"Report: Ole Miss Should Rethink Symbols, Create Top Diversity Post" by Jackblog | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS


Report: Ole Miss Should Rethink Symbols, Create Top Diversity Post

Today, University of Mississippi Chancellor Dan Jones released the following recommendations regarding diversity and inclusion:

Action Plan on Consultant Reports and Update on the Work of the Sensitivity and

Respect Committee

To: All Who Love The University of Mississippi

From: Dan Jones, Chancellor

Aug. 1, 2014

In the summer of 2013, an expanded Sensitivity and Respect (S&R) Committee

completed its review of the university’s environment on race and related issues.

Following the committee’s report, two consultants with relevant experience at major

universities were assigned separate but complementary tasks. One was charged with

evaluating the University of Mississippi’s organizational structure related to diversity and

inclusion, and the other explored issues the committee raised concerning building names

and symbols. (Both consultant reports are attached.)

We are grateful for the good work of the S&R Committee and our independent advisors.

Consultants Ed Ayers and Christy Coleman have been leaders in Richmond, VA, in

establishing a more balanced view of history for that community, where symbolism has

been a prominent topic. Their recommendations encourage us to broaden the visible

symbols of our history to be more intentionally inclusive. Greg Vincent offers insight

about our organizational structure out of his own experience reorganizing the approach at

the University of Texas, where they adopted several time-tested practices implemented at

other flagship universities, including creation of a new senior level leadership position

with a focus on diversity.

Both of these reports are candid in suggesting that more can be done here to improve our

environment for diversity and inclusion. Both also note the good work and positive spirit

for continued progress in our university. Our success in improving diversity within our

faculty and student body has been dramatic, but we can do more. And despite negative

publicity related to recent bias-related incidents, it is good news that the number of

minority applicants to the university continues to increase each year. In addition, the

improvement in diversity within our faculty has been extraordinary, placing us among the

top three flagship universities in the nation in percentage of African American faculty

members. Still, we can and will do more.

It is my hope that the action plan outlined here – reflecting the hard work of the S&R

Committee and our consultants – will prove valuable in making us a stronger and

healthier university, bringing us closer to our goal of being a warm and welcoming place

for every person every day, regardless of race, religious preference, country of origin,

ability, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or gender expression. We know that the

issues discussed here are associated with many evolving attitudes and opinions. There

were and will continue to be differences of opinion among us. But I am encouraged that

while our discussions over recent months were frank, even tough, they also were civil and 2

respectful. My very sincere thanks go out to all of those who demonstrated these values

throughout the process.

People with different views will likely find parts of this action plan they like and other

parts they do not. Some will agree or disagree with individual comments reported by our

consultants. As our consultants noted and as readers should remember, the comments

reported here did not result from scientific research or a random sample. They are

thoughts from people who felt strongly about the issues we have faced as a university,

people who were encouraged to be candid. To whatever degree they do or do not reflect

majority opinion, they are important views to air. It was important that we hear from

everyone who loves this university. Too often when viewpoints are wide-ranging and

emotional, the easy answer for leaders is a non-decision, freezing people at a point in

time and putting progress off to another day. To me, that is not leadership. And our

mission as a university is to lead.

Whatever the views may be on different aspects of this report, I am hopeful that people

who read it and find places to agree or disagree will honor a process that encouraged

honest dialogue and valued every idea. I am also hopeful that with decisions made, we

have found common ground to move this university forward.

With many months of hard work behind us, we now have a strong foundation for the

work ahead. I’ll count on your help in making this plan the success I know it can be.

Following are the six specific recommendations from our consultants and the action plan

for each:

  1. Create a vice chancellor level position for diversity and inclusion at The

University of Mississippi.

The Provost is charged with creating a specific position title, portfolio, set of

responsibilities, and initial budget for this new administrative position. He will work

within policy for creating a new position, including consultation with the faculty and

approval by our governing board. He will appoint a search committee to begin work

within the Fall 2014 semester.

  1. The University of Mississippi should establish a portfolio model of diversity and


See response to recommendation 1.

  1. The University of Mississippi must deal squarely with the issue of race while also

addressing the other dimensions of diversity.

This point is important for all of us to grasp. We look forward to a day when it is the

norm to embrace and celebrate our differences, when our country and state have become

a truly post-racial society. But that day has not yet arrived. Clearly, there are still issues 3

regarding race that our country must address. And we will need to continue a dialogue on

race at our university. Our unique history regarding race provides not only a larger

responsibility for providing leadership on race issues, but also a large opportunity – one

we should and will embrace. The faculty group focusing on our history with slavery

began its work during the last year, and it is a healthy example of the kind of scholarly

leadership we can provide. The work of the William Winter Institute for Racial

Reconciliation must and will continue, as well. And with advice and support from the

new vice chancellor, important work (such as the Critical Race Studies Group) can be

supported further and encouraged. This will be an important part of the responsibilities

for the new vice chancellor.

  1. The University should consider a symbolic and formal dedication of all new

students to the ideals of inclusion and fairness to which the University of Mississippi

is devoted.

The UM Creed was adopted by our community for this purpose – as a means of

communicating and cultivating our community’s core values. Even though as a public

university we cannot require any sort of pledge or oath as a condition of enrollment,

working with current students and others we will pursue ways to elevate and imbue our

community with the values of the Creed through a variety of means, ranging from the

formal and ceremonial to the common and pervasive. The Vice Chancellor for Student

Affairs is charged with implementation of this recommendation.

  1. We recommend that the University offer more history, putting the past into

context, telling more of the story of Mississippi’s struggles with slavery, secession,

segregation, and their aftermath.

Decisions made in the city of Richmond, VA, offer an enlightened example for us.

Without attempts to erase history, even some difficult history, and without removing

existing statues and building names, the city has moved toward balancing the way its

history is represented by offering context for symbols and adding meaningful new

symbols. Some of this kind of work began on our campus with the erection of the

Meredith statue. Further opportunities lay ahead.

The new vice chancellor will be charged with the long-term management of this

recommendation. Until that selection is complete, the Provost and the Assistant to the

Chancellor for Multicultural Affairs are charged to lead this effort.

These university leaders should seek suggestions from various interested constituency

groups regarding future naming opportunities for centers, buildings, etc., that will lead to

a fuller expression of our history. These constituency groups might include, among

others, the Faculty Senate, Staff Council, the Associated Student Body, Black Student

Union, Alumni Association, Black Alumni Association, the Isom Center, The Winter

Institute, and the Center for Inclusion & Cross Cultural Engagement.4

They also should initiate an effort to provide contemporary context for some of our

existing symbols and names, which are too often viewed as an endorsement of ancient

ideas. Any and all symbols and buildings may benefit from this, but some to consider in

the early stages include Vardaman Hall, the ballroom in Johnson Commons, and the

Confederate Statue. This might be done in a number of ways, including accompanying

plaques that provide context and an educational opportunity for students and campus

visitors who are interested in our history.

Some immediate steps are being taken to begin the process:

• The entrance of the newly named Manning Center was recently designated the

Williams-Reed Foyer. This designation recognizes Ben Williams and James Reed, the

first two African American football players at the university. Thanks to Ross Bjork,

Hugh Freeze, and others in athletics for their leadership in creating this recognition.

• The new Center for Inclusion and Cross - Cultural Engagement will open in fall 2014

in Stewart Hall and later in the renovated and expanded Student Union, enhancing the

quantity and quality of programming and leadership initiatives for underrepresented

students. Our students have been and will continue to be instrumental in developing

this campus resource.

• We will move forward with changes to two street names. Coliseum Drive will need a

new name when the Tad Smith Coliseum is replaced with our new basketball arena.

On a recommendation from the University of Mississippi Alumni Association and the

M-Club, at the appropriate time the street currently known as Coliseum Drive will be

renamed “Roy Lee ‘Chucky’ Mullins Drive.” The spirit of Chucky Mullins is a great

unifying force for our university. A second street name change will extend the use of

“Chapel Lane” to the single block on the opposite side of Fraternity Row previously

named “Confederate Drive”.

  1. We recommend that the University consider the implications of calling itself “Ole

Miss” in various contexts.

Our longstanding nickname is beloved by the vast majority of our students and alumni. A

few, especially among our faculty, are uncomfortable using the term “Ole Miss” – some

at all, and some within the academic context. Some object simply because it is a

nickname and prefer the more formal name, and some express concern about its origin,

believing that the term is racist.

Some of what was learned about the “Ole Miss” name over the last year or so, in a

purposeful evaluation, includes:

• The vast majority of current students of all races embraces the name and does not

attach any meaning to it other than an affectionate name for the university.

• National research revealed that there is no greater association with negative racial

history for either “University of Mississippi” or “Ole Miss.” In fact, a significant 5

margin likes and prefers the “Ole Miss” name. And a very small percentage of

respondents associate the university with negative race issues, whatever the name.

• Regardless of its origin, the vast majority of those associated with our university has a

strong affection for “Ole Miss” and do not associate its use with race in any way. And

the vast majority of those who view us from a distance associate the term “Ole Miss”

with a strong, vibrant, modern university – and the Manning family, The Blind Side,

The 2008 Presidential Debate, and great sports teams.

We are fortunate to have a highly favorable national reputation for our university,

especially our fine academic programs. Applications and enrollment continue to soar.

The quality of our applicants improves every year. And the affectionate term “Ole Miss”

is and will continue to be an important part of our national identity.

To address some concerns, the Provost and Chief Communications Officer are charged

with developing a plan to provide guidance on best uses of the terms “The University of

Mississippi” and “Ole Miss.” This plan should broadly follow traditional convention that

the term “Ole Miss” is strongly associated with athletics and the broad “spirit” of the

university (e.g. the alma mater), and “The University of Mississippi” is strongly

associated with the academic context.

University Communications will continue to offer a choice of stationary and name cards

that reflect only the use of “The University of Mississippi” without reference to


Additional Work of the Sensitivity and Respect Committee

The work of the Sensitivity and Respect Committee has continued on several fronts, with important progress to report.

• The Bias Incidence Response Team (BIRT) was created during the summer of 2013,

with a charge to affirm the Creed when incidents of bias arise. This inter-disciplinary

team investigates, reports and offers educational outcomes when legal or conduct

options are not available. Its goal is to promote educationally driven outcomes that

enable students, faculty and staff to learn about discriminatory behavior and


• The University of Mississippi Police Department (UPD) provided diversity training

for 67 employees, involving experts from the U.S. Department of Justice, and

established a process for diversity training for all new hires.

• The Student Affairs division partnered with the Winter Institute to expand diversity

training initiatives, with 32 percent of staff having now completed training and all

scheduled to complete the program by 2015. Other divisions across campus are being

encouraged to schedule training, as well.

• Renderings are being developed to incorporate a National Pan-Hellenic Council

(NPHC) garden between Northgate Drive and the new residential facility being

constructed beside Crosby hall. This student-centered area will be a visible monument

that represents the important history and critical campus engagement opportunities 6

afforded by our historically black fraternities and sororities. The timeline for

completion is uncertain at the early part of the planning phases, but our hope is to

begin work after the residence hall opens in fall 2015.

• The Diverse Learning Environment Survey was administered to all sophomores and

juniors in the spring of 2013. It will be repeated every three years as a means of

measuring campus climate; results will be presented to the S&R Committee.

• A variety of student-focused efforts have been initiated, including enhanced academic

advising and support for participants in the Ole Miss Opportunity (OMO) program,

increased focus on building relationships with high schools having a high minority

concentration, and mandatory “Respect the M” sessions at Orientation, covering both

academic and behavioral expectations. EDHE 105 and the related text have been

enhanced, resulting in a common curriculum across all sections to uniformly discuss

race and sexual orientation. An extended orientation and leadership development

training program will be offered as a pilot beginning in the fall of 2015, focusing on

diversity training, team building, university history and leadership development.

• To create a culture of research excellence related to race, the Critical Race Studies

group invited as its keynote speaker the author Craig Steven Wilder, who wrote

Ebony and Ivy. In addition, our faculty is creating an inventory of University of

Mississippi race-related research. With the assistance of the Office of Research and

Sponsored Programs, a group of 10 UM investigators spanning seven academic and

administrative units are collaborating to develop a National Science Foundation

Research Traineeship (NRT) proposal. This certificate program that would prepare

STEM graduate students to take culturally responsive, multi-method, and

interdisciplinary approaches in research, addressing racial and other disparities in

disaster readiness and response.

April 8, 2014

Dr. Daniel W. Jones, Chancellor

The University of Mississippi

Office of the Chancellor

P.O. Box 1848

Lyceum 123

University, MS 38677-1848

Dear Dr. Jones,

Thank you again for the invitation to join the University in a series of conversations to reflect

upon the impact of Confederate symbols, segregationist history, and racially insensitive incidents

that have recurred on your campus. We are grateful for the opportunity to share some thoughts

occasioned by our visit and to offer suggestions about how best to move the community closer to

its core values. We heard many times that those values include respect for all individuals and

groups, inclusiveness in its student body, faculty and staff, and a civil community of shared

governance and collaborative endeavors.

Allow us to begin with a few words of background. As we mentioned to each group, we are by

no means organizational, diversity, or crisis management consultants. Instead, we have simply

worked in our own community to raise the conversation about how the historical past plays an

active role in how those within and outside the community view it. For decades, Richmond was

marketed and identified as the “Capital of the Confederacy” and the anchor of the “Glorious Lost

Cause.” As such, our city has vast monuments devoted to the Confederate heroes, with

numerous roads, schools and public buildings named for them as well. It has only been in the

past ten to fifteen years that Richmond has begun to honor its richly diverse past.

On the eve of the Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War, Richmond’s cultural, academic,

tourism and nonprofit organizations wanted to seize the opportunity to ensure that any

commemoration of this seminal event reflected the highest levels of scholarship, had a

comprehensive historical narrative, and shared with the world that Richmond is a dynamic and

desirable place to visit and live in the twenty-first century. A series of community conversations

focused on history and contemporary issues led to a number of important public initiatives,

cultural programs, and dynamic partnerships. While there is certainly much more to be

accomplished, Richmond has emerged a stronger place. Named by Frommer’s as a “must see’”

destination for 2014, Richmond’s historical narrative and cultural assets have placed it among

fourteen cities worldwide to earn this distinction.

We applaud the University of Mississippi for the steps taken over the years to begin a series of

conversations around how its symbols have shaped and limited its community. The decision to

bring outsiders into your process could be perceived as risky, but it may also enable participants

to be more candid. During the course of our visit, it was abundantly clear that the community of

faculty, staff, students and alumni are passionate and dedicated to creating a campus

environment that is not just diverse but truly inclusive. Through the course of our conversations,

a common theme emerged that reflects a desire by all to work with administration to find meaningful solutions to the ongoing issues that plague the University. There was also frustration,

however, that current efforts seemed slow and ineffective in ensuring that those who breach the

social contract by their discriminatory actions are dealt with appropriately.

We thank you again for the invitation to listen and to reflect on what we experienced. The

following pages represent our recommendations on how you may move forward.


Edward L. Ayers

Three recommendations to the University of Mississippi

Our recommendations respond to what we heard during our conversations with various groups at

the University, conversations described later in this document. While individuals in each

conversation voiced different perspectives, in the aggregate the conversations pointed toward

several kinds of changes that might help the University move beyond the cycle of dispiriting and

disturbing events that have recurred over the years despite heartening improvements in many

facets of the University’s life.

Our charge was to focus on history, on symbols, and on monuments and so we have shaped our

recommendations around those issues while recognizing that other kinds of changes could also

bring improvement. Everyone at the University recognizes that symbolism matters, for good and

for ill.

Our first recommendation is that the University consider a symbolic and formal dedication of all

new students to the ideals of inclusion and fairness to which the University of Mississippi is

devoted. We envision a public, solemn, and meaningful ceremony at which new students sign a

pledge that they will abide by the highest principles of their schools. The pledge’s words, in

turn, will appear in every classroom at the institution and serve as a touchstone for all who

belong to the University, including current students, faculty, staff, and alumni.

While such a pledge is no panacea, of course, its creation would offer the University an

opportunity at the outset of every student’s time at Mississippi to make clear just how seriously

everyone in the University community takes these principles. Powerful speakers—including

students, faculty, and alumni—could honestly confront the issues that have torn at the University

of Mississippi for the last half century and tell students that they have the opportunity and the

obligation to stop the cycle.

The Creed is an excellent start, focusing on the positive attributes the University instills. Its

language of “I believe,” however, lacks the more active language of “I pledge” or “I promise.”

A stronger pledge could reinforce the courses that entering students take at Mississippi,

providing a more engaged way for students to respond to the information and insight conveyed

in those classes. It could be adopted and promoted by the fraternities and sororities, by athletic

teams and student organization, by alumni groups and staff organizations in which many in the

Mississippi community locate their identities. It would give these groups that need to lead the

opportunity to do so, among and beyond their own constituencies.

Many details would need to be determined about the pledge, of course, but the very process of

debate would be healthy. At the very least, the most recent and sophisticated scholarship on this

issue demonstrates that a university-wide code or pledge, repeated in many places and at many

times, creates an awareness and an impact that radiates throughout the institution’s life. Whether

the code would be expanded to include academic honor or other ideals could also be a productive

topic of discussion.

Our second recommendation grows directly from our charge to think about symbolism embodied

in names, monuments, and other historical symbols. We recommend that the University offer

more history, putting the past into context, telling more of the story of Mississippi’s struggles

with slavery, secession, segregation, and their aftermath. Such work would provide a more

coherent narrative than currently exists, in which several isolated monuments, including the

Confederate Memorial and the James Meredith monument, seem to stand at polar opposites, with

vast blank spaces of time and struggle missing. People are not told in any meaningful way about

the world of slavery in which the University began, the decision for secession that shaped

everything that followed, or the segregation that dominated life in the South for a century after

the Civil War. People are not shown how white and black Mississippians lived with these

institutions and decisions, what their implications were, how people fought against racial

division and for the ideals the University now embodies.

We can imagine interpretive panels at important places around the University, made interesting

and engaging with photographs and well-written text, that tell of the way things used to be and

how they have changed. Panels are commonly used in different kinds of settings throughout the

nation to interpret public spaces in ways that enrich them. The panels can offer humane

connections with actual people with actual names who struggled with their own times just as we

struggle with our own.

The tours of the campus offered to prospective students, visitors, and alumni could also do a

better job of interpreting the history of the place in a coherent and powerful way. The University

needs to tell its story in an open, honest, and compassionate way. Simply trying to put its past

behind it or to pretend that only the welcome parts existed will not work.

Our third recommendation involves the nickname of the institution, a symbol evoked thousands

of times every day. Some see the nickname of “Ole Miss” as a kind of glue that binds people

together across divisions of age, race, gender, and time. Others see the nickname as a symbol that

holds the University back; building a dialect version of “old” into an institution that is built to

prepare for the future strikes them as inherently problematic. Some of those who love “Ole

Miss” recognize that the name grew from an antebellum past of slavery; some think it has been

transcended by the progress of the decades since the University’s integration while others think

that it continually pulls Mississippi back into the past. Many people we met are reluctant to talk

about the name, regardless of their own thoughts, knowing that it is beloved by many alumni and

inscribed in the University’s popular identity.

Recognizing these differences, we recommend that the University consider the implications of

calling itself “Ole Miss” in various contexts. A nickname cannot carry the weight and gravity of

the state’s name or convey the seriousness of purpose that an important institution of research,

health care, and social mission deserves. In interactions involving grant proposals, job

applications, or letters of recommendation in particular, we were told, faculty, staff, and students

chafe at having the email address read “olemiss.edu.” They think the University should identify

itself as “umiss.edu” in such contexts. This does seem worth considering for official University

business and the University might well consider making “Mississippi” or the “The University of

Mississippi” the default. The nickname could be reserved, as it is for almost all other

universities, for athletics and alumni relations.

These three recommendations are not the only things that could and should be done, of course,

but they will be challenging and prompt action on them would demonstrate good will, honesty,

and a sense of purpose by the University. Over time, we believe, meaningful outcomes from

these recommendations could shape the culture and daily life of the University in helpful ways.

This seems a propitious time for the University of Mississippi to embrace the best that it

represents, symbolically as in other ways.

Summaries of conversations

In order to frame our recommendations, it is important that we share the substance of the

discussions as well as other themes that emerged within each group. It is also important for the

reader to understand that these groups were invited to meet with us because of particular work

being done by each, or because of concerns previously expressed. It may be helpful to consider

each a sample versus a comprehensive overview of sentiment held by the University community

at large.

Southern Studies:

Faculty members wanted to make clear that the department is devoted to documenting southern

culture, not “preserving it.” They emphasized that this distinction is critical because they believe

that, outside the academic community, others incorrectly view their work as somehow reflecting

the culture of “The Old South.” They noted that some students are drawn to their courses

thinking that views of southern white heritage will be enhanced and reinforced, while other

students avoid the department’s course offerings because of an expectation that “southern

culture” is coded as white. The faculty and staff in Southern Studies believe that they can be a

partner with the administration to reverse these mindsets through scholarship and community

outreach. They would like to create more opportunities for collaboration with the African

American Studies program, working on shared course offerings, programs and symposia.

On the specific questions that brought us to the University, faculty in Southern Studies believe

that University should rename several of its streets, especially Confederate Way and Rebel

Drive. They also find the name “Ole Miss” problematic, preferring to use “The University of

Mississippi” instead. This was the first time we heard, but not the last, that some resented the fact

that “olemiss.edu” was used for the email system versus “UMiss.edu.” They viewed the email

address as a signal to the outside world that the university is a place that embraces notions of the

old south and its historically exclusionary practices. This was the first time we heard, too, that

the recurring racial incidents lead faculty and staff to feel that the campus is not a safe and

nurturing place, but it would not be the last.

Student Leaders:

As the conversation began, this large, diverse, and impressive group of students were very

positive about their impressions of campus life. They acknowledged the historical origins of the

“Ole Miss” name yet believed that they now own the term and have attached new meaning to it.

For them, “Ole Miss” is a community of people devoted to each other, to diversity, and to

academic excellence. Therefore they had no desire to see the (nick)name changed.

When asked about symbolism, the students did want to see some street names changed as well as

Vardaman and Johnson Halls. They made a useful distinction between symbols and monuments,

with symbols representing what is valued now and monuments representing what the past

considered valuable. One student even poignantly suggested that after 50 years, they wondered if

“we love our symbols more than we love individuals.” As the conversation went on, a number of

disturbing revelations began to emerge that gave us pause.

The majority of the students participating in the discussion were Mississippians, and they blamed

the bulk of the racially insensitive flare ups on “outsiders.” They attributed this pattern to

misconceptions held by out-of-state students who mistakenly assume the University is a place

that embraces a racist ideology. The students viewed recent incidents as a form of lashing out

brought on by the realization by those outsiders that their racist mindset and behavior are not

acceptable to the majority.

Students told us that the proverbial elephant in the room was the Greek system. A number of

students believe that the traditional fraternities and sororities serve as attractors, incubators, and

protectors for students wedded to the symbols and beliefs of the South’s racist past. With few

exceptions, the majority of the group, white and black, nodded in agreement. The African

American students shared examples of indignities they have been subject to or witness of that

involved the fraternities and sororities. Every black student in the room said that they had been

called the “N-Word” at least once on campus.

From rejection of people of color into the organizations, chanting “The South will rise again” at

sporting events, to hurling racist and sexual epithets at innocent passersby, the Greeks are viewed

as a major problem. The group agreed that the Greeks are protected by generational wealth and

privilege, with parents and older alumni demanding that new members adhere to the customs of

the past. Effective policing of the fraternity’s behavior, students believe, is left to national

organizations, with the University rarely stepping in to curb abuses.

As they considered how to improve the situation, the group recommended rethinking freshman

orientation. Many of the students serve as ambassadors of one sort or another to help share what

the university has to offer with others. They all expressed a desire to emphasize the university’s

history, accomplishments and creed—to make clear that it is a thriving and modern university

that is open and inclusive—despite the racial flashpoints. The student body president noted that

they had taken upon themselves to reinforce the ideas expressed by the University Creed by

hosting Creed Day, a celebration of the diversity of campus life. This effort was applauded, but

students felt more could be done because they acknowledged a disconnection between the creed

and tradition. The good news is that all prepared to help start new traditions.

Sensitivity and Respect Committee:

Given the work done by this committee, we felt it most useful to get feedback from them about

what had been shared with us by the previous groups. We shared that the predominant themes

heard at that point were a general comfort by students about “Ole Miss,” a desire by all to rethink

university symbols, perceptions of “outsiders” as the source of trouble, and unregulated

fraternities and sororities. After our remarks, Dr. Cole asked each attendee how they viewed the

feedback given. Again, their responses were quite telling.

Several committee members were upset to learn that the students with whom we spoke,

regardless of ethnicity, embraced the term “Ole Miss” and made a distinction between symbols

and monuments. When asked if this could be simply a generational divide, several members of

the group questioned the veracity of the students’ comments. When asked to speak more about

campus symbols, several suggested that these symbols have a twofold impact. First, they attract

students who embrace the ideology the symbols embody, or second, they keep broad-minded

students from even considering Mississippi. The majority of the group believed that all divisive

symbols should be removed without further delay. Some members also wanted to see new

monuments or art work that counterbalances those symbols. New symbols should not just be

directed at the historical or racial past, they said, but represent recent accomplishments made in

education, research, medicine, and the arts at the University.

During the course of the conversation, an African American male student shared that he is in

danger of losing a scholarship that he earned from a minority organization in his home

community in Mississippi. He said the group no longer wanted to see their money spent at what

they perceive to be an institution intent on protecting its racist elements by inaction exemplified

by the continuing rash of incidents. He further explained that he has spent considerable time

trying to get them to understand that the incidents, while disturbing, are not reflective of his

experience at the University, but his sponsors are looking for tangible acts to correct these


Several committee members said that they do not feel empowered nor do they believe the

committee’s recommendations will be implemented. They would like to see the University take

bold steps to make it known that these behaviors will not be tolerated. They want to see evidence

that the University’s Creed enjoys support and benefits from enforcement. They would like to

see more forums to stress the importance of an inclusive community that respects everyone.

Most felt nothing substantive has happened since they issued their report. They are frustrated.

Athletics, Development and Alumni Affairs

Among all the groups with whom we met, this was perhaps the one that has the most consistent

contact with “external” communities that feel a connection to the University. The Athletics

Department stated that they have been on the cutting edge of challenging the divisive symbols

for quite some time. As such, their view is that things have been progressing. They

acknowledged that incidents crop up from time to time, but attitudes are changing. A member

shared that during a televised football game, they noticed a group of students preparing to unfurl

a Confederate flag, but they were able to get to them and remove it. They said there are die-hards

that want Colonel Reb and the flag, but those are no longer the university’s symbols. They are

committed to that change.

The Development and Alumni Affairs staffed noted that Colonel Reb and the flag continue to be

sore spots for them when they are out meeting with and soliciting donors. They stated that

devoted alumni feel that the removal of these symbols was an assault on the history and heritage

of the University. They said that alumni feel as though there is a gradual process of taking away

the things they value and often ask staff, “what’s next? Ole Miss? Rebels?” Therefore they view

any change in those two names as real deal breakers that could irreparably harm the University.

When asked to discuss other symbols on campus, the group felt there was great opportunity to

name new facilities to honor exceptional people and diverse options were named. They also said

there are ways in the athletic facilities to showcase much-beloved athletes in more prominent

cases at the stadium and other facilities. They had little issue with renaming Vardaman Hall and

feel that renaming the roads was really a non-issue; they thought it could be done without much

resistance. They recommended that rather than take away monuments, the university should add

more that reflect where the university is today. As we submit our report, we are pleased to hear

of the renaming of the entrance of the athletics performance center for Ben Williams and James


When asked to respond to the suggestion of initiating an honor code of some type, the group as a

whole was very supportive of having one. They said that students are ready and willing to be

involved in such an effort. There are a number of groups on campus and among the alumni with

a real hunger to do something positive to show the world that the University of Mississippi is a

stellar community. By taking these types of steps, they felt it could show the world that they are

serious about change.

Community Leaders and Alumni

This diverse and impressive group was eager to hear some of the feedback from the other

meetings. In the course of the conversation, they said that the University has a responsibility to

tell its full story, especially its progress in its diversity initiatives. They also stressed that it is

important that the university not rest on mere statistics of success but recognize that the statistics

don’t fully reflect the reality of life on campus for students.

The group also recognized the frustration that faculty, staff, and students have regarding their

perception of the pace of change. They expressed their own concerns that the University seems

to be in a reactive mode. They think that University communications should do a better job of

getting in front of and controlling the narrative as well as the interpretation of the campus

symbols. They believe that purposefully naming new facilities will help. But ultimately it is up to

the university to tell its full story and develop a full plan of communication within and beyond

the campus.

The group was very receptive to the idea of an honor code, student-led with faculty support.

These leaders believe that the Creed is a valuable and underutilized asset that can be placed at

the heart of that honor system. With the help of the Winter Institute, they told us, forums can

educate faculty, staff, and students in how best to stand firm and fight for the values expressed in

the University Creed. They are confident that there is unity among a variety of groups in the

University community that can be leveraged to make this happen. Among other suggestions, the

group said that in the short term the Creed should be prominent on the website, it should be

given special note during parent and new student orientations, and that better use of social media

to take advantage of the emphasis.

Dr. Neff and Graduate Students

As we spoke with this group, it became apparent that they shared sentiments similar to those of

the Center for Southern Studies with regard to symbols, monuments, and names on campus.

Students agreed that the University may inadvertently be a magnet for those who believe it is a beacon for “southern heritage,” defined as white and exclusionary. The students believe that the Confederacy is central to the identity of the University in ways that are not as apparent at other southern colleges.

Within this context, the students shared stories of indignities to which they have been subject,

witnessed themselves, or had been told about involving racial and/or homophobic name-calling.

One PhD went so far as to say the recent event made him feel unsafe not only for himself but for

his young family. Several said that after the incident they received calls from friends and

colleagues around the country asking if they were okay. This led to further discussions about

whether or not the school would be able to attract the best and brightest given these recurring

incidents. One student noted that the University seems healthy and vibrant in many ways, but is

tragically trapped in recurring patterns, habit, and forces.

As academics, they feel that the name “Ole Miss” trivializes the seriousness of their scholarly

work, with all preferring the formal name University of Mississippi. They also expressed a desire

to have an “UMiss.edu” email versus the assigned “OleMiss.edu,” arguing that if alumni and

athletes want it, so be it, but give the option to those who do not want it.

The conversation shifted to one about “outsiders.” The graduate students argued that blaming

people from outside is a long-standing tradition at the school. They felt that it was the same

language (or excuse) used during segregationists’ fights or anytime something unsavory

happened at the University. They argued that there are no outsiders—all choose to become

members of the University community—regardless of their states of origin. They further argued

that those coming into the community need to understand what that means in terms of acceptable

and intolerable behaviors.

When the idea of an honor code was introduced, the group endorsed it. They recognized that

there could be legal challenges to such a thing, but noted that it works well at other campuses all

over the country, including the South. They also said that they would stand firm and believe

others would as well in unity with the administration if such a step were taken. They believe that

the University’s actions to date had been tepid when swift and decisive action is needed. They

believed acting more boldly would send a strong and clear message to the outside world that

such behaviors would not be tolerated whether or not an actual crime had been committed.


During the course of our series of conversations, we were struck by the intensity of emotion all

groups feel about the University. This is a community of students and staff that truly love their

school, their home. They were disheartened by the continuing rash of incidents and want

desperately for them to cease. All groups expressed a willingness to be partners with the

administration to find viable solutions, and to take risks to do so. It was clear to us that there is

adequate good will to create long-term solutions that move the University community closer to

its stated ideals.


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