UM, Mississippi, and the Winter Institute: A Wintern’s Perspective


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by Rachel E. Anderson

My story with the Winter Institute begins unconventionally. 

One night while sitting in my bedroom in Bilbao, Spain, I came across the Winter Institute website. I was familiar with the organization, but after a semester of studying abroad, I had not given much thought to anything back in the United States. 

At the end of the summer, this time now in Florence, Italy, I found myself studying the Winter Institute website again. I sat there, staring at my computer screen, thinking back at all the times I had to defend being from Mississippi during my eight months abroad. 

I knew I wanted to change to the dialogue surrounding Mississippi, discrimination, and to change the way people viewed both topics. The Winter Institute seemed like the perfect avenue for me to pursue this. I applied to be a Wintern, an intern for the Winter Institute.

As soon as I was settled back in Oxford and University of Mississippi classes had begun, I started my work as an undergraduate Wintern. I was eager to begin my projects and work towards my initial goal, but I would soon learn that Winter Institute encompasses much more work than reimagining Mississippi’s image.

In my second week, the 2015 Racial Reconciliation Week began. During these events, I witnessed the Winter Institute in action.

The University of Mississippi’s Department of Athletics and the Winter Institute partnered to host the third annual Racial Reconciliation Week. For five days, they co-sponsored a series of events promoting racial equality and encouraging conversations about diversity throughout campus and the Oxford-Lafayette County community.

The week was filled with events such as “Lunch and Learn” sessions, a panel on diversity in Athletics, and dedication and awards ceremonies. 

To conclude the week, the University of Mississippi held a ceremony to dedicate the plaza outside of Paris- Yates Chapel in honor of the late Rev.Will Campbell. 

I had never heard of Campbell. Sadly, too few on campus had.

Rev. Will Campbell served as University of Mississippi director of religious life from 1954-1956. During his time here, he worked diligently for all students, supporting widespread integration and inclusion. 

I am proud to be a student at a time when groups like the Winter Institute and the university itself recognize the contributions and challenges faced by inspirational members of the University of Mississippi family.

I am also proud to be working for an organization that recognizes and works to remedy other challenges within the state of Mississippi. Working with the Winter Institute, I have learned that:

  • The Winter Institute values youth engagement, cultivating future leaders for future state growth at their Summer Youth Institute. At SYI, 30 Mississippi high school leaders annually sign two-year agreements to develop projects that address a need for their communities.
  • The Winter Institute facilitates innovative community building, establishing Welcome Tables in 18 communities around Mississippi and New Orleans. The Welcome Table enables people from all walks of life to communicate and form relationships with other residents in a safe, open environment. 
  • Local students receive support with their fight to end discrimination. Already this year, the Winter Institute has supported many University of Mississippi student groups and their events. The Winter Institute has stood in solidarity with students pushing to remove the Mississippi state flag from campus, co-sponsored a discussion on Black Lives Matter, led discussions on micro-aggressions for LGBT History Month, and hosted many other trainings and discussions open to students.

Following the Rev. Will Campbell dedication during Racial Reconciliation Week, the Winter Institute held an awards ceremony and reception to commemorate the legacies of other Mississippians working toward equity.

 Susan Glisson, director of  the Winter Institute, and  Ross Bjork, Athletics  Director, presented awards  to outstanding individuals,  young and old.

 Racial Reconciliation Week  opened my eyes to history.  It enabled me to uncover new narratives about the University of Mississippi, and discover what my new workplace, the Winter Institute, entailed.

The events also taught me how remembering Will Campbell and other influential individuals in our past promotes positive growth for our future.

It is a great time to be at the University of Mississippi. It is an even better time to be a Wintern.

If you or someone you know is interested in becoming a Wintern, visit 

Rachel E. Anderson is a junior broadcast journalism and Spanish double-major at the University of Mississippi from Chesapeake, VA.

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