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Department of Sociology and Anthropology
University of Mississippi

Emma Willoughby – Alumna Spotlight

Doctoral student, University of MichiganEmma Willoughby

Hometown: Ocean Springs, MS
BA in Sociology and Liberal Studies (2013)


“Entering university I was interested in medical school. But my science courses lacked world context. I began to ask questions like, ‘Why do people get sick in the first place?’  The book Mountains Beyond Mountains got me thinking more about public health systems, policy, and politics. I thought sociology might help me better understand how economics, gender, race, geography, and political systems affect health outcomes and health inequalities.”

Willoughby was a member of several honor societies including Phi Kappa Phi, a photographer for theatre productions, an opinion writer for the Daily Mississippian newspaper, tutor with the Writing Center, psychology teaching assistant, researcher with the Center for Population Studies, and founding member of the Food Bank on campus.  She participated in a bioethics fellowship at the UM Medical Center to better understand the health care system.  She then conducted ethnographic research examining health networks at a community health center in Clarksdale for her honors thesis.

After graduation Willoughby attended the London School of Economics for a masters in international health policy, then worked with former UM Chancellor Dr. Dan Jones in the Center for Obesity Research at the UM Medical Center.  Her research on the overlap of nutrition policy, trade policy, development, gender and race fuels her current interest in rising obesity trends.  After teaching and traveling in Asia, Willoughby is pursuing a PhD in political science and health policy at the University of Michigan.  She has a special interest in political economy, qualitative methods, and food security in Vietnam.

Why study sociology at UM?
“The department fosters interdisciplinary research that is necessary to answer complex social questions.  Also, Mississippi offers a wonderful context for thinking about social problems.  It can feel like you’re on the forefront of fresh change.  Mississippi has lessons to share and stories to tell that can really make an impact in development and social change.”