Over the past four months, leaders of the Associated Student Body, the Black Student Union, the university chapter of the NAACP and other student organizations have regularly met with Chancellor Glenn Boyce to discuss the problems they see at the University of Mississippi and the solutions they want to implement.
“The chancellor is very open to meeting with us, the minority organizations, and seeing where we stand on things, hearing our concerns, answering our questions and helping us fulfill our ideals. That has been consistent,” Demetrius Harris, president of UM’s NAACP chapter, said.
Harris and nine other leaders of Black student organizations have had a standing monthly meeting with Boyce since July when they condemned the “glorification” of the university’s Confederate cemetery.
Since their initial meeting, BSU president Nicholas Crasta said conversations with the chancellor have moved from making sure there weren’t university plans they didn’t know about to making concrete plans for change that will benefit students on campus. As result of these meetings, Crasta said Boyce committed to creating “a minority seat or a Black coalition seat on each of his standing committees” to increase student representation where university decisions are made.
Crasta said he and the other student leaders involved in the meetings are working with Boyce to create a polling place on the university campus.
“Chancellor Boyce actually got us into a meeting with Secretary of State (Michael) Watson,” Crasta said. “The biggest thing that Secretary Watson said to us was, aside from presidential elections, nobody really used polling places on campuses. I know he was comparing it to the one in Starkville at Mississippi State, and that’s why they had to shut that one down. So, we have to push voting in every election, even local elections.”
This is not the first time students have attempted to have a polling place established at the university. In 2018, the ASB Senate passed a resolution urging Lafayette County to do just that, but nothing more came of the request.
Crasta said he and his fellow student leaders are fully aware of the complications that come with establishing a new polling place, but they hope that having Boyce’s support will make the process quicker.
“Chancellor Boyce really didn’t want to wait. He knew that it wasn’t going to happen by this 2020 election, but he didn’t want to wait more than a year (to create the polling place),” Crasta said. “The biggest problem with having a polling place on the university’s campus was that the campus is so big and that it falls in between multiple different precincts right now.”
Crasta, Harris and the presidents of Men of Excellence, the University of Mississippi Black Caucus, E.S.T.E.E.M., UM National Pan-Hellenic Council, UM Gospel Choir, I.M.A.G.E. and MAPS have another meeting scheduled with Watson to further discuss the polling place in December.
Crasta said those meetings would not have been possible without Boyce’s help.
“For Chancellor Boyce, he’s trying his hardest to build a relationship with students as much as possible, knowing that he kind of came in with a lot of distress and a lot of tension from the UM community,” Crasta said. “He’s been trying to do his best and working as much as possible and trying to kind of get down to earth as much as possible.”
Joshua Mannery, ASB president, also has standing meetings with Boyce, and he said that his goals align with those of the Black student organization presidents. However, when Mannery meets with Boyce, he said he likes to discuss university issues instead of presenting concrete plans.
“Sometimes change can happen right away, but when it comes to thinking about a polling place or a replacement for the statute, those aren’t going to happen over the course of one meeting,” Mannery said. “I think we, as these organizations meeting with Chancellor Boyce, need to have a bit of continuity and build upon each other instead of just all presenting the same ideas in different ways.”
Nonetheless, Mannery said he looks forward to continuing work with Crasta and other student leaders.