It is true that Ole Miss has had their share of racially charged incidents on campus, for example, Obama’s reelection night and recently, the defacing of the James Meredith statue, but The University of Mississippi is not the only college campus dealing with race issues.
Written in the New York Times, according to the Office for Civil Rights at the federal Education Department, the number of complaints related to race and ethnicity filed against colleges and universities rose to 860 in 2013 from 555 in 2009. Mani Flowers, a junior journalism major and African American student at the University of Mississippi feels the rise.
“I think it’s getting worse, I feel like tensions are escalating,” said Flowers. Flowers wasn’t surprised when she initially heard about the defacing of the James Meredith statue on campus. “There is always something controversial that’s happening at our school,” said Flowers.
Flowers admits that it’s not just the incidents people see about Ole Miss on the news that are racially upsetting and that most of the time it is an uncomfortable vibe she feels on campus and off. The uncomfortable feeling is also felt when she is out with her white friends shopping on the square. “The only reason I should feel uncomfortable is if they don’t have my size not because of feeling a weird vibe,” said Flowers.
Recently, the national attention of Ole Miss due to the James Meredith issue has given people near to Oxford and far a chance to define the university. Flowers feels that through the public eye Ole Miss is seen as a college campus that is stuck in the past but to her these headlines from news networks don’t define the university. “To me, it is the education that defines us, when you leave there are great opportunities for Ole Miss graduates,” said Flowers.
Sean Higgins, a junior political science major, believes that these incidents define the school to an extent. “We are a product of our past. And honestly, we have a very ugly past when it comes to race relations. I think we have to acknowledge that fact and try to move forward,” said Higgins via email.
Higgins is a student representative of the Sensitivity and Respect Committee, which was formed at Ole Miss after the election night incident on campus. This committee is made up of faculty and students who serve the university as a contact point for any Ole Miss community member who experiences words or actions that conflict with the university’s EEO-anti-discrimination policy. The committee will receive and review any complaints and figure out ways to encourage the Ole Miss family to move forward respecting the high value of dignity each member of this university has as an individual.
Working on this committee was frustrating but also a great growing experience for Higgins. “It was frustrating because of the circumstances of course… but also it was a group of people with a lot to say and a lot of different ideas. Ultimately, though, we all had the same goal: making the university a more inclusive place for all students,” said Higgins via email.
The committee of Sensitivity and Respect works hard to find answers to why these racially charged incidents are happening on the Ole Miss campus and work to move forward and promote racial harmony on campus. According to the letter written to the Ole Miss community from chancellor Dan Jones the Sensitivity and Respect committee responded to the James Meredith incident by launching the “Respect the M” campaign. Its purpose is to remind all of the respect and dignity placed on each individual is a core value of the university.
Higgins believes it is important to realize that these unfortunate moments in Ole Miss history don’t correspond with all the students and alumni views but still there is action that needs to be taken to better improve the racial climate. “Of course these incidents don’t reflect the views of all of our students and alumni, but they do happen for a reason and we need to do the best we can to tackle the issues Ole Miss has with race,” said Higgins via email.
Recent University of Mississippi graduate Meghan Bright is upset how these incidents at Ole Miss give such a bad reputation to the school she loves so much. “As an alum of Ole Miss it is annoying to know that people who haven’t even experienced Ole Miss just label it as a racist place right away because in my experience there I did not encounter any problems with race,” said Bright during a phone interview.
With Ole Miss recently being under fire many students and alumni have spoke up to share their perspective of Ole Miss and revealed that the students they went to school with or taught at Ole Miss are not all what is being portrayed in the news.
Chancellor of Ole Miss, Dan Jones highlights how there is much work to be done and how students and staff members must actively make a difference on campus and step up to stopping a next possible act of hate. “Who is responsible? I am. You are. We are. Who will lead? I will. You will. We Will,” said Jones in an open letter to the university. It is time for Ole Miss and college campuses everywhere to lead to end racism on campuses nationwide.