University of Mississippi Police Department officers lowered and furled the state flag in a Lyceum Circle ceremony as the campus opened Monday morning. The flag was taken to the University Archives, where it will be stored along with the resolutions passed last week by student, faculty and staff governments calling for its removal.
The university’s removal of the flag is the latest development in discussions within the state about whether to change the official state flag, which includes the Confederate battle flag in its canton. Critics of the flag have labeled it a racist symbol while its supporters have called it an important link to Mississippi’s history and heritage. State voters approved keeping the flag in a 2001 referendum.
Interim Chancellor Morris Stocks first joined other state and university leaders calling for a change in the state flag in a statement last June.
“The University of Mississippi community came to the realization years ago that the Confederate battle flag did not represent many of our core values, such as civility and respect for others,” Stocks said in a press release. “Since that time, we have become a stronger and better university. We join other leaders in our state who are calling for a change in the state flag.”
After an Oct. 16 rally drew an estimated 200 protesters against the flag and a handful of counter-protesters carrying Confederate flags, the Associated Student Body Senate, Staff Council, Graduate Student Body and Faculty Senate all passed resolutions last week asking the administration not to fly the current state flag on campus.
Stocks said at a Monday press conference that senior leadership met several hours on Sunday and unanimously agreed to take down the flag the next day.
“We appreciate our state leadership, and we do not intend this as any form of disrespect for our state,” he said. “We love our state, and we are proud to be part of the State of Mississippi, but we believe for us to accomplish our academic mission, this was the right move at this time.”
Stocks said the low-key, unannounced retirement of the state flag was considered the prudent action.
“We’ve had protests and counterprotests over the last couple of weeks, and we thought possibly the best way to do it would be without fanfare in a respectful fashion,” he said.
Stocks said Jeffrey Vitter, who will visit campus Thursday and likely be announced as the next chancellor, was kept informed of the decision.
“I talked to Dr. Vitter about it this morning, and he understood our reasoning. I do think we’re better off making this decision now and getting this behind us before he arrives,” Stocks said.
Students seemed to be largely receptive of the change.
Thomas Sanders, a sophomore computer science major from Kosciusko, who is white, said, “I think it’s progress; it’s a good thing.”
Ian Morrison, a sophomore accounting major from San Antonio, Texas, said, “As an African-American student who came to this school, and the first things I see are Confederate symbols, I had a preconceived notion of what this university is, and I decided to come here anyway. I think their taking down the flag is one step closer to having an accepting environment for all students. I’m happy about it.’
Morrison added, “I think it’s as big an issue as you want to make it. For some people, the flag doesn’t affect them, and for some, it’s like, ‘Oh, my God!’ To me, it’s kind of a big issue. I don’t like to see my school abused.”
Holland Nader, a freshman from Madison, majoring in nutrition and exercise science, is white.
“I don’t agree with (the removal). I didn’t find it offensive. I didn’t think it was that big of a problem,” she said. “It’s kind of odd for the school that calls itself the state’s ‘flagship university’ to take the flag down.” She added that it doesn’t trouble her much.
“It’s not that big a deal,” she said.
Briana Evans is a paralegal studies senior from Ellisville. A black woman, she said she has “felt very comfortable” at Ole Miss.
“Honestly, I have kind of mixed emotions about it,” she said. “Personally, it’s really not an issue to me.
“I don’t think it’ll really make a difference in how people of different races treat each other. I think when you’re taught those traditions, that’s basically what’s going to come out. I’ve been taught to treat races equally.
“I was pretty much prepared for any type of situation, that if I were to come to a point where racial equality was a problem, I would be able to handle it,” Evans said. “Being raised in a Christian family, I was taught to pray about things, to consult God about everything.”