The University of Mississippi is at a crossroads. With Ed Meek’s name coming down from the journalism school, it would be easy to proclaim that racism has been vanquished and inclusion upheld. But while such closure is convenient, it ignores the fact that Ed Meek’s despicable racism is only a symptom of a much bigger problem.
This university, which was founded on white supremacy, remains complicit in its continuance. The campus is carpeted in both overt and subtle symbols of oppression. And these symbols translate into substance, paving the way for today’s discriminatory policies.
As Phil Ochs wrote in his 1964 song “Here’s to the State of Mississippi,” “the rudiments of hatred are present everywhere” on this campus. From the Confederate monument to Ventress Hall, the University Greys are memorialized in a number of prominent locations. One of the most frequented buildings on campus still bears the name of the rabid white supremacist L.Q.C. Lamar, who penned Mississippi’s Ordinance of Secession. This document proclaimed, “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery — the greatest material interest of the world,” and declared that “by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun.” These quotes are somehow not included in the text of the contextualization plaque that now stands outside the building. Nor did Lamar repent later. Far from being a “profile in courage,” he spent his postwar career fighting against civil rights.
Trent Lott’s racist characterizations of Iraqis — as well as his remarks praising the segregationist Dixiecrat Strom Thurmond — should have prevented him from becoming the namesake of the university’s public policy leadership program.
This type of whitewashing creates an atmosphere that is far from conducive to equity or diversity. Many of the university’s policies — including its allocation of financial aid and scholarships, criteria for admission and hiring and compensation practices for faculty and staff — perpetuate patterns of discrimination and exclusion.
This is particularly important, given that the University of Mississippi, as a public institution, has an obligation to serve all of the citizens of this state. Yet, Mississippi has the largest gap between the percentage of African-American students graduating from high schools in the state and the percentage of these students who enroll at the flagship university — 40 points — of any state. I believe that the unfriendly and even hostile culture on this campus, coupled with a lack of institutional support and representation, is the chief cause of this gap.
Racism is a symptom of white supremacy. Ed Meek’s actions do not stand alone as a unique example of racism and misogyny. Now that we’ve removed one obstacle to achieving a better and more welcoming university, let’s go for the rest.
Jaz Brisack is a senior general studies major from Oxford.