A dozen students gathered in room 404 of the Student Union Thursday for a town hall-style conversation on the Mississippi state flag. No one raised his or her voice, no one spoke angrily; it was a quiet discussion about individual perceptions, and it was just what Ole Miss needed, Eloise Tyner said.
Tyner is a member of the committee on inclusion and cross-cultural engagement and deputy attorney general of constitution and code for the Associated Student Body, who helped organize and moderate the event.
“I think these conversations are important so that everybody with every point of view still feels welcome in the Ole Miss family,” Tyner said.
Tyner said she had the idea for the meeting in her Southern politics class when her professor said the decision the University made in removing the flag might lose momentum or even increase division between students if campus unity is not preserved.
“I wanted it to be an intimate setting,” Tyner said. “We just came from a contentious debate where people were so focused on convincing each other that they weren’t focused on hearing each other. It’s integral for an Ole Miss family like ours that we continue to handle this like family. We talk to each other. We really care about what the other person has to say, especially if they believe something different from what I do.”
Tyner said continuing this discourse at the individual level is crucial for maintaining the unity on which the University prides itself.
“I believe these conversations, especially between people who disagree, are so important,” Tyner said. “Or else you’re going to have embitterment and entrenchment and people turning away from their family.”
Tyner asked Marvin King, associate professor of American politics, to moderate the discussion. King asked the students to speak in their groups on certain topics surrounding the state flag – such when the flag became pertinent to him or her and how each person felt when student governments voted to remove the flag from campus.
The questions highlighted how differences in culture, ingrained beliefs and race can change the meaning of symbols to individuals – specifically the Confederate symbol in the Mississippi state flag. After each topic, students had the chance to tell one compelling statement that arose from their discussions.
Galina Ostrovsky, a freshman undeclared major, spoke up after one of the topics, saying the decision to remove the state flag showed a good side of the University.
“We can outgrow the stereotypes as a University – the stereotypes that (say) we are behind the times,” Ostrovsky said.
Dominique Scott, a junior sociology major, said the removal of the state flag was an institutionalized action on improving inclusivity.
King said the discussion highlighted lingering tensions, but in a way that they may be resolved.
“This is about bringing everyone back together,” King said. “We need to have more of these conversations in every building on campus.”