Hundreds of students and members of the Ole Miss community gathered in the David H. Nutt Auditorium on Thursday night for a school-wide forum regarding the offensive comments made by Ed Meek.
Senior biology major Ki’yona Crawford and senior general studies major Mahoghany Jordan, the two women pictured in Meek’s post, were among the many students who took to the microphone to address the crowd.
Meek is a donor and former professor who served as the university’s assistant vice chancellor for public relations and marketing for 37 years, beginning in 1964. The university’s School of Journalism and New Media bears his name.
A wide range of people — including administrators, student leaders and the women pictured in Meek’s post — took the microphone and spoke about Meek’s comments throughout the two-part forum.
Toward the end of the forum, Crawford and Jordan came to front of the auditorium and sat on the stage to speak. They were the forum’s only student participants to speak from the stage.
Jordan, who penned a guest column for the DM on Thursday in which she wrote that Meek’s post “reeks of racist ideology as well as misogyny” and rejected Meek’s apology, called Meek’s comments hurtful and disheartening. She spoke of defending Ole Miss’ image many times.
“Meek has put a crack in my foundation,” Jordan said. “Am I really accepted? Am I protected? I can’t give you a wholehearted ‘yes’ anymore. I really can’t, and that’s sad to say.”
Crawford thanked the audience for support and said being pictured in the post was infuriating and embarrassing.
“When I first saw the post, I was confused as to why our pictures were being shown — and only our two pictures,” Crawford said. “And then I critiqued his statement. He said something about the drop in enrollment rate, and he said something about the property values decreasing. And I’m sitting here like … is he trying to imply that we’re prostitutes? Like what is he trying to imply?”
After Crawford thanked the audience, the room erupted with applause as the audience rose for a standing ovation.
From 6:30-7:30 p.m., Meek School students were allowed to voice concerns among themselves during a conversation moderated by Graham Bodie, a listening expert and integrated marketing communications professor at the Meek School of Journalism and New Media, before the forum opened up to the public.
During the last few minutes of the the student portion, Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter quietly entered the room, donning a pinstripe suit and a tie emblazoned with piano keys.
After a short introduction from Vitter and Provost Noel Wilkin, more than 20 audience members voiced their thoughts and concerns for over 1 ½ hours.
By the start of the second session, Nutt Auditorium was near capacity. All but a few seats were taken by students, faculty and community members, with dozens more people standing along the walls and by the two rear entrances.
Dean of the Meek School Will Norton, who spoke on behalf of the school in a video statement released Thursday afternoon, sat near the front of the auditorium throughout both sessions. He did not speak to the crowd during either forum.
“We have heard the calls for the Meek name to be removed from our building,” Norton said in Thursday’s video statement. “We have heard the comments that suggest that that response would be too harsh. We are continuing to listen and continue to respond. We expect to make a recommendation to Chancellor Vitter in the very near future.”
Between sessions, while the runoff winners of Mr. and Miss Ole Miss were announced at the Lyceum, Associated Student Body President Elam Miller arrived and took a seat three rows from the stage.
Andrea Hightower, a junior journalism major, has lived in Oxford for 11 years. She began the public’s commentary by reading a statement.
“I know the post he made was not out of malice,” Hightower said. “He actually inspired me to become the journalist that I want to be. He taught me to always come forth with the real issues and inspired me to be courageous, so this is me being courageous.”
She went on to talk about bias and racism.
“By not recognizing the racist remarks by Mr. Meek, we belittle our staff, our faculty and students,” Hightower said. “And, surely, that is not why we want to be on the cover of the newspaper, but because we believe in the same piece of paper that gives us the rights as journalists to report what we want — gives the same people in this room the right to unalienable rights.”
Some people reminded the audience that this is not the first time Meek has caused controversy on campus, referring specifically to Meek’s criticism of last year’s Student Activities Association Welcome Back Concert, which featured rapper Wiz Khalifa.
Elly Quinton, a senior IMC major, addressed some students’ worries that the issue with Meek will be discussed for a while, without any real change occurring.
“Something that has been pointed out to me is that we, as students, have power here and that if we really want to see a change, if we really want to see action, if we really want something to get done about this, that we have to continue to talk about it,” Quinton said. “We have to continue to press our administration to make those changes that we want to see, and we just can’t let this issue die.”
Senior public policy leadership student Raven Francomano, who started a Change.org petition calling for Meek’s name to be removed from the School of Journalism and New Media, said that, despite not being a member of Meek’s namesake school, she was still concerned about his post.
“As long as we keep supporting the people who have the hate in their heart to keep contributing, we will not have sustainable change,” Francomano said.
Francomano’s petition, which argued that Meek’s actions “contributed to the notion that racism is alive and well at the University of Mississippi,” went up on Wednesday evening and had garnered more than 2,250 signatures by Thursday night.
Seyna Clark, a sophomore journalism major, spoke during both the first, student-only session and the second session.
“It’s a lot of new faces, and Vitter wasn’t here earlier. So now, I’m talking to you,” Clark said, turning to face Vitter in the crowd.
“When I first saw the post on Facebook, I became uncomfortable because I didn’t read that there’s a crime problem in Oxford — or that there was a crime problem in the Grove or at the Square — but that there’s a black problem,” Clark said of Meek’s Facebook post.
Clark spoke for 13 minutes, during which she condemned Confederate flags and Colonel Reb in the Grove as well as the use of the names “Rebels” and “Ole Miss” and called university administration to action.
“I need you to go to sleep tonight and think about this — because this is serious, and I need to wake up in the morning and not see the statue no more,” Clark said to Vitter as the audience gave a standing ovation.
Shortly after that, Alexandria White, assistant director of the Center of Inclusion and Cross Cultural Engagement, approached the front of the room and took the microphone from Clark to open the floor to other people.
White then handed the microphone to Beth Kruse, a doctoral student in the history department, who suggested that the Meek School be renamed to honor Paul Guihard, a French journalist who was murdered while covering the university’s integration in 1962.
“We love this university, and we always want to see it get better,” Vitter said during a brief statement at the end of the forum, after assuring the audience that administration “will be following up” to respond to concerns voiced by students.
Students and individuals who weren’t able to voice their thoughts during the forum were encouraged to submit them by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Liam Nieman and Brittany Brown contributed to this article.