Students and faculty who attended Tuesday night’s mandatory meeting regarding the Oct. 1 production of “The Laramie Project” said the dialogue session was productive. The meeting was recommended by the university’s Bias Incident Response Team (BIRT) as a result of its investigation into the discriminatory slurs and open disruption of the play, which is about an openly gay college student who was murdered in Wyoming in 1998.
“I thought the meeting went very well,” said Jennifer Stollman, academic director at the William Winter Institute for Racial Recognition and facilitator of the meeting. “I was extremely impressed with the way that members of individual groups were willing to share their individual perceptions.”
After The Daily Mississippian reported the incident in the Oct. 3 issue, Stollman developed a lesson plan for the meeting. The lesson plan was based on a process called restorative justice, an approach which fosters discussion among all stakeholders involved to help prevent another similar incident from happening again.
At last night’s meeting, five groups of 20-25 students made up of victims, offenders and other university stakeholders involved in the incident discussed what happened Oct. 1 in Meek Auditorium.
“Basically, with this approach, all members of the community are held accountable,” Stollman said. “Instead of blaming the offenders, we ask and consider what caused the offenders to act that way.”
Before last night’s meeting, Director of Public Relations Danny Blanton informed two DM photographers and a reporter that attending the meeting and photographing or interviewing anyone who attended would violate the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. The DM contacted Student Press Law Center Director Frank LoMonte, who said a photographer or reporter’s presence outside the building did not violate FERPA.
While no authorized university officials were available Tuesday night to provide a specific number of students who attended the meeting, Stollman said “a large percent of the play’s participation” was in attendance.
Garrison Gibbons, the only gay cast member of the play and attendee of last night’s meeting, believes the meeting was productive.
“Honestly, I had my reservations going in, but I left the meeting truly blessed to be a part of this campus,” Gibbons said. “I think we all want to move on from the event and continue working towards equality and acceptance as a university.”
The meeting was encouraged as a first step by the BIRT committee in its report released Friday evening. BIRT Co-Chair Merrill Magruder believes last night’s meeting was a good way to move forward as a university.
“I think (the meeting) is a great first step,” Magruder said. “(BIRT) will continue meeting as a team, but (last night’s) work with the Ole Miss community was a great way to foster dialogue and to work together to celebrate and support diversity on campus.”