological and physical sciences at Delta State, on the experiences of a Muslim immigrant in America on Nov. 12. On Nov. 19, Emad Al-Turk and Okolo Rashid, founders of the International Museum of Muslim Cultures in Jackson, will speak about the history and mission of the institution they founded. On Dec. 3, a public screening of the film “Arranged,” which centers on the unlikely friendship between an Orthodox Jewish and Muslim teacher in New York. All presentations will be held at the Fielding Wright Art Center at 5 p.m. and are free and open to the public.

The Fielding Wright Art Center is open Mondays-Thursdays 8 a.m.-5 p.m., and Fridays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. The gallery is closed weekends, holidays and during semester breaks.

For more information on the department of art, visit http://www.deltastate.edu/college-of-arts-and-sciences/art/ or contact 662-846-4720. For updates and announcements of upcoming events, follow Delta State Art Department on Facebook, or join the email list.