By Tina H. Hahn
University of Mississippi
Te’keyra Shelton, a senior from Tupelo, is the inaugural Mark V. Frezzo Human Rights and Social Justice Award winner at the University of Mississippi and recently discussed her research in a campus program.
The scholarship award tributes the life of Mark V. Frezzo, a UM associate professor of sociology and scholar of human rights and “the right to science,” who died in May 2020. Friends and family members established the endowment to annually recognize a sociology student who demonstrates a passion for human rights and social justice.
Working with sociology professor James Thomas, Shelton is conducting research for her Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College thesis to understand the similarities and differences between rhetoric and reactions toward integration in the 1960s and critical race theory of today.
“I saw the connection with my research to professor Frezzo’s passion for helping people achieve the rights they deserve, and I was so honored to be chosen as a representative of what he wanted to achieve in the world,” she said.
“Also, being the scholarship’s first recipient, I have a responsibility of setting the standard of what a Frezzo Scholar is, so I’m even more honored to be given the responsibility to represent him and be an example to the others who will follow.”
Frezzo believed in people’s potential to create a better world based on the principles of human rights and scientific literacy. The professor was loved and respected by students and colleagues for his dedication to his field, his mentorship and his institution-building efforts, colleagues recalled.
“I had heard about critical race theory in one of my classes, and I looked into it and thought it was such a great concept to teach within educational systems,” Shelton said. “I thought this concept would be something that everyone would agree with since it encourages equity, diversity and inclusion, but when I heard the backlash from conservatives and saw their protests and movements against it, it showed me that that wasn’t the case.
“Their arguments and reactions reminded me so much of the fight conservatives took against integration, so I thought it would be interesting to see just how similar these two are.”
Shelton recently presented her findings to students and faculty in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology.
The scholarship provides an opportunity for students to continue to study Frezzo’s passions, said Jeffrey T. Jackson, the department’s chair.
“Mark inspired his students to empower themselves with a deeper understanding of their fundamental human rights,” Jackson said. “For students in Mississippi, who often are faced with economic and political obstacles to fully realizing their complete rights, his message in the classroom was transformative. That is a legacy we want to continue.
“Mark believed all citizens need scientific literacy to be able to address the complex problems of the 21st century. That is what he was working on at the time of his death. College education provides an avenue toward scientific literacy, but it needs to be open and available to all.”
Frezzo earned a bachelor’s degree in comparative literature from Colorado College, a master’s degree in philosophy from the Université Paris 8 and master’s and doctoral degrees in sociology from Binghamton University. He served on the Ole Miss faculty for 10 years, achieving the rank of associate professor in 2014.
Before arriving at UM, he was an assistant professor of sociology at Florida Atlantic University for seven years.
As a UM student, Shelton has served on the executive committee for the Black Student Union, Grove Grocery and Blacks in Political Studies. She has been an orientation leader and worked as a tutor at the Ole Miss Writing Center and the FedEx Student-Athlete Academic Support Center. Besides being an Honors College member, she is a Ronald E. McNair Scholar and a Luckyday Scholar.
Shelton said the people she’s encountered during her time at Ole Miss have made the most impact in her life.
“They’ve truly made me who I am – specifically, one of my Spanish professors who is now a close friend of mine, Carmen Sanchis-Sinisterra, and my adviser, JT Thomas,” Shelton said. “Both have taught me to be strong in myself, to make mistakes and to learn as I go along; I appreciate them and this university for giving me a safe space to grow and encouraging me every step of the way.
“As hard as college was, it was a great learning experience and I will be really proud to say that I am an alumna of this university after I graduate.”
After completing her multidisciplinary studies degree, with minor emphases in Spanish, political science and sociology, Shelton plans to explore various jobs, such as serving as a flight attendant, as a museum curator’s assistant at a historically Black college or university, or as a museum guide.
Students interested in applying for the award should contact Jeffrey Jackson at firstname.lastname@example.org or apply online at https://socanth.olemiss.edu/new-human-rights-and-social-justice-award/.
To make a gift to the Mark V. Frezzo Human Rights and Social Justice Award, send a check, with the award’s name noted in the memo line, to the University of Mississippi Foundation, 406 University Ave., Oxford, MS 38655; or give online here.
For information on establishing scholarships for the College of Liberal Arts, contact Caroline Hourin, associate director for development, at email@example.com or 662-915-6385.