Letter from Chancellor: New Plaque Language, Progress on 2014 Action Plan

Chancellor Vitter speaks to members of the Student Alumni Council. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications
Chancellor Vitter speaks to members of the Student Alumni Council. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

Greetings,

As we complete a productive academic year and immerse ourselves in an energetic summer session, we continue to work on important goals related to history, context, and identity.

The University of Mississippi, along with many universities across the country, continues on a journey to acknowledge and address the challenging and complex history around the issues of slavery, injustice, and race. Here on the main campus, we are involved in a profoundly important dialogue to fully understand and articulate our historical truths, while claiming our hard-earned present identity as a national flagship university.

The university has long been committed to honest and open dialogue about its history and how to make our campuses more welcoming and inclusive. In 2014, under the leadership of then-chancellor Dan Jones, guided by recommendations from the 2013 expanded Sensitivity and Respect Committee, the university took another step in that direction. The result is generally referred to as the 2014 action plan.

I realized shortly after becoming chancellor that many people do not realize the tremendous amount of work already done toward these goals, while others see these efforts as potentially threatening to cherished aspects of the university. As a general principle, I think it is important to communicate and keep people engaged and informed, so that we can work most effectively together.

To that end, we have enhanced the website, diversity.OleMiss.edu, which, among other things, gives an ongoing and comprehensive update on the 2014 action plan. We list each of the plan’s six recommendations, along with what has been accomplished and planned. For example, the search we launched this spring for vice chancellor for diversity and community engagement is a key part of Recommendation 1, and the new vice chancellor will help advance Recommendation 2 on developing a portfolio model of diversity and engagement. You can also read about the progress and ongoing work on Recommendations 3 and 4 in dealing with race and advocating the ideals of inclusion and fairness.

I’d particularly like to highlight Recommendation 5, which is about history and context. Beginning last summer, a committee of four experts began working to contextualize the Confederate statue in the Lyceum Circle. The resulting language was inscribed on a plaque installed near the statue in mid-March. I wrote you on March 29 about the committee’s desire to consider further input and reexamine whether the plaque’s language should be changed and, if so, how. After considerable input and study, the committee made its final recommendation, which I have approved, and in the coming months a new plaque will replace the current one and read as follows:

As Confederate veterans were dying in increasing numbers, memorial associations across the South built monuments in their memory. These monuments were often used to promote an ideology known as the “Lost Cause,” which claimed that the Confederacy had been established to defend states’ rights and that slavery was not the principal cause of the Civil War. Residents of Oxford and Lafayette County dedicated this statue, approved by the university, in 1906. Although the monument was created to honor the sacrifice of local Confederate soldiers, it must also remind us that the defeat of the Confederacy actually meant freedom for millions of people. On the evening of September 30, 1962, this statue was a rallying point for opponents of integration.

This historic statue is a reminder of the university’s divisive past. Today, the University of Mississippi draws from that past a continuing commitment to open its hallowed halls to all who seek truth, knowledge, and wisdom.

I commend the committee members for their dedication and good work as we turn to the remaining important work to contextualize campus sites and buildings. As mentioned in my March 29 letter, I am establishing a Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on History and Context that will expand the membership from four to roughly a dozen. I invite you to consider the criteria for committee membership and take part in the nomination process; the deadline is June 30.

The link to the nominations is here: http://context.olemiss.edu/nomination-form/

The committee’s charge will be to recommend which Oxford campus sites should be contextualized, so as to explain the environments in which they were created or named. The committee will also be charged with designing the content and format to contextualize the sites. Three sites already suggested for contextualization are Johnson Commons, Lamar Hall, and Vardaman Hall. The committee will work during the upcoming academic year and employ a variety of methods along the way to ensure transparency and broad community input.

I want to clear up one area of confusion that arose from Recommendation 6, namely, about considering the implications of calling ourselves “Ole Miss.” Many individuals I’ve talked with felt that our efforts to create a welcoming environment at the university would somehow ultimately lead to restricting use of the term Ole Miss Rebels.

I can assure you that we will continue to use the terms Ole Miss and Rebels as endearing nicknames for the university. Data show that the term Ole Miss is broadly viewed as one of connection and affection, with strongly positive national (and international) recognition. It is one of the more known and respected (and frankly, envied) college brands. People searching on the Web for information about our university are seven times more likely to use the term Ole Miss than University of Mississippi, and the term Ole Miss evokes a more positive image than does even University of Mississippi. Similarly, the term Rebels, which originally was a link to the Confederacy, is used today in a completely different and positive way: to indicate someone who bucks the status quo, an entrepreneur, a trendsetter, a leader. Sharon and I are proud to be Ole Miss Rebels. However, as we continue to use the terms Ole Miss and Rebels, we must always use accompanying images and symbols that are consistent with the positive meanings we advocate.

Since becoming chancellor, I have had opportunities to visit with thousands of people who love this institution and invest their time and resources in our mission to transform lives and communities. I am convinced that together — guided by the UM Creed, informed by our expertise, and with respectful candor — we will successfully come to grips with difficult aspects of our university’s history and move boldly as a national leader to craft a vibrant future. Please accept my sincerest thanks for your continued support and involvement as we move our great flagship university forward.

Sincerely,

Jeffrey S. Vitter


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19 COMMENTS

  1. “The General should not have dragged the Negro into the War. It is a war for a great national object and the Negro has nothing to do with it.” –President Abraham Lincoln

  2. Wouldn’t send my kids there! I want them to have an education rooted in reality, not a Lala Land education which will dissolve into nothingness in the real world.

  3. “I can assure you that we will continue to use the terms Ole Miss and Rebels…”

    May as well change those too…

    “Ole Mess” and “Carpetbaggers” would be appropriate…

  4. Are you serious? ISIS? ISIS burns people alive, turns women into sex slaves, beheads captives, and eradicates the remains of classical antiquity, the very foundation of the western civilization. The Confederacy does not rank that high, nor do the opponents of the plaque in ANY WAY resemble ISIS. And Neville Chamberlain? The people who want slavery recognized as THE cause of the war are analogous to Hitler? Wonderful. You’re the reason the South has the reputation it has, and you do all the good people who live here a profound disservice. You’re the ones in LaLa land.

  5. I was one who complained loudly about the original language.

    For what my opinion is worth, I thing this is a huge improvement, and I thank the Chancellor for listening to the people.

    • I agree with Jack Hill, I wouldn’t send my kids to this school. I want my kids to get a good education not try to change history. I don’t want my kids at a school that is determined to destroy things southern and be disrespectful to the dead. Oh and my kids will know that “Rebel” is a term connected to the Confederacy. I am a proud southerner and my kids will be the same way.

  6. In all of this contextualization, will there be something said about how blacks sold each other into slavery? No? What about blacks who owned slaves? Or how slavery still exists today in Africa? So you’re not really interested in telling the entire story then?

  7. @SH – Whether or not slavery still exists is totally beside the point.
    As far as I know, there are no monuments at UM to any black person who owned a slave, nor are there any buildings named after any black person who owned a slave. But there are plenty of things named for white southerners who advocated secession in support of slavery (LQC Lamar), and who changed the state consitution solely to deny black Americans the vote (James J. Vardaman). This is not to mention that monuments such as the one under discussion here were erected in total support of the white supremacist Lost Cause ideology.
    This defense based on “we weren’t the only ones doing it” and “other people did it too” – especially an entire negligible population of black slave-owners – in no way exculpates the South’s past and present guilt.

  8. “a continuing commitment to open its hallowed halls to all who seek truth, knowledge, and wisdom.” Yeah, the truth knowledge and wisdom that we will force upon you.

  9. It never fails that hoards of neo-confederates and other assorted bigoted malcontents post ridiculous comments about a university they have no connection to in any way or fashion.

  10. The memorial has nothing “pro slavery,” “white supremacist” or “jim crow” on it. It is simply a memorial to those who died in a war.

    What next? An “contextual plaque” at the Vietnam Memorial? WWII memorials?

  11. BR–have you read what they said when dedicating the statue in 1906? Lots of Jim Crow, white supremacy there. That’s the whole point of contextualization, to explain what the people who put it up were thinking and doing.

  12. EJM can you or anyone here prove the war was about slavery? Please provide some documentation not your biased opinions.

  13. Brad would you like to talk about historical accuracy? I say the war had nothing to do with slavery, but money There were Black Confederates, who served the Confederacy in all capacities.

  14. John Would you like to try your hand at proving slavery was the cause of the war? I dare you. to bring your facts to the table.

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