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Derrick Harriell Named Director of UM African American Studies Program

By Edwin B. Smith

University of Mississippi

Derrick Harriell is the new director of African American studies at the University of Mississippi. Submitted photo

Derrick Harriell, an associate professor of African American studies and English at the University of Mississippi, is the new director of the university’s African American studies program, and he has plans to increase the program’s size and stature.

“African American studies is a vital program at any institution, but even more so at our institution, given the complicated history of the University of Mississippi,” said Harriell, who served as acting and then interim director before assuming his new position Jan. 13. “I find it rewarding to be a part of challenges that carry deep significance.

“Working under the leadership of our previous directors, Dr. Chuck Ross and Dr. Ethel Scurlock, I wanted to continue their incredible work. Our faculty, given the national political and social climate over the past few years, has viewed this moment as a watershed opportunity for our program.”

Harriell’s experience, leadership abilities and academic prowess make him the right person for the position, said Lee Cohen, dean of the UM College of Liberal Arts.

“Dr. Harriell is now a part of a strong line of directors of the African American studies program, and I am thrilled that has agreed to serve in this important leadership role,” Cohen said. 

“I had the good fortune of working with him as acting and interim director over the past year-and-a-half, and during that time, he led strongly during a time of significant transition in the program. I have no doubt he will excel in this role, and I very much look forward to our continued work together.”

Harriell is working to hire new faculty members and support staff to help with his long-term goals of attracting more students to major in African American studies and raise the program’s national profile.

“This will start with new innovative programing – we are currently in the process of starting an open mic – and continue with our presence on campus and our surrounding communities,” Harriell said. “We need to let people know that we are a strong program with award-winning faculty who are full of energy and ambition, and our students are at the core of all the things that we are passionate about.”

Harriell served as director of the Ole Miss Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program from 2014 to 2022, and that time provided him with vital experience, he said.

A native of Milwaukee, Harriell earned his doctorate in English from the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee and his master’s degree in creative writing from Chicago State University.

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