Brittney N. Jackson
Every day, hundreds of students enter the doors of the Sally McDonnell Honors College. Newly renovated, the building serves as a modern mecca with classes, study rooms, a computer lab offering free printing, and even a ready-to-use kitchen always stocked with free coffee and filled with tons of food during finals week.
The Honors College is more than just a place for the elite; it is a home. With only 10 percent of each freshman class gaining acceptance, and class sizes capped at 15 students, the Honors College is a special place at the University of Mississippi.
Founded in 1997 as a gift to the University of Mississippi from Jim and Sally Barksdale, the Honors College was designed to serve a diverse group of high-performing students.
According to the official website of the Honors College, the former Alpha Delta Pi Sorority building was purchased as the space for the Honors College, giving the building a feeling of home.
Originally named after both Jim and Sally, the building name was changed by Jim Barksdale to feature only Sally’s name in memory after her 2003 death. Twenty years later, the Honors College hosts more than 1,300 students from across the world.
Honors College students tackle unanswered questions and form solutions to unsolvable problems. According to the official Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College admission booklet, students are considered evolving citizen scholars. That means they must do meaningful work in and out of the classrooms.
Students are responsible for 10 Community Action Challenge hours outside of the classroom per semester. This gives students exposure to real-world issues they talk about everyday in the classroom, such as poverty, cultural differences, racial issues, and socioeconomic problems. After 20 years, students have completed almost a million community service hours.
Olivia Hines, a former Honors College student and sophomore majoring in social work, has nothing but positive things to say about her experience.
“It made Ole Miss feel like an Ivy League (school) without actually being one,” she said. “The connections I made here are invaluable and could not have been made anywhere else.”
Hines said she would like to see the Honors College receive the exposure it deserves. “Groundbreaking work is done here,” she said, “and more people need to know about it.”
Hines said she wishes Honors Conversations classes were open to freshmen, who are new to college, but may have great insight on different issues.
Douglass Sullivan-González, the dean of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, understood the meaning of the Honors College during its creation and had bright hopes for its future when reflecting on the last 20 years.
“The Honors College continues to be the tip of the spear or the crowned jewel of the university,” he said. “I want the Honors College always to be setting the agenda for debate on campus.”
He spoke about the responsibility of Honors students to engage in conversations with a moral voice, something essential when discussing topics in today’s political climate.
Sullivan-González said he hopes that, at some moment, students will have a deep conversation with a professor or student that becomes an anchor moment of who they become as both citizen and scholar.
He challenged his students to pay more attention to their conversations, so that they are intentional and easily remembered. His challenge comes at a pivotal moment in the average student’s life ruled by text messaging and social media. Nevertheless, his challenge isn’t exclusive to Honors students.
Year 20 is a symbol of completion, but also a symbol of what is yet to come and room for improvement. The students and staff of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College reflect and celebrate their 20th anniversary, but understand the work that is left to be done.
“The Honors College is one of the best in the country,” Hines said, “and to whom much is given, much is required. The Honors College has to stay on top, but they make hard work look like a walk in the park.”