Old Miss v. Ole Miss

By Yasmine Malone

Foreword from Author

My name is Yasmine Malone, thanks for enjoying this quick read. 

I was born and raised in Clarksdale, MS, home of the Blues, just one hour South of Oxford, MS. At the time of writing this piece, I am a senior Political Science major with a minor in journalism. 

This essay  is a journey of discovery, between Ole Miss and I. It’s the product of taking one of the most subjective experiences of life ( college)  and seeking to articulate it objectively. Exploring this topic has revealed to me some truths about this university and my role as a black woman  Mississippian, writer and informed citizen that will carry me for the rest of my life.

All Aboard the Flag Ship 

For the past four years I have been at The University of Mississippi, we’ve made headlines in national news for race scandals every single semester. These instances oftentimes undermine the integrity of  those who boast that the school is ‘changing’, and demoralizes the black students and alumni who decided to enroll here in good faith, despite those odds. In an effort to keep good faith, I examined how the past and fate of Ole Miss is being decided just as much by outsider influence as it is the very students and staff that work here everyday.

Founded on Feb 24, 1844 by wealthy Mississippi’s slave owning class, the Harvard of the South has for a long time been a place the wealthiest public universities in a state where public  education is underfunded,  and Some of the most influential minds of Mississippi were developed here.

 As an R1 research institution famous for its football, tailgating, parties and racism in the hospitality state. In many ways, ‘The Flagship’, at the University of Mississippi is a microcosm of the present and the birth canal of the future of Mississippi. Besides being one of the most well connected and resource rich universities in Mississippi, the university is arguably at the forefront of public conversation of the state of Mississippi at large.

Changing Tides

In 2015 the former state flag bearing the Confederate battle symbol was removed from campus as the product of rigours pushed from student organizations like the ASB Senate and the  NAACP. Fast  forward 5 years later in 2020, and the entire state will be having a Mississippi State Flag Referendum during our November presidential election cycle  to vote on the new state flag.

Another example of this was seen in student lead efforts to remove the Confederate statue from the main entrance of the Oxford campus. 

The sigh of relief felt across the student body following the successful removal of the Confederate statue from its position at the main entrance of campus was glorious. This moment was a testament to the vitality of our institution. It said that the university was alive and well.  We had taken a step in the direction of a more contemporary view of The University of Mississippi into a more. For once it felt good to be free from the old narratives of elitism and racism that have been at the forefront of public perception of the university. This was a glimmer of hope during  the summer of  2020, which looked bleak because of the coronavirus pandemic, economic instability, race fueled protests against police violence and an increased publishing of police violence all during the campaign season for the next President of America.

The movement of the statue sparked a short winded debate about narrative, history, heritage, racism and redress. What this article seeks to focus on is how collective identity and power are tied into this conversation.

Not even before the statue was moved, plans to reconfigure campus to make the Confederate memorial the new entrance had already been published and shared among student leaders. In the celebration of this victory, and in acknowledgement of all the other changes happening around us, there has not been much public discourse about the unveiling of this new campus.

I was appalled and jaded.  All the hard work and sacrifices of students, faculty, staff and administration who put in the effort to make a common Ole Miss experience possible was discarded ruthlessly. And after a bit more consideration, I thought that it happened effortlessly. Before the bliss had even subsided, a devastating reality set in. Whoever is on the opposite end of the fight was very influential.

This gave me an idea of the sort of iceberg the Flagship was dealing with. 

We are at a junction. This was a pivotal moment in history where we get an opportunity to redefine ourselves, to go against our legacy for  tolerance and perpetuation of racism because for the most part  we recognize the harm it does to our university. Those harms being to the internal social climate, safety and wellness of minority students, reputation as it affects recruitment, and overall development of our University into a diverse campus that steadily attracts the best and brightest even as it changes. 

We recognize that this is getting in the way and it does not represent us? What’s stopping us from shedding that influence on our campus? 

It seems like the campus is generally in aggreeance that racism from a donor should have consequences in reference to Ed Meek, that we no longer want this imagery of the Confederacy and racism on our campus. We removed the confederate battle symbol adorned state flag from campus in 2015. We relocated the statue to the Confederate memorial.   

There are separate powers at war within the University of Mississippi community that operate on very different ideological spectrums. That has opposing ideas of what the history of Ole Miss is. They also disagree fundamentally on what the future should look like.  

Trouble at Sea

The battle between conservative power and a growing liberal opinion on campus, has the University of Mississippi at odds with itself. It is becoming more apparent that the institutional restraints (such as conservative donor funding, alumni and political influence on university decisions and institutional leadership ) are not responsive to mass opinion from the university community. 

Even after months of doing a “Chancellor search” Glenn Boyce, who was once a consultant on the search is appointed by the Institution of Higher Learning, a governor appointed board that oversees the 9 public universities in Mississippi.  After years of protesting and uproar from student organizations like the Students Against Social Injustice (SASI), Black Student Union( BSU), National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and protests that brought national right wing counter protesters to Ole Miss.

In search of the validity of these observations, before I draw a final conclusion on what this means for the fate of Ole Miss, I reached out to a few people across the UM body to help me get some clarity on this.

The Flagship is going places, but Who’s Driving the Boat?

To learn more about the University of Mississippi Research Group

Tune into Part One of an exclusive conversation with law and history Professor Anne Twitty in response to this question, how to cope as a member of the UM community, and on the longterm influence of conservatism at the University of Mississippi.

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