University of Mississippi students gathered in front of the James Meredith statue on campus on Tuesday. Members of the Ole Miss community were invited to meet at the statue at 3:30 p.m. in response to an incident that occurred Sunday morning when the University Police Department found a rope noose and a pre-2003 Georgia state flag draped around Meredith’s statue.
Two UM seniors, one black, one white, organized what they called a “people protest” after being inspired by their African American Studies professor Bryan Cooper Owens.
“We had a discussion about how we felt about what happened to the statue,” senior journalism major Jonece Dunigan said. “We decided we were going to have a peaceful protest to show that we are Ole Miss.”
Senior general studies major Ashley Cummins reached out to Dunigan after being moved and upset by the class discussion.
“The people that did this are part of us,” Cummins said. “It hurt my feelings to be associated with that.”
Dunigan and Cummins brought markers and blank posters for people to decorate at the gathering.
“This is a reaction to what took place over the weekend, and an anti-statement to (the incident) is being made by the student presence here today,” said Donald Cole, assistant to the chancellor for multicultural affairs.
Cooper Owens said Dunigan’s idea for the protest stemmed from his class discussion that allowed students to talk about their reaction to both the incident and their reaction the university’s non-response.
“Until the university begins to address the real issues of systemic institutionalized racism on this campus, until they begin to take seriously the environment of white supremacy that exists on this campus, we will continue to see incidents like this,” Cooper Owens said.
“If there is a pattern, it is no longer individuals,” Cooper Owens said in regards to those responsible for “symbolically lynching” the James Meredith statue, a campus representation of unity and courage amongst whites and blacks. “We can’t say it was ‘these outsiders’ — no, it was us.”
A crowd of about fifty to eighty students, black and white, gathered at Meredith’s statue.
ASB Senate met Tuesday as a whole body to discuss the incident itself and potential actions to be taken in response.
Vice President Morgan Gregory said she felt meeting together to reflect on the university’s history and mission, rather than dividing into regularly scheduled committee meetings, best served student constituents.
“We have a responsibility to the university, to our classmates and to the value of our education to do something about this,” Gregory said of the Senate’s willingness to discuss potential solutions to the incident. “An attitude of intolerance may well be unchangeable overnight, over a week or month, but we have to start somewhere. And, the more we fight now, the quicker acceptance can hopefully become our full reality.”