To anyone worried about political correctness taking over college campuses across the country, I have a safe space for you. Sadly, for our university, that space is no other than our beloved Grove during tailgating season.
Saturday, what was supposed to be a celebration of college football became an ideal environment for racial tensions. The cause, of course, was the uncomfortable and divisive presence of the Mississippi state flag all over our tailgating grounds.
Stickers, flags of every size imaginable and even capes (yes, capes) displayed this symbol throughout the Grove. An astoundingly large number of people of all ages also carried the flag, in what appeared to be a statement against the most recent calls to replace the official symbol of this state.
Though Mississippi flags have been a common sight in the Grove, even after the university decided to remove them from our campus, anyone with some hope in humanity’s ultimate goodness would have expected fewer of them this year.
After the violent events in Charlottesville, Virginia, it seemed like America was starting to realize what had previously been clear to many historians and African-Americans: Confederate symbols in the public sphere are part of a strategy of racial terror. Still, many Ole Miss tailgaters showed little willingness to accept that.
Other tailgaters, who just expected to enjoy their day and root for their football team, observed masses of people proudly and carelessly waving a symbol of racial oppression.
This is not to say that everyone carrying one of those flags was an outspoken racist or bigot. Scenes of white tailgaters carrying flags and welcoming black tailgaters into their tents were common.
It was obvious, however, that the environment was way less welcoming to minorities than a regular day on our diverse campus. Besides the flags, extravagant dress code expectations and the exclusiveness of many tents serve to keep minorities away.
I know the university faces a dilemma when it comes to these flags: Many of the fans who crowd our Grove during game day are open supporters of what still remains the official state flag, so banning them could reduce support for the team and donations for the athletic department.
I’m also aware that enforcing such a ban, which so many tailgaters would oppose, would come with great difficulty.
Whether you like it or not, the media climate has grown more hostile toward Confederate symbols since Charlottesville. College football is a sport that receives great attention from the media, and it’s only a matter of time until ESPN, the SEC Network or any other outlet focuses on how Confederate symbols remain prevalent in Ole Miss’ game day.
I assume the image of last Saturday in the Grove is not one that our university would be proud of when trying to attract five-star recruits or a diverse student body.
Immediate action is necessary to avoid what many believe is the best game day in America turning into a giant, live-action Confederate monument.
Nothing is stopping the university from condemning the display of the state flag during game day with the strongest possible words. I encourage any conscious minds to abstain from tailgating until, at the very least, such action takes place.
Francisco Hernandez is a senior international studies major from Valencia, Spain.