New Course Features History and House Building in the Mississippi Delta

new Course Features History and Housing in the Mississippi Delta

By Dona Yarbrough

When Volunteer Emory first approached me about accompanying students on an Alternative Spring Break trip to Leland, Mississippi, it gave me pause. In 1979, my parents left Leland and risked plunging the family into real economic distress when they moved—without jobs—to Pensacola, Florida. After almost a decade as public school teachers in one of America’s poorest regions, they needed a change of scenery.

For the last two years, I have served as a “native informant” of sorts for Emory students and staff traveling to build homes with Habitat for Humanity in Leland, providing tips for negotiating the Delta’s racial and religious politics. On both trips, students have commented that they did not realize that poverty like this existed in the United States. 

Although Emory students’ experiences in Leland and with Habitat were meaningful, might a deeper understanding of the region foster critical thinking about a host of pressing issues? The story of the Delta throws into stark relief questions about environmental, economic, and social justice; about the color and sex of U.S. poverty; and about our willingness to invest in or write off particular areas of the country. 

Thus, the Center for Women is partnering with the Institute for Liberal Arts and the Office of University-Community Partnerships to offer the undergraduate course Mississippi Delta: Poverty and Promise in America’s Poorest Region this spring.

Students will immerse themselves in the literature, music, history, and politics of the region before visiting it for spring break. In teaching the course, I hope to transmit not only knowledge of but also love for the people and places of the Delta. 

Dona Yarbrough is director of the Center for Women at Emory. She earned her PhD in English at the University of Virginia and taught courses in literature, women’s studies, and queer studies at the University of Virginia and Tufts University before coming to Emory in 2008. 


Speaking of Habitat for Humanity

This year's Mary Lynn Morgan Annual Lecture on Women and Health, to be given by Elizabeth Blake on November 4, 2010, focuses on the critical importance that affordable housing plays in the lives of women. Blake is the senior vice president for advocacy and government affairs as well as general counsel of Habitat for Humanity International. Titled "Housing, Health, and Women: Partners against Poverty," Blake's talk will be in the Presentation Room of the Oxford Road Building, 1390 Oxford Road, at 5:00 p.m., with a reception beginning an hour beforehand.