Institute Responds to James Meredith Statue Defacement

2/17/14

The Winter Institute joins with Dr. Dan Jones, University of Mississippi chancellor, and the UM community to condemn the recent campus act meant to incite fear and promote hate. On Sunday morning, Feb. 16, the James Meredith statue on campus was found with a noose and a confederate flag tied around it. This is not who we are as a community. We stand with our neighbors today who may be feeling anxious about the University to say clearly that we respect diversity, work for justice, and offer welcome to all. This work requires intentional, daily commitments from all of us to build the muscle of interdependence, especially with those whose worldview is framed by fear and hatred. We invite all to the Welcome Table of the Beloved Community.

It may appear to some observers that events such as these continue unabated and without effective University response. Such a reading would be a mistake. In fact these incidents are a backlash against the substantial progress the University is making. Specifically since the election night events, the campus community has revamped the first-year experience to educate students about civility and the importance of valuing diversity, implemented professional development for faculty, staff, and students that focuses on our University’s unique history, created a bias incident response team, utilized restorative justice models as educational and community-building tools, and reached out to local, national, and international models for conflict transformation strategies. The University is working to create a new mindset. Creating change and encouraging progress requires many strategies, including campus statements, candlelight vigils allowing people to emotionally process the events, marches to demonstrate solidarity, campus initiatives, and criminal investigations and prosecutions where appropriate. All of these efforts possess value and we should not be so quick to divest any particular action of worth. There is no magic bullet. Equity justice is a process and happens most often outside the glare of the spotlight. For those who believe we are “back to square one” or “nothing ever changes” scholars and activists understand that what we may be experiencing on campus is backlash to the progress made. In the stages of racial awareness, this is called “retrenchment,” which occurs once the initial stages of real critical reflection and action have begun.

This is not a defensive posture or an apologist statement defending the University of Mississippi. It is a direct challenge to people who wish to revert to old systems of power and hate and a clear acknowledgement of the work that our many campus community members have done and continue to do in our classrooms, our students groups, and in our resident halls.

In the spirit of continuing this work, the Winter Institute is announcing a series of campus workshops beginning on March 20th from 12:00-1:00 (location TBD). This training will focus on best practices for dealing with micro- and macro-aggressions involving race. Please contact Dr. Jennifer Stollman, Winter Institute academic director, at 662-915-1605 with any questions on the training.