Protesting the protest: students, administration respond

Posted on Feb 20 2019 - 5:50am by Devna Bose and Grace Marion

Students and community members have organized a counterprotest against the rally planned by Confederate 901 and the Hiwaymen. The counterprotest’s leader plans for the march to be just as large as the pro-Confederate protest on Saturday.

Will Pipes, the organizer of the counterprotest and a senior marketing major, said the  counterprotest will occur in the Circle on campus from 2:30 until 3:30 p.m. on Saturday.

“I understand the ideal of ‘Don’t give them a reaction. Don’t give them the attention. Don’t give them the satisfaction.’ But I think, after a point, (the neo-Confederate groups) are doing this not necessarily to get a reaction or to get a rise out of people,” Pipes said. “They’re doing this because they feel safe.”

There are currently 59 people marked as planning to attend the counterprotest on the event’s Facebook page and 195 marked as interested in attending. There are 89 people marked as planning to attend the Confederate 901 protest and 352 marked as interested.

“Once you give people the infrastructure to offer up a voice and counterargument, they’ll jump on,” Pipes said.

He said the counterprotesters and protesters will be separated by a 150-foot “buffer zone” and that the counterprotesters plan to leave the Circle in an orderly manner.

“We designed the staggered exit to avoid actual physical contact with them,“ he said.

Other student organizations have scheduled similar events ahead of both the neo-Confederate rally and the counterprotest on Saturday.

Student minority groups are organizing a Black History Month March on Thursday to address the Confederate symbols on campus.

“(The march) will be a pertinent reminder of the work that still needs to be done to move our university forward,” an email sent from the Black Student Union to its members read.

Students Against Social Injustice is organizing a protest against “Confederate glorification” on Friday at 3 p.m. starting at Lamar Hall.

The university announced Monday afternoon that it will hold a “Community Conversation” on Wednesday to address the protests planned for later in the week. Several university administrators officials and administrators will answer students’ and faculty members’ questions at the forum regarding the protest.

“It is an important educational moment for our university community to address challenging issues in a manner that respects freedom of expression,” a statement about the event reads. “Further, we know these events are causing anxiety and concern among members of our university community, and we want to provide a supportive community environment to address those concerns.”

The University Police Department has made preparations with local and state law enforcement agencies in advance of the events and marches.

“The best thing you can do to help keep our campus safe is to stay away from this area of campus on Saturday,” UPD chief Ray Hawkins said in an announcement on Monday.

There are several events scheduled for Saturday in addition to the protests. Vice Chancellor of Intercollegiate Athletics Ross Bjork will be speaking at a town hall event at The Manning Center at 12:30 p.m., the Ole Miss men’s basketball team will play Georgia at home at 2:30 p.m. at The Pavilion and Junior Preview Day, which typically brings hundreds of prospective students to campus, is scheduled for the same day.

Oxford Mayor Robyn Tannehill expects that the weekend will be peaceful, considering all of the planning that has gone into preparing for it, but still encouraged those present to be mindful of their actions.

“People are watching to see how we respond in these types of events,” Tannehill said. “I’m not sure that the light that Mississippi is painted in is always correct or flattering, but I do think that Oxford has the opportunity to show the rest of the world how great Mississippi can be.”

The Oxford Police Department and Lafayette County Sheriff’s Office could not be reached for further comment about how they are preparing for the rallies on Saturday.