Oxford and Ole Miss

Posted on May 3 2013 - 8:10am by Emily Roland


Oxford, Miss., is home to about 20,000 people. Add the roughly 17,000 University of Mississippi students, and you’ve got the Oxford-university community.

“I hate that.”

Angela Barrett has been living in Oxford for four years with her family of four. She works as a music associate at First Baptist Church with her husband, Tom, who is the pastor of worship. Together, they wave college students in and out of the choir room doors, making name tags for worship folders and trashing them when they graduate and leave.

“I hate that — I hate to lose people,” she said. “I get attached, particularly at church in our music ministry. When they leave, it’s like a big hole.”

The couple met in college then traveled, together and apart, both touring with different music groups. Having lived in Boston, New York, Miami, St. Louis and Birmingham, the two have experienced an array of different towns and atmospheres.

“Within those cities are college towns, but not a small town. Not like this.”

Stephen Savell was born in this college town and hasn’t left since. He graduated from Oxford High School in 2009 and enrolled at The University of Mississippi that fall. His father, Ron, is the manager of IT Media and IT Labs on campus, so he gets half-off tuition at Ole Miss. Between that and a band scholarship, staying home for college was simply the smart thing to do financially.

So after 18 years, he decided to stay for a few more. This little college town was all he knew. Ole Miss and Oxford were one entity, one which held his friends, his family and his memories.

“I would trick or treat on campus as a child,” Savell recalled, smiling at the incident that separated him from his frantic parents. “I got lost twice in my Superman costume.”

He said the two girls whose door he wandered up to and knocked on were pretty, as far as he could remember. His parents eventually found him playing Go Fish in their dorm room.

Besides Halloween and the occasional trips to the Grove on game days, Savell most closely interacted with college students at church, until, of course, he became one of them.

“I enjoy it when students aren’t here, but it’s also pretty dull because most of my friends are students on campus that are only here throughout the two main terms.”

The paradox of the Oxford-university relationship is that each supports the other, and if one is gone or suppressed, the other is affected.

When Angela and Tom decided to stop touring for their music and settle down, Oxford was not exactly on their list of dream destinations. Each of their top five cities, however, did have one thing in common: They were all close to a university. So, when Oxford presented itself, Angela said they were just excited it was a college town.

“Part of the love we have for the town is the energy — is the vibe that the college students exhort.” She became excited at the thought. “They kind of keep things young and fresh.”

Like the young Savell, most of the Barretts’ interactions with the college students begins at church. Angela recalled writing names on tags before sticking them to the binding of worship folders. She’s become a pro at figuring out what size choir robe each newcomer needs.

“That’s one thing Tom and I feel called to do is to get in the lives of a lot of the college students,” she said. “I remember when I was in college — I was away from my family, I was alone — I wish I had somebody fighting for me, encouraging me. That’s what Tom and I want to give back.”

Despite their love for the students and the atmosphere they create, the time between the fall and spring semesters is a welcome break for both the university and the town.

“When they go home and town clears out, we like it for about a week. It’s quiet, there’s no traffic, there are no crazy drivers on the road — but we end up missing that vibe,” Angela said. “We’re always looking forward to students coming back because the atmosphere changes, and it’s more exciting.”

Six weeks during the winter and two months during the summer are reserved for Oxonians and the small population of students who stick around for intersession courses. The town is quiet and somewhat serene when the madness leaves at the end of each term. The Square is more inviting, the roads are less busy and parking isn’t nearly as big of an issue around town.

“It’s just more peaceful. You can actually have a conversation with somebody.”

Business marketing communications senior Patrick Moore has only been in Oxford for two years, having transferred from Meridian Community College in 2011. He lacks the bug that infects most people who venture into the small town — he came and plans to leave without heartache.

“Oxford is just a stepping stone. It’s a town where a whole bunch of people gather, and it’s a stepping stone for those people,” he said. “It’s just a small town with a bunch of people for 10 months out of the year.”

Oxford, Miss., is a town with a university. It’s a town and a university. It is a community.

“All of the people have come together in the town,” Angela said. “I have fallen in love with Oxford — I really have. And a lot of that has to do with the college community and the kids.”