I have lived in Oxford for a short two months, and the problems facing black students on campus have already become apparent to me.
Like many honors freshmen, I spent one of my days this semester in the Union reading Ghosts of Mississippi, the account of the integration of Ole Miss. It was hard for me to imagine what is now a seemingly peaceful, kind campus as a war zone fueled by racism.
I went about my day imagining the horror that took place on the campus I now call home fewer than 60 years ago. To be honest, it was pretty unsettling. I tried to think of it the same way many others have explained it to me, as a time past, some even saying there is too much focus on it now, detracting from other issues.
As a white male, this seemed rather reasonable to me. Sure, there were the occasional rebel flags, but I only thought of those as inconsiderate. That was all before I got a text about a protest going on at the Lyceum.
As soon as I got the message, I looked up the Facebook post causing the uproar, as well as the chancellor’s original response.
I was horrified.
Perhaps just as distressing as the post itself was the lack of pushback on the issue. Racism seemed alive and well at the University of Mississippi; not calling racism unacceptable made us complicit in it.
Then I went to the Lyceum to see what was actually going on, and what I saw when I arrived was beautiful. There were students of multiple ethnicities all sitting together, peacefully working to make all students feel safer in our community.
I talked to one of the leaders of the protest, asking her what other students should do to make campus a better place for everyone. She responded with two main points that I think everyone on campus, from Chancellor Vitter to myself, should take to heart.
Do not allow racism to be acceptable in your sphere of influence. This is especially important for privileged people, because it’s generally in privileged communities that racism abounds unchecked. When racism becomes acceptable in friend groups, it becomes acceptable in the campus atmosphere. When it becomes acceptable in the campus atmosphere, it becomes acceptable in campus leadership. When it becomes acceptable in campus leadership, it becomes systemic racism.
Educate yourself on people of color and their past. The original Facebook post originated from someone who was angry at the indignation of the Black Lives Matter protests.
Perhaps if he had understood the long battle that people of color have fought in our country to simply be treated as humans, he would empathize more with the outrage of racism that is still present in our nation.
Being a bystander is unacceptable. If we want to eliminate these attitudes from our community, we must make sure our values are upheld in every part of campus, starting with our conversations.
Daniel Payne is a freshman integrated marketing communications major from Collierville, Tennessee.