Last week, students, faculty and staff sifted through confusing communiqué and endeavored to make informed decisions about whether it was safe to come to their place of work and study. Meanwhile, students organized to condemn the white supremacist march and the statue.
Student groups collaborated on open letters to the administration, and a separate letter garnered over 225 signatures in just six days. On Thursday evening, the University of Mississippi Gospel Choir raised a Black Power fist at the word “brave” while singing the national anthem at a women’s basketball game. More than 150 students, faculty and staff marched against the statue over two days. Others fled Oxford for the weekend, some students at the request of their concerned parents. According to an article published in The Daily Mississippian, some now doubt whether they will return next semester.
Finally, as white supremacists marched on Saturday, eight university basketball players at the nearby Pavilion knelt during the national anthem in protest. Both head coach Kermit Davis and athletic director Ross Bjork issued statements supporting their players’ decision. Davis said the protest “was all about the hate groups that came to our community to try to spread racism and bigotry.” Bjork added that “we don’t want them on our campus. … that’s not right because that’s not the Ole Miss that I know.”
But this group of hate–spewing neo-Confederates did not choose just any campus or weekend. They reacted to a student group, Students Against Social Justice (SASI), that has called on the administration to remove the Confederate monument and adopt a hate speech policy. Earlier this year, SASI announced plans for a Students Against Sweatshops convention to be held on Feb. 23. The white supremacists made their decisions in order to threaten those students, a fact university officials have ignored. Narratives about outside agitation obscure the real reason our community was threatened. Those narratives avoid the everyday violence of this symbol of hate and white supremacy at our doorstep. It started here.
The most courageous decisions to organize and protest for racial justice were made by students and student-athletes. Those who remained silent or minimized or misdirected attention from our campus were highly compensated administrators and coaches. Those making the most money showed the least amount of courage this past week, while our least-compensated and most-vulnerable showed the most.
This is not surprising. The statue glorifies those who fought to maintain slavery, an economic system of racialized labor exploitation, or “racial capitalism.” This same system today shields white administrators from accountability to vulnerable students and employees while entrenching racial hierarchies. The Confederate rally did not originate outside of our campus. It was born from it, and it sought to uphold the same values and the same system from which our administrators benefit.
As our million-dollar head basketball coach and athletic director divert attention to the hate off campus that they “don’t recognize,” the players who made the courageous stand against that hate receive no compensation for their labor and time. As unpaid (indeed, tuition-paying) students in SASI, BSU, the NAACP, University of Mississippi Pride Network, OUTgrads, OUTlaw and campus ministry groups called out white supremacy by its name, six-figure salaried campus administrators sought to accommodate it. Predominantly white institutions like ours use non-white people and their labor to accumulate value, both economic and social. In times of crisis, they use that labor to protect their own capital and condemn the most obvious symbols of hate as “not us.”
Until our campus reckons with its most prominent symbol to racial capitalism — the Confederate statue — and the system that undergirds it, official statements about our values and commitments remain milquetoast. We must address the relationship between unpaid and underpaid labor on our campus — predominantly by black students, student-athletes and staff — and the statue that venerates that economic system. Our campus community has made it clear: Until the statue is gone, we will not feel safe, welcomed or able to work productively here. We demand that the university take immediate action to remove the statue from campus. It must start here.