Nearly five months have passed since the state Institutions of Higher Learning (IHL) Board of Trustees tabled their vote on relocating the University of Mississippi’s Confederate monument.
Now, the six largest student organizations on campus — along with over 4,500 university community members who have signed the #UMoveTheStatue petition — are calling for IHL to finally approve the university’s request to move the statue from the Circle to the Confederate cemetery in their meeting this Thursday, June 18.
“Now is a historical, pivotal moment, not just in our state history, but with everything going on in the country. If relocation doesn’t happen now, it’s not going to happen at any other point,” Associated Student Body president Joshua Mannery said. “This is our chance to show that not only do X amount of students care about this, but also staff, faculty and alumni. This is how much we care, IHL, and the ball is in your court.”
Since George Floyd’s death on May 25, universities, city leaders, and in some cases, protesters have been removing or relocating Confederate memorials throughout the country. Most recently, the University of Alabama Board of Trustees authorized the removal of three plaques commemorating the students who served in the Confederate army.
The student leaders of the ASB, Black Student Union (BSU), Student Activities Association (SAA), RebelTHON, The Ole Miss Big Event and Leadership and Engagement Ambassadors started the #UMoveTheStatue campaign to urge IHL to do the same.
“I don’t know if anything has changed within IHL between their last meeting and this one, but a lot has changed in our nation,” SAA executive director Trevor Davis said. “Now, they can take the time to realize that other universities are doing this, and we can do the same thing.”
The organizations started the campaign on social media last week at the suggestion of Davis and ASB vice president Abby Johnston to educate the community about the statue and why they want it relocated.
“I see the statue every time I walk on campus as a symbol of hate, bigotry and racism,” BSU president Nicholas Crasta said. “The location of it being in the Circle, what people may call the heart of campus, leads to the conclusion that this is what the university values the most, what the university was founded on. I know we can’t change history, but at the same time, some history shouldn’t be hoisted up.”
Mister Clemmones, the head ambassador of the Leadership and Engagement Ambassadors, said he sees the statue not only as a symbol of hate, but as a magnet for it.
“Look at the Confederate groups who came to campus last spring just to support the statue,” he said. “It made students of color like me feel bad about themselves for choosing to come to this university.”
Prior to enrolling at the university, Clemmones said he had to convince his family and friends that the University of Mississippi was a safe place for minorities, despite the university’s history of racism and violence.
“In the past, we’ve changed mascots and taken down the flag. This can just be another victory that we’ll point to and say, ‘Hey, our university is straying away from those ideals, so that’s why I’ll be safe at this university,’” Clemmons said.
Other students involved with the campaign, like RebelTHON director of administration Caleb Bloodworth and Big Event co-director Cade Slaughter, want the statue relocated simply because they are tired of avoiding it.
Both Bloodworth and Slaughter previously served as orientation leaders, where they were instructed to circumvent the statue when walking their groups of incoming freshmen around campus.
“That’s just ridiculous to me that I can’t walk through the center of our campus because there’s something there that we can’t talk about,” Slaughter said. “It only makes sense that we relocate the statue now, not later.”
Ultimately, all 11 student leaders who started the #UMoveTheStatue campaign agree that “the statue endorses racist values and puts them on a pedestal at the front door of our campus, as if it is insight to the collective creed of our community.” Their joint statement asserts that because these values are not representative of the university, the statue should be removed from the Circle, just like the ASB Senate, the Graduate Student Council Senate, the Faculty Senate, the Staff Council, and most recently, Chancellor Glenn Boyce have supported over the past 15 months.
The six student organizations plan to send their statement, the petition and comments from the university community to IHL on Wednesday evening in hopes that the Board of Trustees will “listen to the students” and vote the following morning to relocate the statue.