The university’s Extended Sensitivity and Respect Committee released a report Tuesday that makes recommendations to improve the campus’ racial climate, including changing the names of two campus buildings and striving to support campus symbols that represent all people on campus.
Following the Nov. 6, 2012, election night protest, Chancellor Dan Jones challenged the committee to study race relations with the goal of improving the racial climate on campus. Jones wrote a response letter to the report and listed individual implementation plans for each of the 12 main recommendations.
“It is always important to stop and take the measure of our progress and what work remains,” said Susan Glisson, member of the committee and Executive Director of the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation. “This process has been important in illuminating areas that still need more work and helps to provide a road map for proceeding.”
One of the specific actions the committee suggested will be visually apparent to anyone on Ole Miss’ campus. The committee recommended to rename Vardaman Hall, and to consider renaming the Paul B. Johnson Ballroom, which is more familiarly known as the Johnson Commons. James K. Vardaman and Paul B. Johnson, Jr. were both Mississippi politicians who openly promoted white supremacy.
Additionally, university symbols were mentioned in the report. Committee Co-chair and Assistant Provost Donald Cole said the committee’s discussions and inclusion of that section of the report was “in some ways controversial itself.”
“Campus symbols, particularly those that became associated with the university during Jim Crow segregation and the resistance to civil rights (e.g., the Confederate monument, Rebels, Colonel Rebel/Colonel Reb and Dixie) are a source of contention among different members of the university community,” the report states. “UM should strive to support symbols that represent all on our campus.”
In Jones’ response to the divisive symbols section, he wrote: “A consultant will be engaged to help with this review; this process will be begun in the first half of this academic year with a goal of beginning the review within the academic year.”
The committee is a standing university committee, but Jones appointed additional members to the committee after the election night protest, including students.
Cole said that there is no connection between the timing of the report’s release and this week’s UM Pride Week, Racial Reconciliation Week or the incident at the showing of the Oct. 1 performance of “The Laramie Project.” Once the committee finished its report and recommendations, it then submitted the report to Chancellor Dan Jones for approval.
“We (as a committee) took whatever time that was needed to produce a quality product,” said Cole, “(Jones) said that it was a quality product. I sure hope that it is, but time will tell.”
Another main issue addressed in the report involves freshman experience and the way race is addressed to new students on campus – something Cole says the committee agreed on 100 percent.
“I’m excited about the work around improving the freshman experience and in introducing the importance of learning to be respectful in a diverse world to students who may not have been in very diverse environments before,” Glisson said.
ASB President Gregory Alston served as a student representative to the committee. He stated that while no specific actions have been taken to enact the committee’s recommendations, he has a positive, optimistic outlook for the committee’s mission.
“The report was needed,” Alston said. “It addresses issues that were brought up here at the university, and the community did a great job in producing this report. The university will benefit in moving forward.”
Adam Ganucheau contributed to this report.