Professor Purdy's specialties include the history of U.S. education, the history of African American education, the history of school desegregation, and the history of policy, access, and opportunity.
Dr. Michelle A. Purdy is an Associate Professor of Education in Arts and Sciences, Director of Undergraduate Educational Studies, and Chair of the Department of Education Curriculum Committee. She is also an affiliate faculty member of the Department of African and African-American Studies, the Interdisciplinary Program in Urban Studies, and the Center on Urban Research and Public Policy. With research, teaching, and service commitments to advancing racial justice, cultural understanding, and equitable policies and practices in education, her specialties include the history of U.S. education, the history of African American education, the history of school desegregation, and the history of policy, access, and opportunity. Her book, Transforming the Elite: Black Students and the Desegregation of Private Schools (University of North Carolina Press), has been awarded the 2019 New Scholar’s Book Award from Division F (History and Historiography) of the American Educational Research Association (AERA) and the 2019 Award for Excellence from the Georgia Historical Records Advisory Council (GHRAC). She is also a recipient of other awards and recognition including the Outstanding Faculty Mentor Award from the Graduate Student Senate at Washington University in St. Louis and a Spencer Foundation Dissertation Fellowship.
Combining social history, policy analysis, archival research, and oral histories, Transforming the Elite re-creates an overlooked history. When traditionally white public schools in the South became sites of massive resistance in the wake of the Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education decision, numerous white students exited the public system altogether, with parents choosing homeschooling or private segregationist academies. But some historically white elite private schools opted to desegregate. The black students who attended these schools courageously navigated institutional and interpersonal racism but ultimately emerged as upwardly mobile leaders. Focusing on the experiences of the first black students to desegregate Atlanta's well-known The Westminster Schools and national efforts to racially diversify private schools, this book showcases educational changes for black southerners during the civil rights movement including the political tensions confronted, struggles faced, and school cultures transformed during private school desegregation. This history foreshadows contemporary complexities at the heart of the black community's mixed feelings about charter schools, social choice, and education reform.
Transforming the Elite has garnered national attention with Purdy presenting her work at universities, independent schools, bookstores, and events including:
- Stanford University, Teachers College-Columbia University, The University of Pennsylvania, Washington University in St. Louis, and Yale University
- The Dalton School in New York City, Episcopal High School in Alexandria, Virginia, St. Andrew’s Episcopal School in Ridgeland, Mississippi, and The Westminster Schools in Atlanta, Georgia
- Left Bank Books in St. Louis, Missouri, Lemuria Books in Jackson, Mississippi, The Potter’s House Bookstore in Washington, DC, and Seminary Co-Op in Chicago, Illinois
- 2018 Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship Midwestern Conference at Grinnell College, 2018 Inaugural Banks Center for Educational Justice Book Talk and Dialogue with Professor Joy Ann Williamson-Lott at the University of Washington, 2019 Center for the Humanities Faculty Book Celebration at Washington University in St. Louis, and 2019 Mississippi Book Festival session on Civil Rights, School Desegregation, and African American Educational History
Purdy’s work on Transforming the Elite has also been featured in local and national media through interviews with:
- Gerry Everding for The Source-Washington University in St. Louis, Joe Madison on SiriusXM Radio, Don Marsh of St. Louis Public Radio, and Virginia Prescott of Georgia Public Broadcasting (joint interview with Black alumni of Westminster)
Purdy is also co-editor of Using Past as Prologue: Contemporary Perspectives on African American Educational History and “African American Education, Civil Rights, and Black Power,” a special issue of The Journal of African American History. She has authored journal articles, chapters in edited volumes, book reviews and encyclopedia entries that address school desegregation, higher education, activism, and media. Purdy has written for The Washington Post and has been featured in Teen Vogue articles on race and college admissions.
She anchors her teaching in students grappling with the history and current reality of inequitable education, how those marginalized have been agents of change, and the intersection of policy, practice, and ideology. She has also directed undergraduate honors theses and served on doctoral students’ dissertation committees; these theses and dissertations have addressed the past and the present; have included topics related to school desegregation, teaching and learning, and students’ experiences; utilized qualitative methodology; and incorporated theoretical frameworks including critical race theory. Additionally, Purdy has been a guest lecturer most recently at Jackson State University and Northwestern University.
Her service spans departmental, institutional, and professional commitments. She recently held the position of Co-Program Chair for the 2020 Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association (AERA) and served on the search committee for the Dean of Faculty for Arts and Sciences. She is a current board member for the History of Education Society and an associate editor for Educational Researcher.
Purdy earned her A.B. in educational studies and African and African-American studies and M.A. in history from Washington University in St. Louis, and Ph.D. in educational studies from Emory University. She has previously held administrative, instructional, and research positions at Michigan State University, Emory University, Washington University in St. Louis, St. Andrew’s Episcopal School in Ridgeland, Mississippi, and Exploration Summer Program at Yale University.