Winter Institute Advances Campus Race Dialogue via Pop Culture Discussion

by Babatunde Abioye

Last Tuesday, during Racial Reconciliation Week, the University of Mississippi Athletics Department and the Winter Institute sponsored a “Race and Pop Culture” discussion panel attended by 30 students and faculty members. Panelists shared their opinions on vastly different depictions of race in the media, and offered suggestions to address this problem locally.

Melody Frierson, Winter Institute Youth Engagement coordinator, moderated the discussion. The chair of the History Department, Joseph Ward; director of African American Studies, Charles Ross; and law professor Michele Alexandre were panelists. The diverse selection of panelists prompted a rich conversation on race; attendees left with new tools to navigate racial dialogues and dynamics on campus. The wide-ranging dialogue showed the University’s devotion to the Institute’s tenet of discussing difference openly and truthfully.

Panelists discussed media treatment of the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Missouri; Michael Sam, the first openly gay player in the National Football League; the domestic abuse charges against NFL player Ray Rice (and the media’s portrayal of African American NFL players); and the differences between social media and traditional news.

The Ferguson saga showcased a positive element of social media: real-time, on-the-ground news propagation. Frierson said, “It has been through social media, twitter in particular, where people on the ground – local journalists and community members – have provided important details that mainstream media has overlooked or ignored. Twitter has also been the space where those not in Ferguson have been able to inform themselves, make calls to action, and hold local and national officials accountable.”  

Students stepped left with new perspectives. Freshman Peyton Green remarked, “It was very informative, it opened up a conversation that needs had on this campus.” The discussion caused some introspection for Ally Petiprin, who said, “It made me question if the media makes my mind up for me or if I do.” 

The more open and progressive conversations like this that occur, the more vital steps we will take toward making the chancellor’s goal of a more welcoming campus a reality. As Frierson said, “The discussion was important because these types of nuanced and difficult conversations are not happening in public forums as often as they should.” 

 Babatunde Abioye, an Institute intern, is a senior finance major from Detroit, Michigan.

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