When William Winter assumed the office of governor for the state of Mississippi in 1980, education became his main concern. At the time, Mississippi did not fund public kindergarten nor mandatory school attendance, and it was scarcely a decade removed from integration. Five decades later, a UM organization bearing the name of the governor and UM alumnus continues his efforts for equality in the academic arena.
The University’s William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation works to support racial equality at the local, state and national levels for more than a decade.
Today, the Winter Institute’s work is divided into community, youth and academic branches.
“The community work is where the institute really started; that mostly reaches an adult community-based audience throughout the state and we go where the community invites us in,” said April Grayson, community building coordinator for the Institute’s Welcome Table.
Grayson said this work eventually led to a summer youth program and an academic program based at the University of Mississippi, but the institute also serves other universities in the state and across the country.
Academic Director Jennifer Stollman said the institute is hoping to provide a social justice minor for students next fall.
The institute’s namesake, William Winter, is also a member of former President Bill Clinton’s Advisory Board on Race.
Announced at a University of California San Diego commencement speech in 1997, Clinton’s One America initiative sought to educate Americans and encourage conversation on issues of race. The University of Mississippi was the only site of this initiative from Clinton in the Deep South, according to Grayson.
“After this success, Gov. Winter strongly encouraged the University, because of its history, to establish a permanent conversation on race,” Grayson said. “In 1999, the William Winter Institute was originated and founded by Susan Glissen, who has been with the institute since the beginning.”
The institute trains faculty, staff and students in professional development and anti-racism, anti-oppression, inclusivity, curricular and co-curricular programming.
“When biased incidents happen on this campus or others across the Deep South, we are called in to consult and see how we can move ahead,” Stollman said. “Often times, universities use a retributive approach, while we try and also take a restorative justice approach so the community can come together and be a part of the solution, making everyone a stakeholder.”
The institute’s workshops and dialogues cover issues ranging from anti-oppression and anti-racism to same-sex marriage and transgender issues.
“We make sure we are attentive to inclusivity and making sure people understand the benefits of diversity and why the campus needs to have that on the forefront of their minds,” Stollman said.