It might be the last day of Women’s History Month, but that doesn’t mean we’ll stop appreciating and reflecting on some of the strong women Oxford has in its midst.
Meet Jaime Harker, the director of the Sarah Isom Center for Women and Gender Studies and a professor here at Ole Miss. Harder is a strong advocate of both LGBTQ and women’s rights.
Raised in a Mormon home, Harker was surrounded by very traditional values and social constructs. Though her views differed from those of her family, she was always encouraged to hold true to her own opinions.
“I have always been a feminist. This took my parents by surprise because I was raised in a conservative Mormon family with a traditional approach to gender roles,” Harker said. “My father and I spent many evenings discussing and debating everything from theology to politics to the role of women in society, and while we often didn’t agree, we always felt we had learned something from the exchange. The environment in which I was raised made the central role of gender very clear. I knew early that I wanted more choices than my culture was offering.”
It was not until her twenties that she began to further explore LGBTQ issues, and she came to the realization that she was primarily attracted to women.
“This was even more unspeakable than being a feminist in Mormon culture, and it made me realize how many kinds of experiences our culture refuses to acknowledge, how many outsiders we create through our intolerance,” Harker said. “It made me want to learn and to create spaces in which those cultural outsiders were visible and valued.”
Harker attended Brigham Young University, where she was encouraged by like-minded mentors to continue growing in regards to both her personal choices and her education. After attaining both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from BYU, Harker spent another five years at Temple University, where she received her Ph. D.
It 2003 she arrived at Ole Miss, and she says it was love at first sight.
“From the moment I arrived in Oxford for my campus visit, it always felt like home to me,” Harker said.
Likewise, Oxford has welcomed her with open arms. In last year’s Pride Parade, Harker drove the leading car. She says this was one of her fondest memories.
“There was such joy in all the people who participated; when we turned onto Lamar, we were greeted with a roar of delight. I have never been prouder of my community, and I was so grateful for the allies who embraced the parade.”
The strict Mormon upbringing that instilled such a sense of identity in Harker in her youth now grants her the strong sense of dedication that she applies to her work.
“Though I no longer am a member of the Mormon church, I still carry those lessons and values with me in the work that I do for the Sarah Isom Center,” she said.
Throughout her extensive and successful career, Harker has been a part of a number of great projects. She has published quite a number of texts and has edited and contributed to books such as “The Oprah Affect: Critical Essays on Oprah’s Book Club” and “1960s Gay Pulp Fiction: The Misplaced Heritage.” Currently, she is finishing a book called “Queer South,” which looks at the ongoing legacy of Southern lesbian feminist literature.
“The book is a love letter to the South, at least the South that I have come to know and love,” Harker said.