Last week, during celebrations surrounding the 60th anniversary of integration at the University of Mississippi, many festivities focused on how the university was able to leave racism in the past and look forward to a brighter, more inclusive future.
Many events, articles, lectures and exhibits focus on the first African American to enroll and graduate from the university, James Meredith, and how his presence at the university has changed the education system forever. Some of these events came off to me as trying to frame racism as something that was put in the past and does not impact the university in modern times.
Even though the university will have to deal with the occasional racist student or faculty, it does not directly reflect the university as a whole. Or does it?
Although Ole Miss has made tremendous strides in creating an equal and safe environment for all people, it is important to recognize the racism ingrained in the university instead of overlooking or downright ignoring it.
In many undeniable ways, society has progressed. Still, exploitation and prejudice rooted in hate persist. It still has claws in everyday institutions, the bodies meant to serve everybody fairly. The university is no exception.
The university’s nickname, “Ole Miss,” has a history of heavy racist connotations. For context, the name “Ole Miss” is derived from the plantation days of Mississippi, a shameful time in our state’s history. The nickname was proposed during a school yearbook contest soon after slavery had been abolished. During that time, rich, white individuals were the only people who could afford higher education. They remembered owning slaves of their own and dubbed the flagship accordingly.
The name “Ole Miss” had been used by enslaved people to refer to the plantation owner’s wife. Using an outdated, racist nickname for a university that is actively celebrating the fight against bigotry is counterintuitive at best and just a slap in the face at worst.
It is also interesting that, although the university is celebrating 60 years of integration, it has been less than 20 years since the institution got rid of the racist, cane-toting southern plantation owner mascot, Colonel Reb.
Now, it is important to note that getting Colonel Reb removed was a step in the right direction. However, it is still ironic that the University of Mississippi loves highlighting how long ago integration was yet still had a slave owner as a mascot until recently.
Even though the mascot is not an official mascot of the college anymore, the university still allows sports fans to use the mascot however they wish. There is even a foundation called the Colonel Reb Foundation that still supports the use of this imagery. If you ever find yourself in the Grove before a football game, keep a lookout for the use of Colonel Reb. Many fans will still use his image on clothing and signs, showing a persisting culture of racism and insensitivity at Ole Miss.
Now, I am by no means trying to take away from the positive, trailblazing impact James Meredith and integration had on the university. These progressive steps lead us into a new era of love and acceptance, something that needs to happen for society to progress as a whole. However, it is important to highlight how racism still impacts the university today. Instead of ignoring such issues, it is important to highlight said topics in hopes that things might change.
Willow Crosby is a junior accounting major from Tupelo, Miss.