There are many Ole Miss fans who can’t/won’t understand why the school’s administration has worked so hard to distance itself from the racial strife of the 1960s and the school’s own symbolic ties to the 1860s. Many wondered aloud why ESPN chose to run “Ghosts of Ole Miss,” a documentary about UM’s racially-charged 1962 football season, in the middle of the 2012 season.
Here’s the reason: Because when your nickname is Rebels, you’re located in the heart of the old Confederacy, and you still have racial issues on campus… it’s a problem. For the school. For athletic recruiting.
It’s a problem.
In case you’re unaware, “Hundreds of Ole Miss students exchanged racial epithets and violent, politicized chants in response to the announcement of the re-election of President Barack Obama” on Tuesday night. That according to Ole Miss’ student newspaper and its website. “What began as an argument around midnight quickly spread across campus,” the paper reported.
University police had to respond to a yanked fire alarm (big deal) and crowds gathering at different areas on campus, including the Grove. “UPD responded and forcibly dispersed the crowd,” according to the report.
University chancellor Dan Jones also put out a statement about the incident:
University police were notified by students shortly before midnight Tuesday that Twitter chatter was indicating students were gathering near the student union to protest the results of the election. The officers found 30-40 students gathered in front of the union, and over the next 20 minutes the gathering had grown to more than 400 students, many of whom were chanting political slogans. The crowd was ordered to disperse by university police, and after about 25 minutes students had returned to residence halls. About 100 students gathered again at one hall, and university police dispersed the group and made two arrests for disorderly conduct, including one for public intoxication and one for failure to comply with police orders.
“While we are grateful that there were no injuries and there was no property damage, we are very disappointed in those students who took a very immature and uncivil approach to expressing their views about the election,” said University of Mississippi Chancellor Dan Jones. “The gathering seems to have been fueled by social media, and the conversation should have stayed there.”
“Unfortunately, early news reports quoted social media comments that were inaccurate. Too, some photographs published in social media portrayed events that police did not observe on campus. Nevertheless, the reports of uncivil language and shouted racial epithets appear to be accurate and are universally condemned by the university, student leaders and the vast majority of students who are more representative of our university creed.”
Jones said, “Parents are being notified that it’s a normal day on campus and that one of America’s safest campuses is safe again this morning, though all of us are ashamed of the few students who have negatively affected the reputations of each of us and of our university. We are initiating a thorough review of this incident to determine the facts and any follow-up actions that may be necessary.”
Jones said, “We are reminding our students of relevant statements within the university 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.”
Meanwhile, football coach Hugh Freeze took issue with the fact that the student paper initially called the incident a riot:
“When I woke up and found out that the reports were false. … I immediately got with our coaches and we tried to find out the truth of what really happened and get that out…
Disappointed in the 30 or 40 that gathered to do whatever they were going to call that, demonstration. Which, by the way, happened at a lot of places across the nation and not just Ole Miss. And very disappointed in our local media that took it upon themselves to run with it and make it into something that it wasn’t. We’re our own worst enemy when we do those kind of things… That’s frustrating. Obviously when the social media hit, the other 200-300 came to watch and see what’s going on. Again, I don’t condone any of the action. Whoever the president of our United States is, is who I’m going to give honor to.”
The key line in all of that: “We’re our own worst enemy when we do those kind of things.” Without question.
The fight over changing the on-field mascot — who gives a damn about a fuzzy cartoon character for kids? — from an old Southern gentleman/plantation-owner stereotype to a black bear brought national attention to Ole Miss for all the wrong reasons.
During Houston Nutt’s era, a tiny KKK rally attended by a handful of dimwits brought national attention to Ole Miss for all the wrong reasons.
When UM’s administration had to ban the playing of the song “From Dixie With Love” because students added their own “The South will rise again” chant to the ditty’s end it also brought national attention to Ole Miss for all the wrong reasons.
These actions by a few — a few of the tens of thousands of students on Ole Miss’ campus — aren’t helping the school in its efforts to put its past behind it. They aren’t helping the coaches on the Ole Miss campus who have to explain to minority recruits that just because there are KKK rallies, neo-Confederate chants, and now race-driven dust-ups on campus from time to time, no, there aren’t any real race issues at UM. That’s not an easy sell, folks.
According to The Jackson Clarion-Ledger Ole Miss commitment Mark Dodson, Jr. of Memphis tweeted yesterday morning about the election night issue:
“Having thoughts about them riots last night at Ole Miss, don’t feel safe (about) that.”
Are there still some pea-brained racists on every college campus in America? Yep. Are there racists of every color? Sure.
But Ole Miss has associated itself for the past century with the Civil War and all that goes with it. It’s a school located in a state that just 50 years ago was at the forefront of America’s race battles. A racially-charged incident at the University of Mississippi — big or small, regardless of who starts it or how heated it becomes — will always get more attention than any other similar issue that might or might not go on elsewhere. Get used to it.
No doubt, the vast majority of Rebel fans are tired of seeing their school connected to Old South racism. Unfortunately for them, it’s a small minority of Rebel fans and students who keep the spotlight burning bright on the school’s struggle to break with the past and move forward.