The name of Vardaman Hall will be changed and seven other sites on campus will be altered or contextualized, the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on History and Context said Monday.
The committee is currently taking recommendations for the contextualization of Lamar Hall, Barnard Observatory, Longstreet Hall and George Hall, with a deadline of the semester’s end to submit their final recommendations.
Antebellum sites such as the Lyceum, Barnard Hall, Croft and Hilgard Cut are also being considered for contextualizing because they were each built by enslaved people. These sites were determined during phase one of the committee’s charge, which took recommendations through its website starting in August. The committee received 45 buildings or places recommended for change. In phase one, members of the committee gathered these recommendations and researched each of them in order to form an opinion on whether it needed contextualization. The committee met eight times last semester.
The committee was met with many questions from the the 50 or so students, faculty and community members in the listening session.
Several students posed questions to Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter who, after opening up the meeting and hearing the introductions led by members of the committee, left.
“This is something that would be more appropriately directed to Chancellor Vitter, but … I think in the future the chancellor should consider that it’s not always about who has the most pull in the community but who has the most knowledge to commit to the project,” Tysiana Marino, a senior public policy leadership major and president of the university chapter of the NAACP, said. “To reach more people should not be that big of a pull for him (Vitter).”
Jonathan Lovelady, freshman business management major who asked several questions at the meeting, said he felt his questions could have been better answered had the chancellor been there.
“If the chancellor was here, (my question) would have been answered,” Lovelady said.
One of Lovelady’s final questions was about the organization of the committee. Who has the final say in whether a building is contextualized or not? Lovelady asked.
“The chancellor,” said Donald Cole, provost for academic affairs, who answered the majority of the questions.
The meeting was recorded on video, and several students took notes; Cole said these materials would be given to Vitter after the meeting.
Marino also asked why some buildings were chosen above others.
Cole said these buildings were only what the committee had determined to be the most necessary changes.
“It’s very difficult for me to give a precise threshold of which a building might be renamed,” Cole said.
Ashkan Asghari, a freshman marketing major, only asked one question during the meeting, but he asked it three times.
“This question is repeated once again. I did not get an answer last time I asked it,” Asghari said. “Is the student body – each and every student at Ole Miss – going to have a chance to vote on this or not?”
Asghari said he felt his question was not answered.
“The participants who chose to answer my question basically said, ‘Not always does the majority need their voices heard – it depends on the situation,’” Asghari said. “I’m not for or against the names. I’m just looking for the voices of the students being heard. My parents come from a very closed country, Iran, which is a dictatorship. No one has a vote there, basically. I just don’t want to see that.”
Ty Deemer, a freshman public policy leadership major and member of the ASB Senate, said he understood that a school-wide vote was not feasible but asked if the issue could instead be put to a Senate vote.
“At the end of the day, you have one person representing 18,000 students. It’s hard to get all these opinions through one person. Can’t we do what the ASB Senate is outlined to do?” Deemer said. “At this point, people on both sides of the issue aren’t happy. Nobody is being heard. There is no discussion. It doesn’t matter what side you stand on; you want to be heard.”
Jennifer Stollman, academic director of the William Winter Institute of Racial Reconciliation, said it was not the “committee’s charge to decide if the students get a vote or not.”
Several others asked about the level of student involvement and why there were so few students on the committee.
“This is the first time I actually heard that the chancellor chose the members of the committee,” Allen Coon, an ASB senator and junior public policy leadership major, said. “I just want to clarify that there were two students who were nominated with the expertise requested … I just find it surprising that two students nominated by the student body to serve the committee and neither were chosen.”
There is only one student on the committee: Austin Powell, current Associated Student Body president. Students directed many of their questions about student involvement to him.
Powell said students who want a voice should become involved in ASB or speak to their representatives. Powell said that similarly to how citizens rely on their representatives in state and national governments, concerned students should come to their student representatives so their opinions and stances are known.
Another common concern among students was first posed by Terrence Johnson, a journalism major.
“Is this process more so about education and contextualizing everything, or is it more so, honestly, about appeasement?” Johnson said. “If we are this flagship institution … we need to be honest about our history.”
Cole told the audience meetings like the listening session gave the committee enough input to make the contextualization meaningful and not just an appeasement.
The university’s primary moniker, Ole Miss, was raised as a possible subject of contextualization or change, but Cole said it was not currently on the table.
Bryan Kessler, a graduate student in the history department, said he was concerned the deadline for the contextualization committee was so early. He warned that speed can often lead to haste.
Kessler also said he was concerned the committee would consider the university’s reputation too much when making the decision to contextualize a building.
The next listening session will be held at 6:30 p.m. March 23 in the Burns-Belfry Museum on Jackson Avenue. Until then, a forum has been opened at context.olemiss.edu for community members to submit input to the committee. This forum will close March 31.