February 24, 2022

African-American Studies and Missions are new programs at Mississippi College

Darkhorse Press

Mississippi College students

Two fully accredited minor programs of study scheduled to be offered by Mississippi College during the fall 2022 semester will expand the Christian University’s repertoire of world-class educational offerings while enhancing its mission to promote the spiritual, social, and emotional development of its students.

MC students were excited about the brand-new minors – one in African American Studies and the other in missions – and several had inquired about the admissions process weeks before the programs had been formally confirmed.

Now, students majoring in any academic discipline may seek to obtain either of the minors, both of which are designed to inspire them to lead lives centered on Christ.

An outgrowth of constructive conversations between MC students, faculty, staff, and community members following the death of George Floyd, a Black man killed while in police custody in Minneapolis in 2020, the new African American Studies minor will provide an opportunity for students to expand their critical thinking on matters related to race.

Codirected by Dr. Kristi Richard Melancon, associate professor of English and philosophy, and Dr. Christian Pinnen, associate professor of history and political science, who have each performed scholarly research centered on African American studies related to their respective academic disciplines, the minor will include courses in English, history, social work, business, art, music, modern languages, and psychology. As a multidisciplinary program, it will be administered by Dr. Jonathan Randle, professor of English and philosophy and dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences.

“After students indicated they wanted anti-racism education that included conversations about systemic racism, economic implications of racism, and other topics infused into the curriculum, a group of faculty members developed an interdisciplinary course of study to focus on the African American perspective,” Melancon said. “It was an immediate response to the students’ need and desire to continue the conversation and learn more about this critically important subject.”

Melancon and Pinnen helped facilitate weekly conversations on race with faculty and students. As the 2020-21 academic semester – and their weekly meetings – drew to a close, they asked the students what could be done to continue fostering a climate of understanding at the Christian University.

“Repeatedly, the students said they would like an academic space where they could learn and engage in conversation about systemic racism,” Melancon said. “Offering a minor in African American Studies will work well for students from diverse disciplines because anybody can participate, no matter their track of study.”

Dr. Keith Elder, provost and executive vice president, supports their efforts to establish the minor. He said students would benefit from a multidisciplinary approach to African American Studies.

“Our most intractable issues cannot be addressed by one discipline,” Elder said. “The program will enhance awareness and understanding, which lays the foundation for dialogue and action to address some of the issues that continue to persist societally.

“This minor embraces our commitment to each other and that we are one body in Christ, and it shows we want to be a part of the solution by demonstrating the love of Christ.”

Melancon said the minor represents an opportunity to build greater understanding between MC students.

“I would like the creation of this minor to open up a more informed dialogue and conversation about the problems of racism and systemic oppression in our society and our duty as Christians toward people of all races and ethnicities,” she said. “Everyone is trying to figure out how to move forward when it comes to systemic inequities, when it comes to race in our society.”

Pinnen said the program is building a social media presence on Twitter and Instagram to help recruit students into the minor. He said the goal is to attract more experts from various fields of study to share their perspectives and opinions with MC students on a wider array of topics related to the African American experience.

For more information about the new minor in African American Studies at MC, visit Facebook at www.facebook.com/MCAfAmStudies/?ref=pages_you_manage, Twitter @MCAfAmStudies, or Instagram @mcaastudies.

Student demand played a significant role in the School of Christian Studies and the Arts offering a missions minor this fall, according to Dr. Wayne VanHorn, professor of Christian Studies and dean of the school.

“Through my 17 years of coursework, I have noticed a pronounced interest in missions on the part of students,” VanHorn said. “Way back in 2006, then-MC President Lee Royce told me that MC had the second-highest number of student missionaries in the Southeastern region among universities of all sizes.

“I began having Dr. Jerry Rankin, president emeritus of the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Missions Board, and his wife, Bobbye, speak to my Foundations for Christian Ministry class.”

VanHorn said Dr. Jerry Rankin’s missions presentation became the most eagerly anticipated and engaging lecture of the course. He asked Rankin to teach the school’s missions class, which was also well received. Three additional missions courses were then developed, which allowed the school to offer a missions concentration to its Christian Studies majors.

However, everyone who was interested in learning about mission works wasn’t Christian Studies majors.

“The fact is, a lot of students are very knowledgeable and have a vision and a sense of calling for missions, but they aren’t majoring in Christian Studies,” Rankin said. “The modern missionary needs to have secular credentials. Many countries are closed to individuals with seminary degrees – you’ve got to have some secular credentials to get into some places on the mission field.

“It’s important to have a missions minor to accomplish that.”

Two more missions courses were added, allowing the school to roll out the minor in missions for non-Christian Studies majors this fall. Rankin, who has played such an instrumental role in the successful development of the new minor’s curricula, will oversee the program, along with Dr. Robert Fortenberry, a missions pastor at First Baptist Church in Jackson and a veteran of the mission fields in Africa, who helped develop the missions minor course of study at MC.

“We are truly blessed to have a man of Dr. Rankin’s stature, dedication, and experience to teach our missions students,” VanHorn said. “We are also blessed to have Robert Fortenberry teach some of our courses. He was so passionate about missions that six students took the spring semester away from MC to serve as student missionaries to Botswana.

“He brings years of ‘on-the-field’ experience to the missions classroom. We are excited to see what the Lord has in store for us as we move ahead.”

Rankin, MC’s 2021 Alumnus of the Year, has plenty of experience nurturing missions programs, having served on the board of Columbia International University for 15 years and on the board of William Carey University for six years, helping that institution move missions from a minor to a major program of study. With the support of VanHorn and Dr. Burn Page, professor and chair of Christian Studies, Rankin has helped develop courses on a host of mission-related topics at MC through the years, from evangelism and cross-cultural witnessing to contemporary mission strategies.

Rankin said his classes have traditionally attracted students from a wide range of majors.

“I’ve surveyed my classes, and less than 20 percent of students in any given class have been Christian Studies majors,” he said. “They’ve been from all across the academic spectrum – nursing, education, international studies, languages, business – which reflects the overall interest and passion of students in missions.”

He said before the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020, as many as 140 MC students were known to spend their summers doing mission assignments through their local church programs or the Baptist Student Union.

“I had the opportunity to personally mentor and counsel many of these students, which gave me the personal initiative to develop additional missions courses,” he said. “We’re seeing a very broad campus interest in all of these courses and programs, and I’m just delighted we’re finally getting to offer the missions minor.”

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