University responds to ‘The Laramie Project’ incident

Posted on Oct 4 2013 - 7:43am by Adam Ganucheau

chancellor Dan Jones speaks with theater department chair rene Pulliam during a reception for LGBTQ month Thursday.
Photo by Phillip Waller

Multiple entities of The University of Mississippi worked to respond to “The Laramie Project” incident that occurred Tuesday night in the Meek Auditorium. After the publication of yesterday’s front-page article in The Daily Mississippian, attention was brought to what one theater faculty member called “borderline hate speech” and homophobic slurs made by a mostly student audience at the theater department’s production.

Thursday morning, the university’s Bias Incident Response Team, a committee of about five faculty members, met to gather facts about Tuesday night.

“As chairs of the committee, we have been in communication with the theater department and the athletics department,” Val Ross and Merrill Magruder, co-chairs of the committee, wrote in an email sent to The DM yesterday. “Currently BIRT is still in the fact-finding stage. We are working diligently to speak with all individuals involved or associated with the event.”

Ross said the BIRT is working to develop a detailed report of the theater incident to send to Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Brandi Hephner LaBanc, but a timetable for the committee’s completion is not set.

The DM learned after initial investigation of the incident that an estimated 20 football players were in attendance at the play as well. The play’s director Rory Ledbetter said that “(the football players) were definitely the ones who seemed to initiate others in the audience to say things, too.”

While no official statement was released by the university’s Department of Athletics Wednesday or Thursday, head football coach Hugh Freeze tweeted Thursday morning: “We certainly do not condone any actions that offend or hurt people in any way. We are working with all departments involved to find the facts.”

The university released an open letter signed by Chancellor Dan Jones and Athletics Director Ross Bjork Thursday condemning the offensive behavior of the students in attendance at the Meek Auditorium Tuesday. The entire letter can be found on the front page of The DM.

The William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation, which has been active after previous controversial incidents on campus, also made plans to help prevent another incident like Tuesday’s from happening on campus.

“(Thursday) we offered services with respect to the strategy of restoration justice, which is when we sit down with all stakeholders involved in a situation and develop a plan to prevent it from happening again,” said Jennifer Stollman, Winter Institute academic director.

Stollman said she sent a lesson plan to the athletics department and professors of EDHE 105, a freshman-level class that introduces freshmen to important aspects of college life at Ole Miss.

“While we are currently under no authority and haven’t been mandated by the university at this time, I’m hopeful that (the lesson plan) could be useful to the professors that might not necessarily know how to begin conversations with students about topics like this,” she said. “This is certainly a learning moment for the university.”

Tuesday night’s incident occurred just two weeks after the inaugural UM Creed Week, which celebrates the University Creed. Next week is the university’s previously scheduled Pride Week, which will include recognition of National Coming Out Day on Oct. 11. Additionally, October is LGBTQ month, and the Office of the Dean of Students hosted a reception at Bryant Hall Thursday evening honoring the month.