Moving the University of Mississippi forward

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 10, 2014

The effort by University of Mississippi officials to distance the school from its flawed history and put renewed focus on increasing diversity and cultural offerings is a step in the right direction.
However, whenever the school attempts to distance itself from images tied inherently to a legacy of discrimination, it is met with the ire of many of the school’s graduates and fans.
The banning of the Confederate Flag at games in 1997— ostensibly on the basis of safety due to the danger presented by “sticks” — was the first step.
While the move was met with resistance, 17 years later, the Grove still exists, Vaught Hemingway continues to be packed out and generations alike flock to the University.
Moreover, the idea of bringing the flags back, less than one generation since their removal, would be viewed as backwards and ridiculous by most fans, students and graduates.
Many have seen the arguments floating around social media that just a few UM professors are prompting this change. Their argument? Most Ole Miss fans and students don’t support the changes, which include downplaying the informal name of the university.
Aside from the obvious logical fallacy about what the majority wants — argumentum ad populum — that “majority” has been on the wrong side of history since the 1962 riots on campus in response to James Meredith’s enrollment.
We understand what a school can mean, and a visit to UM during the football season shows how important it is to those fans.
The most vocal opponents to moving the university forward, however, see these changes as a microcosm of what they perceive to be a larger problem — increasing awareness about cultural perceptions.
Outside of the Deep South, the little bit that most Americans have heard about Ole Miss comes whenever a student hangs a noose around a civil rights statue or shout racial epithets after the election of Barack Obama. Why is that? A pre-existing narrative.
Whether it’s the traditionalists who see their way of life under attack or it’s the media covering Ole Miss — the history of racial discrimination and symbol that Ole Miss was to Ross Barnett and other staunch segregationists is neither something to embrace nor sweep under the rug.
Acknowledging that past and insisting on moving forward is the only way the university will be able to change those perceptions.

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