Meet Barksdale Fellow Ashleen Williams!

Meet Senior Barksdale Fellow, Ashleen Williams! Professor Williams is from Snohomish, WA & Missoula, MT. Professor Williams has also lived in Northern Ireland as a Mitchell Scholar, and throughout the Middle East in Qatar, Yemen, and Bahrain. Here at Ole Miss, she teaches Honors 101 and 102 classes and also international studies and honors classes focusing on the Middle East. Professor Williams is wildly popular in the Honors College and around campus. A student from one of her honors classes said of Prof. Williams "I am in awe of her. Professor Williams commands respect, while being one of the most compassionate and kind professors I have ever taken. She truly cares about her students, gives wise advice, and is really funny! Plus she has lived the coolest life already- just ask her about it!" Getting to know professors one-on-one can be intimidating, so we wanted to collect some background knowledge on a few rockin' professors here at Ole Miss to hopefully make it less so. (They are people too!) Professor Williams was kind enough to share with us her thoughts on Yemen and Bahrain, the threat of Saudi Arabia, favorite movies, campus before everyone else is up, Ole Miss, and more! 

How would you describe the role of the Barksdale fellow?

To quote Jessica Tran, “What even is a Barksdale Fellow?" I think my job is one of the best on campus – I get to teach classes with students who are not only delightful, but also challenge me to grow as an educator, and I work with scholarship students who have a lot of potential to go on and accomplish great things. What other job allows you to go on canoe trips, bring in guest speakers, and even dog sled?

What advice would you give to a girl applying for competitive scholarship programs?

This is for everyone: Do something real with your time in college – don’t just do things because they are going to look good on your resume, or because everyone else was doing it. If you have a title in a club, and haven’t actually done anything yet, go make a plan.  If you want to be a more interesting person, go be a more interesting person. 

For young women applying, learn to interrupt. 

Qatar, Yemen, Bahrain- favorite place in the Middle East you’ve lived and why?

Yemen! The people are incredibly friendly, and Yemen will always have a hold on me. My grandma joked that it was the first place I felt homesick for before I had been. There is something great about having the freedom to chill on the roof, enjoy some shisha, and great conversations with friends…  And the men in our group cooked really well – so that’s always a plus! 

What is something you miss about living in Bahrain?

The smell of tear gas… 

kidding, my host-family, evenings at the café sipping tea & shisha and playing cribbage, and time spent learning to do nothing. 

What advice would you give to someone that is interested in studying the Middle East?

Be ready to spend a lot of time answering the following questions, and be comfortable with honestly not knowing: What do you mean you’re not fluent in Arabic yet? What do you mean you don’t know? HOW is it that complicated? 

What do you think the most pressing issue is in the Middle East?

I am concerned about the amount of (destructive) power the Saudis are able to wield with very little international response. 

What was the biggest transition for you as you accepted the Barksdale Fellowship?

Moving back to the U.S. After being abroad for so long was a big challenge – especially when it came to pop culture reference that I honestly didn’t know and didn’t care to figure out retroactively. It’d also be cool to find some people who want to play cribbage, or learn how. 

What do you see yourself doing next (occupation wise)?

Stand-up comedian, obviously. But really, I didn’t see myself as a “Barksdale Fellow,” so I’ll see where I end up. 

What is a book/ movie/ song everyone should read/ see/ listen to?

Book: I don’t think I could come up with one book – so here’s a list: 

 - We need new names by NoViolet Bulawayo 

  -  The Televangalist – Ibrahim Essa

  - Reservation Blues by Sherman Alexie 

Movie: Dave or Pretty Woman 

Song: Billy Joel, You may be right. 

What is your favorite spot in Oxford?

Lamar Park

On campus?

Anywhere on the Grove/The Circle at about 6:45am when I’m one of the few people walking around.

What is your favorite Oxfordian food?

Tofu Family style at Mings; outside of Oxford, everyone should go to Abyssinia Restaurant in Memphis.

Favorite memory at Ole Miss so far?

Watching honors students tip canoes in still water is up there… But really… a few of my first semester 493 students and I chilled in the grove one day talking about some big ideas, and that’s when I decided Ole Miss was a place I could stay awhile. 

What is your favorite thing about Ole Miss and Oxford?

My colleagues – they are funny, kind and forgiving when I forget my keys, password or mind every other day. 

What is your least favorite thing about Ole Miss?

In my opinion there is too much focus on success in the traditional, grade driven way.

Would advice would you give to someone coming to Ole Miss or to the Honors College?

Try doing all the things you were afraid to do before – every time I move, I get to start over. When I lived in L/Derry, I said yes to everything and the end result was attending a lot of wonderful plays, learning how to surf in the North Atlantic, and making some great friends. Here in Oxford, I decided to throw myself into fitness and be outdoor minded. 

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