The University of Mississippi’s NAACP chapter and College Democrats are drafting a resolution for the Associated Student Body senate to remove the Mississippi state flag from campus.
Chukwuebuka Okoye, president of the University’s NAACP chapter, said he hopes minds can be changed through dialogue by addressing the Confederate iconography on campus.
“It’s not something that we tolerate at all, and it’s preventing us from having a safe academic space,” Okoye said.
Because the University is a campus that includes many people from different backgrounds, Okoye said the flag is not an inclusive symbol, nor one he can connect with personally. It offends many on a personal level, according to Okoye.
“The creed requires us to respect the dignity of all people,” Allen Coon, president of College Democrats said. “Just having the flag on our campus is violating our creed.”
Coon said they feel the state flag has no place on our campus at all.
“It’s not representative of what we try to strive for as a university and It certainly does not represent our values,” Coon said.”We want to put pressure on ASB because this is an issue they need to address. It needs to come down.”
Coon said five of the state’s eight public universities still fly the state flag. The three Universities who do not fly the state flag are Jackson State University, Mississippi Valley State University and Mississippi State University, which voted to not fly the flag on campus in 2001, according to The Dispatch.
“I do not take any offense to pressure,” Brahan said. “That’s the purpose of the campus senate— to listen to the student body.”
Brahan said he is expecting some heated debate, tension and different opinions. Those types of debates are not problems, he said, they are just a part of the process. His job is to facilitate the debates, making sure they are fair.
“I think that it will be interesting to see the entire campus become engaged in an issue that can promote change on our campus,” Brahan said. “Seeing groups pressure senators into passing something, I think that this is good direction to take.”
Brahan said the votes will be anonymous unless someone motions to vote by roll call. Brahan said roll call voting is usually requested for a resolution like this, however.
This issue may never have arisen, Brahan said, if it were not for a system ASB recently implemented which increased diversity amongst senate seats through elected student organization representatives.
Coon said the issue is something that divides the University. He said many individuals will have a hard time letting go of these symbols, but it is an opportunity to present the University in a new light to the nation.
“This is our chance to be leaders. The positives I think certainly outweigh the negatives of ‘losing part of your heritage,’” Coon said. “Which in honesty, is pretty much a heritage based on hate and racial oppression.”
For him to come to the University, Okoye said he had to look outside of that symbol and start looking at other spaces. Okoye said he wants everyone to feel welcomed and comfortable on campus and not just by a particular group of people.
Okoye said he gets asked all of the time, “Why do you go to a university that you know is racist?”
He said he does not believe the campus is racist because of the number of inclusive opportunities it has to offer, but said it does have underlying racial tension.
“To remain inclusive, you are going to go through some hurdles,” Okoye said. “It’s how you overcome those hurdles.”
Coon said many people ask ‘Why is the flag an issue, when there are bigger issues to deal with?’
“When does this start being an issue?” Coon said. “It’s 2015. When do we start addressing this? We need to step to the plate.”
Coon said there are many universities with Confederate iconography, but Ole Miss’ is prominently set in front of one of the most iconic buildings of the University.
Although many universities remove these icons, Coon said he wants the University to contextualize them. Coon said this would maintain the importance of history without allowing it to continue to define the University. He said he feels uncomfortable when any kind of symbolism is directly tied to racial injustice.
“I always ask (critics), ‘Whose heritage is it’?,” Coon said. “If you’re really pushing for progress, and you care about and respect your fellow man and how he views things on this campus, then you’re going to be excited to finally see this symbol of oppression, symbol of racial apartheid and injustice come down.”
If this resolution passes and the flag is removed from campus, Okoye said it would be more than just a step in the right direction, he would even call it a leap.
“The minute we see it down, especially here on our flagship institution, that’s when we’re really just like ‘we’ve overcome,’” Okoye said. “It’s one checkmark for many more to come.”
Both the University of Mississippi College Democrats and the University of Mississippi’s NAACP chapter will release a statement today at noon regarding the Mississippi state flag and will host a rally on Oct. 7.