One month ago, we learned that three University of Mississippi students posed with guns in front of a bullet-ridden memorial for Emmett Till. The marker memorializes the place where the body of Emmett Till, a black teenager who was lynched in Mississippi in 1955, was dumped.
In the aftermath, many folks have suggested that these students should be forced to enroll in certain history courses or complete some kind of community service.
As an educator, I believe in education. But I think the idea that we can ‘educate’ the racism out of these students is dead wrong.
Why? Because their actions weren’t the product of ignorance.
They didn’t bumble into that photo by accident. On the contrary, they worked extraordinarily hard to create it.
They made a plan to drive to the marker, either to use it as target practice themselves or to celebrate its vandalism. They gathered a shotgun and an AR-15. They mapped out where to find the marker. They got in their vehicles and drove an hour and a half from Oxford to the site. They searched for the marker in the dark. They waded through thick weeds and angled their trucks to ensure their headlights would illuminate them. They posed, grinning broadly and brandishing their weapons, while a fourth, unidentified person took the photo. Then they got back in their trucks and made the return trip to Oxford.
They spent enormous time and energy crafting that image. Does anyone actually believe that they ‘didn’t know’ what they were doing?
Don’t get me wrong, education is great. It can transform lives. But courses and community service can’t solve this problem because the problem isn’t that those students ‘didn’t know better.’
The problem is that they felt confident no one would hold them to account for their racism. And so far, the university has proved them right.
Anne Twitty is an associate professor of history at the University of Mississippi.