KA Nationals Says They Will Work with Emmett Till Foundation as Community Outrage Builds

By Talbert Toole
Lifestyles Editor
talbert.toole@hottytoddy.com

The Kappa Alpha Order fraternity house is located on Fraternity Road on the Ole Miss campus. Photo by Talbert Toole.

The University of Mississippi found its place front and center on the national media’s stage after the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting published a controversial photo of three former Kappa Alpha’s.

The nonprofit news organization published the story July 25 revealing a photo that depicted three KA’s cradling guns in front of the bullet-riddled Emmett Till marker located near Glendora, Mississippi. Since its publication, the story has not only reached national media outlets but has also faced criticism and backlash, especially from Ole Miss alumni, faculty and staff, and students.

The photo shows an Ole Miss student named Ben LeClere holding a shotgun while standing in front of the bullet-pocked sign. Another man, who has yet to be identified, stands on the other side with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle. A third fraternity member, John Lowe, squats below them. The photo appears to have been taken at night, the scene illuminated by lights from a vehicle. Photo via Instagram.

Interim Chancellor Larry Sparks released a statement to the Ole Miss community Friday, July 26, concerning the picture which was posted on one of the fraternity member’s private Instagram accounts. During the length of its post, it garnered over 200 likes from his followers. Sparks stated the picture was “offensive, hurtful, and disgusting.” However, due to the photo’s clear indication that it was off-campus, Sparks made no mention of expulsion or violation of the university creed. 

“They do not speak for our institution, and they do not define us,” Sparks clarified. 

Rod Guajardo, associate director of strategic communications, told the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting that while the university considered the picture “offensive,” the image did not present a violation of the university’s code of conduct.

However, in a joint statement released Friday by the Associated Student Body (ASB) and Black Student Union (BSU), they make a clear statement that the university’s creed is being violated: “while the actions of those students may not directly violate the university’s code of conduct, the actions and photo are a direct violation of the University’s Creed.”

University of Mississippi Creed:

“The University of Mississippi is a community of learning dedicated to nurturing excellence in intellectual inquiry and personal character in an open and diverse environment. As a voluntary member of this community:

I believe in respect for the dignity of each person
I believe in fairness and civility
I believe in personal and professional integrity
I believe in academic honesty
I believe in academic freedom
I believe in good stewardship of our resources
I pledge to uphold these values and encourage others to follow my example.”

Joint statement by the Associated Student Body and Black Student Union. Click to enlarge image.

The statement also mentioned how the University Creed is not an actionable plan but simply a set of “beliefs pledged and upheld” by each and every member of the University of Mississippi community. The two organizations stated they expect the University administration to hold all members of its community accountable to the Creed and have appropriate consequences to those who break the promise set forward by the institution.

The two organizations stated it expects to see changes in upholding not only the code of conduct but the creed as well within 90 days of the statement’s release.

Although the three members have since been suspended from the Kappa Alpha Order fraternity, many Ole Miss community members advocated for harsher penalties by the University.

However, Sparks released a second statement July 29 recognizing the mishandling of the investigation into the picture.

He stated that the university launched an internal review last week of the handling of the incident, and it was revealed that there were miscommunications between units at the university.

Interim Chancellor Larry Sparks’ second statement regarding the picture. Click to enlarge.

Arielle Hudson, president of the BSU and a senator in the ASB, said she initially thought the picture was fake, however, as the news continued to spread regarding the controversial picture of the three KA students, she Googled “Ole Miss” and two “tragic” headlines appeared at the top of her screen: “the murder of Ally Kostial and the three KA members with their guns in front of Emmett Till’s memorial marker.”

Hudson said initially she could not understand why someone would pose in front of a marker dedicated to a slain victim of “racial discrimination and racial terrorism” while brandishing guns. 

“But then, I started to get angry because I noticed the pride and joy in their smiles,” Hudson said. “The same type of pride and joy that a hunter shows after they’ve shot their game.”

Hudson said while Sparks’ statement was stronger than others, it was still passive and did not hold the three students accountable for their actions.

“Nor did it fully address the issue at hand and what they did,” she said.

A Lingering Past

The Kappa Alpha Order fraternity has significant connections to the Confederacy and has been criticized for it in the past. The Ole Miss chapter use to annually celebrate what was once called the “Old South”—a social event where members and their dates dress in timely southern garb. However, in 2016, the fraternity decided to distance itself from “the negative trappings associated with the Old South period,” according to a 2016 KA newsletter.

Founded in 1865, the fraternity still holds ties to controversial historical leaders. Their website states General Robert E. Lee is a “spiritual founder” of the fraternity although Lee has no direct connection to the organization, and the fraternity still actively sells books that focus on the Confederate general.

However, the fraternity decided to honor another tradition and named the formal “Rose Ball” after the crimson rose which celebrates a member’s “sweetheart.” In addition, members and their “sweethearts” no longer wear southern garb to the social event.

Jesse Lyons, assistant executive director for advancement and editor of The Kappa Alpha Journal, stated in an email to Hottytoddy.com that the fraternity has consistently distanced itself from reviewed and revised policies regarding all social events conducted by individual chapters to ensure actions were in line with the organization’s core values.

“These include the prohibition of any trappings and nomenclature associated with the Civil War period,” Lyons stated. 

Lyons also stated that the past events, formally known as “Old South,” were never required, and any event hosted by the fraternity’s chapters must align with dignity, respect and be in compliance with each respected university’s policies. 

According to Lyons, “The national fraternity has a known record of enforcing compliance for violations of any of our laws and policies, as well as decorum of chapters and members.”

In Sparks’ original statement to the Ole Miss community, he stated that the university is “ready to assist the fraternity with educational opportunities for those members and the chapter.”

Lyons told Hottytoddy.com that it will engage with the university for educational purposes for the local chapter; however, he did not clarify specifics, but the chapter is considering several steps to help demonstrate the fraternity’s character to the UM community.

“The chapter leadership has already been in contact with the Emmett Till Commission,” he stated. 

Lyons also mentioned the Ole Miss chapter of KA took the strongest action in reprimanding the members pictured in front of the marker by suspending them. 

“The photo and its posting were inappropriate, insensitive, and unacceptable. It does not represent the chapter or Kappa Alpha Order,” Lyons stated.

Although the fraternity has made strides to distance itself from the “trappings of the Civil War,” Hudson said the continuation of association with “southern heritage” and connection to ideologies, like those of Lee, send a clear message, especially to people of color – “It tells us that we are not welcomed,” she said.

This is also not the first time a fraternity at Ole Miss has been scrutinized for racist actions. A photo in 2001 depicted an Alpha Tau Omega fraternity member dressed as a police officer for Halloween pointing a gun at another member in blackface picking cotton. The two members were expelled from the fraternity and the organization was suspended for a year.

In February 2014, three former university students and members of the now-closed Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity were suspected of hanging a noose and Confederate flag around the statue of James Meredith—the first African-American admitted into the university. Two of the members pleaded guilty and served federal jail time.

A Call to Action

Jarrius Adams, former president of the University of Mississippi Gospel Choir and now alumnus, led a protest for Black History Month this past March in opposition of the Confederate monument that stands in the Lyceum-Circle on the Ole Miss campus.

Adams told Hottytoddy.com his initial reaction after seeing the story regarding the three KA members in front of the Emmett Till marker was “here we go again.”

“Being a student, at least for the past four years, we have seen something like this every year,” Adams said. “This isn’t new behavior.”

Adams said he is always trying to use his position to better the university, especially for students that look like himself, an African-American. He said he and his classmates, who some are still enrolled as students, are tired of “statements” from the university.

“It takes nothing for the chancellor’s secretary to type up a statement and release it,” he said. “We need action.”

Jarrius Adams, former president of the University of Mississippi Gospel Choir, led the Black History Month March this past spring in opposition of the Confederate monument on campus. Photo by Talbert Toole.

Hudson also said although the university has “progressed tremendously” over the past years, there still remains a culture of “discrimination, bias, white supremacy and racism” that still exist throughout the fraternity and sorority houses at Ole Miss.

“The University has not been properly monitoring the internal structure or dynamics within the houses of these fraternities and sororities,” Hudson said. ” It’s time for them to stop turning a blind eye to it.”

Adams said the university and its members know where the problems lie and cannot rely on fraternities to be individual activists in changing the culture that engulfs the campus and its students.

“We need to hold these people accountable,” Adams said.

Implementing Policy and Curricular Changes

Although KA Nationals stated it was making strides in educating the Ole Miss chapter, the University of Mississippi Critical Race Studies Group (CRSG) also sent a letter to the university administration stating three key changes that should be implemented on campus.

The organization, which is apart of the Sociology department, seeks to “identify and address racial and other inequalities at the University of Mississippi and elsewhere, thus helping to promote vibrant, respectful, diverse communities.”

The three changes the CRSG focused on in its letter to the administration are policy, curricular and extracurricular changes throughout the university.

University of Mississippi Critical Race Studies Group’s statement to UM officials. Click to enlarge.

After Sparks addressed how the administration mishandled the situation since the finding of the picture, CRSG advocated fixing the bias incident reporting system and punish rule-breakers with meaningful penalties.

It also addressed implementing curricular changes by providing “course-development funds for General Education courses on Anti-Racism, Anti-Sexism, Anti-Homophobia, and Anti-Semitism and Anti-Islamaphobia.”


5 COMMENTS

  1. It looks like the same attitudes that led to the mishandling of the Till historical marker desecration at Ole Miss led to the burying of another racial scandal involving a major to Ole Miss. This other issue points to the entrenched racism in Mississippi and fear of racists that exists with Ole Miss leaders.

    Last year major donor Ed Meek became a flash point for anger about attitudes towards women of color in Oxford when he published photos of women of color and stated that they were the cause of a decline in housing values in Oxford. There was another person that Ole Miss Journalism Dean Will Norton, Provost Noel Wilkin, the former Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter, other high level leaders at Ole Miss and members of the Ole Miss Journalism faculty know actually took and sent the photos to Ed Meek and who encouraged Meek to push the story of women of color destroying the culture of Oxford. It just so happens that this other donor has multiple properties in the square. There is an audio recording of the Journalism faculty and Dean Norton discussing this fact on the Thursday after Meek published the photos. This other donor’s involvement has been hidden by Ole Miss leadership and the donor remains on advisory boards on campus and has recently been rewarded with appointment to the search committee to select the next Ole Miss chancellor.

    Think about that, a person who pushed the narrative of people of color destroying Oxford still has leadership roles at Ole Miss and will be choosing the next chancellor. How is that consistent with the Ole Miss Creed?

  2. Who is the donor who gave the pic and is now on the chancellor search committee? Is Hotty Toddy asking the dean and provost? We all deserve to know why IHL appointed this person.

  3. Who is the racist who helped Ed Meek attack black women in Oxford by saying that they were whores and destroying property values?

    Here is the list from the IHL website. Hey Hotty Toddy which one of these thinks that black students are such a threat to property values? Do the other members of the committee know of this persons views and role in the Meek posting? Does our leaders?

    Dr. Charles Hussey, Co-Chair, Alumnus, Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Education and Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry

    Robyn Tannehill, Co-Chair, Alumna, Mayor of Oxford

    Gregory Alston, Alumnus, Ole Miss Student Body President, IHL Student Body Presidents Council President, Ole Miss Law Student Body President, Ole Miss Law Business Law Network C.E.O., Oxford

    Brady Bramlett, Alumnus, Associate Director of Development, Ole Miss Athletics Foundation

    Dr. Katrina Caldwell, Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Community Engagement and Instructional Professor of Higher Education

    Leon Collins, Alumnus, National Alumni Association President, MINACT, Inc. CEO; former Adjutant General of Mississippi serving as the Commanding General of both the Mississippi Army and Air National Guard.

    Ben Craddock, Alumnus, President, What A Combo, Inc., Jackson

    Bill Gates, Alumnus, Executive Committee of the Business School Advisory Board Member, Businessman, Oxford

    Dr. Carole Haney, Alumna, Attorney, Chairperson, Baddour Center Board of Trustees

    Andrew Herren, Graduate Student Council President

    Blake Johns, UMMC Student Body President

    Robert Lampton, Alumnus, President of Supply & Distribution Division; Ergon Terminalling, Inc.; Ergon Trucking; Ergon Marine & Industrial Supply; and Ergon Real Estate, Jackson

    Sam Lane, Alumnus, Senior VP/Client Development, First Commercial Bank, Jackson

    Bruce Levingston , Chancellor’s Honors College Artist-in-Residence and Holder of the Lester Glenn Fant Chair, Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College

    Don Martin, Alumnus, President of UM Business School Advisory Council, Retired Executive of Fortune 500 Company, Oxford

    Barron Mayfield, UM Associated Student Body President

    Dr. Tyrus McCarty, Alumnus, Assistant Dean for Special Initiatives in the School of Engineering, Assistant Chair and Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Acting Chair of Mechanical Engineering

    Bob McEwan, Alumnus, Managing Director of Fixed Income Capital Market of Raymond James,Inc., Memphis

    Jesse Mitchell, III, Alumnus, Past President, University of Mississippi M-Club, Founding Partner, The Mitchell Firm, Ridgeland

    Markeeva Morgan, Alumnus, Board Member, University of Mississippi Foundation, Avionics, GN&C, and Software Senior Manager, Boeing, Madison, Ala.

    Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Professor of English and Creative Writing

    Dr. Brice Noonan, Associate Professor of Biology

    Dr. Charles O’Mara, Alumnus, Associate Vice Chancellor for Clinical Affairs, University of Mississippi Medical Center

    Charlotte Parks, Vice Chancellor for Development

    Crymes Pittman, Alumnus, Attorney, Pittman, Roberts & Welsh, P.L.L.C., Jackson

    Dr. David Rock, Dean of the School of Education and Professor of Curriculum and Instruction

    Peter Ross, Alumnus, Board of Governors for Ole Miss Athletics, Former UM Alumni Board of Directors, Pharmacist, Oxford

    Ron Rychlak, Professor of Law and Jamie L. Whitten Chair of Law and Government

    Nancy Maria Balach Schuesselin, Associate Professor of Music

    Dr. Patrick Smith, Alumnus, Chief Faculty Affairs Officer, Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs, School of Medicine, University of Mississippi Medical Center

    Blake Tartt, III, Alumnus, Real Estate Investor, Houston, Texas and Oxford

    Todd Wade, Alumnus, Retired National Football League Player, Real Estate Investor, Oxford

    Marie Wicks, Alumna, Miss Mississippi 2012, Attorney, Long Beach

    Dr. Mark Wilder, Dean and KPMG Chair of Accountancy in the Patterson School of Accountancy

    Dr. Noel Wilkin, Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, Professor of Pharmacy Administration and Research Professor in the Research Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences

    Charlie Williams, Alumnus, Former President, M-Club Alumni Association, Former Member, Mississippi House of Representatives, Former Chief of Staff to Governor Haley Barbour

    Dr. John Winkle, Professor Emeritus of Political Science and Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College

    Dr. LouAnn Woodward, Alumna, Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs, Dean of the School of Medicine, University of Mississippi Medical Center

  4. If any of these comments about the chancellor’s search process are accurate it casts a dark shadow over the good work of the search members who are not tainted by the Meek incident and the racism that surrounded that misguided social media post.

    With Charles Overby being a leader of a corporation that incarcerates African Americans for profit and serving leadership roles at Ole Miss, and Ed Meek calling out African Americans as the reason for a decline in the standards of living in Oxford and property values to, and the Confederate statue standing as immovable as Stonewall Jackson himself the idea that a donor with racist leanings and links to Meek will have a role in selecting the next chancellor is plain stupid.

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