University administration, student groups respond to Confederate rally with forum, protests

Posted on Feb 19 2019 - 5:30am by Devna Bose

University administration and student groups are responding to the neo-Confederate “Mississippi Stands Rally” scheduled for Saturday afternoon with events planned throughout the week and on the day of the event.

Confederate 901 and the Hiwaymen, neo-Confederate groups not based in Mississippi, will organize in Oxford on Saturday afternoon to protest the removal and contextualization of Confederate symbolism in the university community.

This is an event to draw the line in the sand!!! For over a decade, the administration and faculty have completely disregarded and disrespected the traditions of a once great Southern university,” the event page states. “Enough is enough!!”

The university announced Monday afternoon that it will hold a “Community Conversation” on Wednesday to address the protests planned for later in the week and “how they fit into a larger context in today’s higher education landscape and how the university is preparing for events at the end of the week.”

A Confederate statue stands in the Lyceum Circle on campus. File photo by Billy Schuerman

The forum will include a “mix of university faculty and administrators,” including Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Brandi Hephner-LaBanc, School of Education chair and professor of higher education Neal Hutchens, UPD chief Ray Hawkins, university General Counsel Erica McKinley and Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Community Engagement Katrina Caldwell. It will be held from 3-5 p.m. in the Student Union Ballroom. All students, faculty and staff are welcome to attend.

“It is an important educational moment for our university community to address challenging issues in a manner that respects freedom of expression,” the statement 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.”

A goal of “providing a welcoming and inclusive campus climate” was repeated in a statement released on Monday morning by Interim Chancellor Larry Sparks in which he said that the university will be conducting a campus climate study during the coming year.

Larry Sparks became the interim chancellor of the University of Mississippi on Jan. 2, replacing Jeffery Vitter. File photo by Christian Johnson

“This is our chance to make a difference in the University of Mississippi’s future, our opportunity to make positive and lasting change and our avenue to help create a more inclusive campus,” Sparks said.

The “Mississippi Stands Rally” will begin at 1 p.m. at the Confederate statue on the Square and will continue to the Confederate statue in the Circle, where protesters will remain until 5 p.m., according to the event’s Facebook page, which was last updated Jan. 5. At the time of publication, 346 people have indicated that they are “interested” in attending the rally, with 88 marked as “going.”

An anti-Confederate counterrally in response has been organized for Saturday by senior marketing major Will Pipes. It will be on campus from 2-3 p.m. The groups of protesters will be separated by a 150-foot buffer zone, and the counterprotesters will leave in a staggered manner in order to avoid physical contact with the Confederate protesters, according to Pipes.

It seems that Secessionists never learn. Confederate 901 has decided to bring their outdated ideals to the University of Mississippi,” the counter protest’s Facebook page reads. “Unable to get over the fact that their ancestors lost a war 154 years ago, they foolishly believe that they will find safe-haven on the campus of Mississippi’s flagship university.”

The Facebook page for the “peaceful” anti-Confederate counterrally lists 58 people marked as “going” and 184 people “interested.”

University LGBTQ+ and minority organizations, including the UM Pride Network, the OUTLaw executive committee, SASI and the OUTGrads executive committee, released a joint statement on Friday, Feb. 15 condemning the Confederate protest and encouraging the community to do the same.

“Event organizers and attendees demonstrate their continued investment in white supremacy and white supremacist myths that devalue the lives and dismiss the experiences of African-Americans, Black people and people of color in the U.S.,” the statement reads.

According to the statement, the rally “glorifies and reifies white supremacist violence,” and the university organizations condemning the rally “stand in solidarity” with the minority and queer members of the university because “not one of us is free until all of us are free.”

A statement released by the University Police Department on Monday reiterated a previous statement from UPD on Feb. 13 that stated that the “external groups” that plan to march have no association with the university. The statement released on Feb. 18 said that there will be an “elevated law-enforcement presence on the march route,” both on and off the university campus through a collaboration between UPD and local and state law enforcement.

Ray Hawkins. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

The statement also states that UPD has met with the organizers of the groups who will be participating in the march and shared the university’s expectations concerning the manner of the marches in order to ensure a “safe environment for all.”

University Avenue will be closed to vehicular traffic near the Circle and Grove on Saturday, and the UPD statement encourages people to avoid the area.

“I want to stress that we are committed to maintaining a safe environment and have consulted with local and state law enforcement agencies drawing on their expertise and resources,” UPD chief Ray Hawkins said. “The best thing you can do to help keep our campus safe is to stay away from this area of campus on Saturday, Feb. 23.”

However, 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 Inn at Ole Miss 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.

Students Against Social Injustice has relocated a conference originally set to be held on the Ole Miss campus this weekend. The student group, which operates under the national United Students Against Sweatshops organization, initially planned to host a national convention for the USAS group in Oxford but will now hold the event in Memphis.

Students march to the Lyceum calling for the removal of the Confederate monument in the Circle on Nov. 28, 2018. File photo by Reed Jones

SASI president Quay Williams made it clear that they did not cancel their USAS convention in response to the Confederate-led protests. Rather, they did so because of a logistical error.

“We didn’t know all of the logistics that was required to do all of this,” Williams said. “We didn’t know we would have to do all of this paperwork to register through the university.”

SASI never officially registered their convention with the university, and they were not recognized as a registered student organization by the university until this semester. A university spokesperson declined to comment on the conference’s relocation.

The university released a mass email on Thursday, Feb. 14 stating that it will host a free personal safety and self defense course taught by longtime university Crime Prevention Coordinator Bishop Lewis on Wednesday, Feb. 20 from 12-1 p.m. at the Depot.

This is the first time a course like this has been offered to the public, and Lewis said the university reached out to him about teaching this course at the beginning of the semester.

“I don’t know that they planned (the timing of the course), but I think it’s well-timed,” he said. “I don’t know if it was planned or not.”

In the course, he will demonstrate “how to keep your space and how to keep people away from you,” though he doesn’t plan on teaching any “hands-on stuff.”

On Monday, the Black Student Union said in an email to its members that a joint march will be hosted by the university’s BSU, Gospel Choir, NAACP, Men of Excellence, E.S.T.E.E.M., National Pan-Hellenic Council, IMAGE and MAPS, on Thursday, Feb. 21 from 12:15-1:15 p.m. The silent protest will address the Confederate symbols on campus and “will be a pertinent reminder of the work that still needs to be done to move our university forward.”

Jarrius Adams, a member of the Gospel Choir, said that the march was planned prior to the announcement of the Confederate rally.

The march will begin at Lamar Hall and end at the Confederate statue.

The BSU is also hosting a joint meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 20 in the Student Union Ballroom to discuss the logistics of the march.