The University of Mississippi is planning to launch the Open Society Initiative, a new center for racial reconciliation. The purpose of the new center is to build upon the foundation of the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation and “continue the university’s work in modeling civil discourse and enhancing race relations,” according to a university spokesperson.
The William Winter Institute moved to Jackson on April 1, 2018, after nearly two decades on campus.
The search process to find an executive director for the Open Society Initiative is currently underway. A university spokesperson said that whoever fills the position will “connect and coordinate its activities in research, education and engagement around the issue of racial healing.”
When it was announced that the Winter Institute would be moving to Jackson in Jan. 2018, former Board Chairman Bill Bynum said, “The university did a great job of getting it on solid ground and getting the institution started. Our relationship with the university is positive, and we are evolving on good terms.”
At the time, both the Institute and former Gov. Winter’s office said that the institute would continue to pursue reconciliation work with the university.
In an interview with The Daily Mississippian in October 2018, former executive director of the Winter Institute, Susan Glisson, talked about the disconnect between the university and Winter’s mission.
“Relocation came up several times over the course of my employment. It always centered on the lack of financial support for our work and a lack of alignment in vision about what the institute’s work should be,” Glisson said. “Reconciliation must encompass justice and systematic equity, and those were not concepts that were ever fully embraced… Half of my job as director involved fighting and pushing UM administrators to let us do the work that Gov. Winter and our history called us to do.”
The Winter Institute was established at the university in 1999 after a 1997 One America Initiative conference at the university was well-received by the community. Winter’s mission was and still is to “support a movement of equity and wholeness as a pathway to ending and transcending all division and discrimination based on differences.”
It was also the work of the Winter Institute that led to the formation of the Emmett Till Memorial Commission and its restoration of the Sumner Courthouse as well as the opening of the Emmett Till Interpretive Center in 2015.