MURRAY, Ky. — Five faculty from Murray State University’s Department of History took 29 students from their classes on a trip to Alabama to bring concepts discussed in class to life.

Over four days, the five history classes visited a number of sights tied to their courses, including the Tuskegee Legacy Museum, Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church and Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church and Cemetery. Dispersed throughout the itinerary were lectures and discussions led by faculty teaching on the program and guest speakers including Mark Potok, a former senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center.

“Given the era we live in, facing America’s difficult history of racial violence and domination is more important than ever,” said Dr. David Pizzo, director of the study away program in Alabama and an associate professor in the Murray State Department of History. “We experienced memorials and exhibits related to this history and got to interact with local members of the African-American community in both Montgomery and Notasulga, Alabama.

“The ‘study away’ program really helped me to learn more about American topics that we have discussed such as the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment,” said Taylor Reese, a senior history major taking the genocide course.

Classes from the history department that participated in the study away program include:

  • Genocide in World History with Dr. David Pizzo
  • Slavery and Africa with Dr. David Pizzo
  • African-American History with Dr. Bill Mulligan
  • Special Topics: The 1960s with Dr. Brian Clardy
  • History of the New South with Dr. James Humphreys
  • Graduate Seminar in American History with Dr. Urmi Engineer Willoughby

Wesley Miles, a junior taking Pizzo’s genocide class, said the program helped him see the pervasiveness of racism and its connection to genocide.

“While no order — the UN definition [of genocide] calls to prove intent — has been given by government officials to eradicate those of African descent, there is a very long and complicated history of public officials validating lynchings, the convict-lease system and segregation,” said Miles.

This program provoked Miles’ curiosity and his need for a deeper knowledge of the topic. He was so shocked by the Elaine Massacre that he had to learn more about it. He and Pizzo have had conversations about the topic and Miles intends to gather a supply of books on the topic.

“Being a university student barely scraping by, I have yet to gather a supply of books to draw from, but I intend to order them as I can and, for now, study this from internet sources,” said Miles.

Reese also had an eye-opening moment at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice. This new memorial is a series of pillars, with each pillar representing a county. The names of those who were lynched are listed on the pillars.

“One of the pillars had Bibb County, Georgia on it, which is my home, and reading the names of the people who were killed in the place where I grew up was overwhelming to say the least,” said Reese. “It literally hit very close to home, and it made it all real for me.”

Reese wanted to be a part of the study away program in order to expand her knowledge base of a course she took in the fall semester on African history, and her current course, genocide.

“I chose the study away program to expand my African history knowledge and it definitely did that, because I was able to learn more about slavery and the impacts that persist even today,” said Reese. “The study away program also really helped me to learn more about American topics that we have discussed, such as the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment.”

Experiential education opportunities at Murray State are a way to bring learning to life, which is precisely what the program is designed to do. These opportunities are important for students because of the rich content they offer, alongside the ability to directly interact with and experience the course content.

Reese and Miles were both grateful for this opportunity and the dedication and hard work of the faculty from the Department of History who put this program together.

“I am just so grateful to have had the opportunity to travel with the history department and my amazing peers to learn more about these events in America,” said Reese.

Pizzo also noted that he is was grateful for the support from the University for a Bringing Learning to Life Grant that helped to fund the program.

Photo: Murray State University students and faculty are pictured outside Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church and Cemetery in Helena, Alabama.

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