McCullough, who grew up on a cattle farm in Lewisburg, TN, majored in history, partly because of her love of politics. Right after graduation, she joined then-candidate Barack Obama’s campaign as a field organizer, where she spent 18 months actively recruiting volunteers around the country. “The greatest lessons I learned as a field organizer were how to actively listen, how to connect with others, and how to build relationships and coalitions that empower and mobilize,” says McCullough. “When I speak to Rhodes students and recent graduates, I always encourage them to join a campaign for its on-the-job leadership training.”
After two years working for the Department of Homeland Security in Washington, D.C, McCullough moved to the White House Office of Public Engagement. “Our mission was to find ways to connect people to President Obama’s policies on anything ranging from gun violence prevention to health care,” says McCullough. “White House Champions of Change was one project that I worked on. We honored ‘ordinary people doing extraordinary things in their community’ several times a month.”
Empowerment remains at the heart of McCullough’s current work with Tumblr, where, on the policy side, she functions as a liaison between the Tumblr team, government officials, human rights and civil society experts, and organizations focused on freedom of expression and user safety. On the advocacy side, McCullough identifies partners and develops campaigns that facilitate important conversations in Tumblr’s user community, including on activism, mental health, and media literacy. Voter education and empowerment have also been a particular focus this year.
With social media platforms being at the forefront of spreading messages to end systemic racism, the volume of activity on Tumblr focused on advocacy has been unprecedented. “The Black Lives Matter community has been a major community on Tumblr since its origins, but the volume of traffic we saw over the summer was something our team had never seen before,” says McCullough. “The conversation extended well beyond some of these usually siloed communities, overtaking our entire platform, and the activity hasn’t ebbed since. We also stepped back as a company and did some reflection about our own role in the movement. We asked ourselves questions such as ‘are we investing enough in diversity and inclusion efforts? Are we supporting our employees of color and allowing them to thrive and be their whole selves to work every day?’ A big part of my role is to continue to agitate from within and find ways that we can be better.”
“My experiences at Rhodes inspired me to be a lifelong student, and I strive to be as humble and as curious as I was when I first walked onto the campus and into my first Search class. I try to remind myself not to shy away from asking questions and leaning into that uncertainty when I meet a topic, an experience, or a challenge that’s new.”
By Sam Brown ’21
Links to Tumblr’s advocacy campaigns can be found here: https://action.tumblr.com/