UM to Add Diversity Vice Chancellor, Change Confederate Drive Name, Put Historical Symbols in Modern Context, and More
Ole Miss Chancellor Dan Jones this morning will announce a six-point wide-reaching plan that includes the employment of a new Vice Chancellor For Diversity and the placement of plaques at racially divisive sites to add modern context to their symbolism. He also defined a shift in the common use of the term “Ole Miss” for close identification with athletics and school spirit.
The plan also calls for more education of students in racial history, changing the street name of Confederate Drive to Chapel Lane, changing Coliseum Drive to Roy Lee “Chucky” Mullins Drive and an effort to have students make an early commitment to diversity.
“I don’t expect everyone to agree with this plan,” Chancellor Jones said. “Some will think these actions don’t go far enough — and others will wonder why we have to bring up race again. So far, in this process, even when people have broadly disagreed, they have been civil in their discourse. That’s my hope for the reaction to this announcement.”
Oxford Alderman Jay Hughes had this reaction to the plan: “I absolutely support the university doing whatever it can to attempt to increase diversity and avoid conflict. However, we need to be mindful that the more we pretend our past does not exist, the more likely we are to repeat it.”
The Chancellor said the new vice chancellor for diversity and inclusion will be selected after a nationwide search. “The job description, title and responsibilities for this high-level position will be established during the fall semester,” he said. “Although we have a chief diversity officer now, our overall efforts have been dispersed.”
Confederate Drive, a stretch of road that begins after crossing Fraternity Road from Chapel Drive, and ends at the Tad Smith Coliseum, will be re-named, Chancellor Jones added, to reflect the road’s starting point in front of the University Chapel.
Besides this change, no names of campus icons associated with the civil war and Jim Crow-era Mississippi government officials such as segregationist Governors James Vardaman and Paul Johnson, Jr. will be changed. Instead plaques will be placed to put those names, says Chancellor Jones, in “historical context and perspective.” These sites include Vardaman Hall, Johnson Commons, and the confederate statue at the entrance to the Lyceum Circle.
The approach of adding historical commentary and contemporary perspective to civil war-related memorials, names and icons has been pioneered by one of the consultants the university turned to in the aftermath of the Meredith Statue defacement of Feb. 9.
Ed Ayers, president of the University of Richmond, is a noted historian and writer who has argued that southern cities and universities should acknowledge the wrongs of slavery and of opposition to the civil rights movement — not by trying to erase the symbols of that dark past, but by placing them in historical context. ““The North did not fight at first to end slavery,” says the award-winning Civil War historian, “but the South did fight to protect slavery,” Ayers is quoted as saying in The Chronicle of Higher Education.
Ayers was instrumental in having a statue of famous tennis champion and Richmond native Arthur Ashe built on a Richmond thoroughfare populated with monuments to Civil War confederate generals. Ayers’ vision, referenced in the Chancellor’s report, is to balance history with “contemporary context for symbols and adding new symbols more representative of the city’s current culture.”
Others consulting with the university included Christy Coleman, a leader in Richmond’s Civil War Museum, and Gregory Vincent, vice president for Diversity and Community Engagement at the University of Texas.
An example of the idea of balancing historical icons with contemporary symbols of African-American courage can be found in one of the action plan’s recommendations. Though not currently named for anything related to the Civil War or Jim Crow, Coliseum Drive will need a new name in light of the forthcoming demolition of C. M. Tad Smith Coliseum; the street will be renamed Roy Lee “Chucky” Mullins Drive in honor of the African-American Ole Miss football player who eventually died after a suffering a paralyzing injury on the field.
In another action plan point that may prove controversial, Chancellor Jones announced that the term Ole Miss would be primarily used in connection with the school’s athletic program and to reflect the “broad spirit” of the university, but not used prominently in reference to academics.
“Some faculty are uncomfortable with (the term “Ole Miss”) — either because they see it as a nickname or because they believe it has racial overtones,” he said. “Our research indicates that the term “Ole Miss” is beloved by the vast majority of students, faculty, alumni and university supporters. We’ll use the University of Mississippi in most academic applications.”
Other points in the action plan, which is a continuation of the recommendations advanced by the Extended Sensitivity and Respect Committee that started in late 2012, represent a commitment to deal honestly with race and diversity issues. Chancellor Jones says this will happen through leadership offered by the new vice chancellor for diversity and inclusion supporting active research and cooperating with promising efforts such as the William Winter Institute for Racial Diversity and the forming-this-fall Center for Inclusion and Cross Cultural Engagement.
Also in the plan is a call to increase commitment to racial, ethnic, and lifestyle diversity from all students, especially incoming freshman.
“If you look at the incidents that have been reported in the press, the vast majority have involved freshman,” Chancellor Jones said. “We have to more effectively deal with the reality that many of our students come to us with very little exposure to cross-cultural experience. Many have attended high schools and lived in communities that were virtually segregated in their opportunities to interact with people of different races and backgrounds. We hope to welcome them to here and quickly expose them to pathways that embrace our values in support of human dignity that is expressed in our creed.”
HottyToddy.com contacted a few readers to get their reactions to the plan.
“I think renaming certain areas of Ole Miss is good for change,” said alumnus Bill Perry, Jr., a pianist and composer living in Oxford, who has helped raise funds for music education camps at the university though showings of his exploratory jazz/visual project Mother Universe and All Her Children. “A modern contemporary perspective would be good to show Ole Miss is moving in a progressive direction. I also think it’s good to have diversity added to the oath of this university. It’s time for the rest of the nation to see that this college is moving forward and doing what is necessary to create an atmosphere of inclusion.”
Jeremy Cooker graduated Ole Miss in 1991 with a bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism, during an era when the use of the confederate flag by fans at football games was a hot-button issue. “These changes feel like a natural evolution for a progressive university with a racially charged past,” said Cooker, who is director of marketing and special projects for New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation. “What’s being proposed now seems like it’s long overdue. They can put this part of the past in some kind of historical context for people to learn from it, but it’s time to move on.”
Following is the full statement released by the University:
UM Announces Plan for Leadership on Issues of Race and Diversity
Chancellor releases report on campus environment, creates new position of vice chancellor for diversity
OXFORD, Miss. – University of Mississippi Chancellor Dan Jones has released a comprehensive action plan for fostering a more inclusive and welcoming environment on campus.
The recommendations are the fruit of a study of wide-ranging opinions on campus culture from students, faculty and administrators, which were paired with input from respected consultants. The plan includes a new position of vice chancellor for diversity and a variety of initiatives focused on inclusion and race relations.
Last summer, an expanded Sensitivity and Respect Committee completed its review of the university’s environment on race and diversity. After the committee’s report, consultants Ed Ayers and Christy Coleman of Richmond, Virginia, were brought in to study the effect on campus culture of building names and campus symbols tied to historical issues of slavery and segregation. Consultant Greg Vincent, who led the University of Texas in addressing issues of diversity and inclusion, was hired to analyze the university’s organizational structure and how it relates to diversity and inclusion.
The consultants submitted reports on their interviews with members of the campus community, as well as recommendations based on their experiences with similar issues. Jones complimented the work of the university community and consultants in generating the ideas included in the action plan.
“The reports from everyone involved were candid and thoughtful in suggesting that more can be done here to improve our environment for diversity and inclusion,” Jones said.
“It is my hope that the steps outlined here – reflecting the hard work of university committees 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.”
Jones said he knows that some people will find parts of the recommendations that they like and some they don’t. “Every idea was not included, but I’m confident everyone involved will find evidence of their substantial contributions.
“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 respectful. My very sincere thanks go out to all of those who demonstrated these values throughout the process.”
The process was designed to gather as broad a range of opinion as possible, the chancellor said.
“It was important that we hear from everyone who loves this university,” he said. “Too often when viewpoints are wide-ranging, nuanced 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.”
The plan involves six steps, with more initiatives expected when the new vice chancellor position is filled:
1. Create a vice chancellor-level position for diversity and inclusion. UM’s provost will create a specific position title, portfolio, set of responsibilities and initial budget for a new administrative position. The job will be created after consultation with faculty and will be subject to approval by the university’s governing board. A search committee will be formed to begin work during the fall semester.
2. Establish a portfolio model of diversity and engagement. As part of the creation of the job description for the new vice chancellor position, a set of standards for diversity and engagement will be drafted for the university to follow moving forward.
3. Deal squarely with the issue of race while also addressing other dimensions of diversity.
“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,” Jones said. “But that day has not yet arrived. Clearly, there are still issues 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.”
A faculty group focused on UM’s history with slavery began work last year. The initiative is an example of the kind of scholarly leadership UM can provide on the issue, Jones said, voicing renewed commitment to the work of the university’s William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation. He also said the new vice chancellor for diversity will be engaged in efforts to address issues of race and diversity and will work with existing campus organizations, such as the Critical Race Studies Group, that have focused on these issues.
4. Implement a symbolic and formal dedication of all new students to the ideals of inclusion and fairness to which UM is devoted.
The UM Creed was adopted as a means of communicating and cultivating the university’s core values. A public university can’t require a pledge or oath as a condition of enrollment. It can and will work with students and others to pursue methods of elevating and strengthening the UM community with the creed’s values. The university’s vice chancellor for student affairs will implement this recommendation.
5. Offer more history, putting the past into context, telling more of the story of Mississippi’s struggles with slavery, secession, segregation and their aftermath.
Consultants cited Richmond, one of capitals of the Confederacy, as a good example of appropriately addressing a negative history. City leaders opted not to erase history, even some of the more difficult parts of it, and chose not to remove existing statues and building names. Instead, the city has balanced its presentation of history by offering broader, contemporary context for symbols and adding new symbols more representative of the city’s current culture. An example of that approach already implemented at UM is the statue honoring James Meredith, the university’s first African-American student. Additional opportunities with more contemporary symbols lie ahead, and the new vice chancellor will be engaged in long-term evaluation of those recommendations. Until the new vice chancellor is hired, that job will be handled by the provost and the assistant to the chancellor for multicultural affairs.
Among buildings and symbols that will be evaluated for plaques adding context and perspective are Vardaman Hall, the ballroom in Johnson Commons and the
Confederate statue at the entrance to Lyceum Circle. Several steps have been taken already:
– The entrance of the Manning Center was recently designated the Williams-Reed Foyer in honor of Ben Williams and James Reed, the university’s first two black football players. Jones thanked Athletics Director Ross Bjork and head football coach Hugh Freeze for their leadership in the recommendation.
– The new Center for Inclusion and Cross Cultural Engagement opens this fall in Stewart Hall. The center, which will move later to the renovated and expanded Student Union, enhances the quantity and quality of programming and leadership initiatives for underrepresented students.
– Coliseum Drive will need a new name when the Tad Smith Coliseum is replaced with the new basketball arena. A recommendation from the UM Alumni Association and the M-Club to rename it “Roy Lee ‘Chucky’ Mullins Drive” has been adopted. Mullins, a black football player who was paralyzed and later died, became a unifying symbol of an indomitable human spirit at the university.
– Confederate Drive, which enters Fraternity Row, will be renamed “Chapel Lane.”
6. Appropriate use of the name “Ole Miss.” UM’s longstanding nickname is beloved by the vast majority of its students and alumni. But a few, especially some university faculty, are uncomfortable with it. Some don’t want it used at all and some simply don’t want it used within the academic context.
The university completed a national study about the name “Ole Miss” during the last year and found the vast majority of respondents don’t attach any meaning to it other than an affectionate name for the university. In fact, a significant margin likes and prefers the “Ole Miss” name. And a very small percentage of respondents associate the university, either as “Ole Miss” or “University of Mississippi,” with negative race issues.
Both names will be used in appropriate contexts going forward, with particular emphasis going to “Ole Miss” in athletics and as a representation of the university’s spirit. Other campus efforts already in place will continue to grow
The action plan includes a wide variety of other initiatives launched even as the study of campus environment was underway, including creation of the Bias Incident Response Team, diversity training for employees, construction of a National Pan-Hellenic Council garden representing the history and campus engagement of historically black fraternities and sororities, periodic surveys to monitor the campus environment, and various programs to enhance student success.
The University of Mississippi sent the following memo to supporters on Friday, August 1:
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 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.
2. The University of Mississippi should establish a portfolio model of diversity and engagement.
See response to recommendation 1.
3. 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 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.
4. 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.
5. 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.
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”.
6. 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 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 nicknames.
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 language.
• 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 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.
Sincerely, Edward L. Ayers Christy Coleman
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.
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 problems.
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 Reed.
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.
— Andy Knef, email@example.com