The University of Mississippi will take steps to put its Confederate history into context.
Some of the iconic buildings on the campus of the University of Mississippi were built by slaves, while others are named for racist figures from Mississippi’s dark past. Now, however, the university is taking steps to alter or else put those buildings in their proper context, Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter announced earlier this month.The name of Vardaman Hall, in particular, will be changed. The 88-year-old building was named for James Vardaman, a Mississippi governor and U.S. Senator who was known for his white supremacist views.
“He was clearly a white supremacist,” Assistant Provost Dr. Donald Cole told HottyToddy.com. “Morally he believed in that with all of his heart, and he acted that out to the extreme that he said, ‘If it is necessary, every N-word in the state will be lynched; it will be done to maintain white supremacy.’ As I learned about him from the historians, it became very difficult to defend a building bearing that name on a flagship campus like ours.”
Lamar Hall, Barnard Observatory, George Hall and Longstreet Hall will get a plaque contextualizing the buildings or their namesake.Other sites like the Lyceum, Croft, Hilgard Cut and Barnard Hall are also being considered for contextualization because they were built by slaves.
Now in phase two of the process, the chancellor’s committee held a listening session to address the concerns of students, alumni, faculty and the community members after the chancellor’s announcement.
The committee met eight times during phase one to research the 45 buildings that were recommended for renaming or contextualizing through its website starting last August. The eight sites named for contextualization were determined by the committee based off the recommendations.
Students offered most of the input at the session, focusing mostly on representation, voicing concern that there was only one student representative on the committee, ASB President Austin Powell.
“At the end of the day, you have one person representing 18,000 students,” said Ty Deemer, a freshman public policy and leadership major and member of the ASB Senate. “It’s hard to get all these opinions through one person.”
Committee members addressed the questions and concerns from those in attendance.“We’ve heard this from other folks who want more student representation as we move forward through the process,” said Jennifer Stollman, academic director of the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation.
“We’re going to ask for input from various different constituencies associated with the university including students,” said Provost for Academic Affairs Donald Cole.
Terrence Johnson, a journalism major, offered another reason for concern. “We need to tell the truth about these stories,” he said. “Because if we are this flagship institution that we love to boast about, we need to be honest about our history and make sure that it’s written as well.”
The committee will hold another listening session on March 23 at 6:30 p.m. at the Burns-Belfry Museum on Jackson Avenue. A forum is also open at context.olemiss.edu.
Final recommendations to the chancellor, who has the final decision, will be made at the end of the Spring semester.
Correction: An earlier version of this story mistakenly identified the University of Southern Mississippi as the university in question at one point in the article, contrary to the rest of the piece, which correctly identified the University of Mississippi.