This guest column is partially in response to Will Hall’s column “NBC article misrepresents campus” published Monday.
Game days at the University of Mississippi are unlike any other sporting event in the country. The centerpiece of these festivities, the Grove, is a vibrant and legendary part of our beloved university that people from across the nation come to experience. While the Grove is a place of good-times-had for many people, it is also a place of discomfort and alienation for others.
When I walk through the Grove each game day, I cannot help but notice the overwhelming number of state flags and Confederate flags draped from tents, held by passersby and emblazoned on clothing by numerous stickers. Unfortunately, I have not been the only student to notice, and these emblems are negatively affecting our students and their families.
One student shared with me that his family was visiting our university for the first time on a game day, and the first part of campus they saw was the Grove, which was covered with Confederate flags and emblems. The student was horrified that his family, instead of being welcomed to our university in a positive way, was greeted by Confederate symbols and the impression that his family was not welcome here. He said he refuses to go back to the Grove to this day.
Likewise, another student told me that she had encountered a distraught international student in the Grove. When she asked why the girl was upset, the girl said she felt overwhelmed and threatened by the Confederate and state flags.
These are only two experiences among numerous others that have been shared with me, and I find them troubling for a number of reasons.
First, our university Creed states we believe in “respect for the dignity of each person.” These symbols, no matter how one may perceive them, are an affront to many minority groups and their allies on campus. How, then, can we as a student body claim to respect others if some students actively participate in actions that make our fellow students feel unwelcome or unsafe?
Secondly, these flags and emblems are widely perceived, and rightly so, as symbols of racism, bigotry, hatred and oppression regardless of what they may mean to some in the South. With this in mind, are these the symbols that we want first-time visitors to our university to encounter? Are they truly representative of what we, as students at the University of Mississippi, believe? The answer to both of those questions should be a resounding no.
On Nov. 27, a student expressed in a column that he has “never known division in the Grove on a Saturday afternoon.” I would like to invite this student to step outside of the Grove and hear what a considerable number of students think about it. While it may be a welcoming environment for some students, numerous others find that not to be the case due to the presence of state flags and Confederate flags.
Instead of highlighting a symbol of oppression in our game day traditions, let’s highlight our university community and the people who make it special. Our students are compassionate, intelligent, ambitious, creative, thoughtful and so much more.
We have outstanding faculty and staff who go out of their way to help our students in any way they can. Our university has one of the nation’s top accounting programs, played a role in proving Einstein’s theory of gravitational waves and now ranks among the country’s top 2.5 percent of universities as a Carnegie R1 research institution.
Let’s strive to make those characteristics and accolades the first things visitors see and hear about our university community instead of a symbol that portrays us as uneducated, hateful and unwelcoming to difference. Let’s make the Grove a place where everyone feels welcome and where everyone wants to participate in our game day festivities.
To make the Grove such a place of welcoming, we must accept that some of our traditions are harming students and the university as a whole. We must thoroughly examine those traditions and ask ourselves if they truly represent everyone. We must strive to replace exclusive or harmful traditions with new ones that all of our students can appreciate together.
More importantly, we must look around us on campus and in the Grove and take notice of who is missing. Together, let’s make our campus a better place for everyone.
Levi Bevis is a junior public policy leadership major from Florence, Alabama.