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
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
- 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.
- The University of Mississippi should establish a portfolio model of diversity and
See response to recommendation 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.
- 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
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.
- 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”.
- 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
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
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
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.
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 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.