Chancellor Jones Announces Plan for Leadership on Race Issues and DiversityUM to Add Diversity Vice Chancellor, Change Confederate Drive Name, Put Historical Symbols in Modern Context, and More
Ole Miss Chancellor Dan Jones this morning will announce a six-point wide-reaching plan that includes the employment of a new Vice Chancellor For Diversity and the placement of plaques at racially divisive sites to add modern context to their symbolism. He also defined a shift in the common use of the term “Ole Miss” for close identification with athletics and school spirit.
The plan also calls for more education of students in racial history, changing the street name of Confederate Drive to Chapel Lane, changing Coliseum Drive to Roy Lee “Chucky” Mullins Drive and an effort to have students make an early commitment to diversity.
“I don’t expect everyone to agree with this plan,” Chancellor Jones said. “Some will think these actions don’t go far enough — and others will wonder why we have to bring up race again. So far, in this process, even when people have broadly disagreed, they have been civil in their discourse. That’s my hope for the reaction to this announcement.”
Oxford Alderman Jay Hughes had this reaction to the plan: “I absolutely support the university doing whatever it can to attempt to increase diversity and avoid conflict. However, we need to be mindful that the more we pretend our past does not exist, the more likely we are to repeat it.”
The Chancellor said the new vice chancellor for diversity and inclusion will be selected after a nationwide search. “The job description, title and responsibilities for this high-level position will be established during the fall semester,” he said. “Although we have a chief diversity officer now, our overall efforts have been dispersed.”
Confederate Drive, a stretch of road that begins after crossing Fraternity Road from Chapel Drive, and ends at the Tad Smith Coliseum, will be re-named, Chancellor Jones added, to reflect the road’s starting point in front of the University Chapel.
Besides this change, no names of campus icons associated with the civil war and Jim Crow-era Mississippi government officials such as segregationist Governors James Vardaman and Paul Johnson, Jr. will be changed. Instead plaques will be placed to put those names, says Chancellor Jones, in “historical context and perspective.” These sites include Vardaman Hall, Johnson Commons, and the confederate statue at the entrance to the Lyceum Circle.
The approach of adding historical commentary and contemporary perspective to civil war-related memorials, names and icons has been pioneered by one of the consultants the university turned to in the aftermath of the Meredith Statue defacement of Feb. 9.
Ed Ayers, president of the University of Richmond, is a noted historian and writer who has argued that southern cities and universities should acknowledge the wrongs of slavery and of opposition to the civil rights movement — not by trying to erase the symbols of that dark past, but by placing them in historical context. ““The North did not fight at first to end slavery,” says the award-winning Civil War historian, “but the South did fight to protect slavery,” Ayers is quoted as saying in The Chronicle of Higher Education.
Ayers was instrumental in having a statue of famous tennis champion and Richmond native Arthur Ashe built on a Richmond thoroughfare populated with monuments to Civil War confederate generals. Ayers’ vision, referenced in the Chancellor’s report, is to balance history with “contemporary context for symbols and adding new symbols more representative of the city’s current culture.”
Others consulting with the university included Christy Coleman, a leader in Richmond’s Civil War Museum, and Gregory Vincent, vice president for Diversity and Community Engagement at the University of Texas.
An example of the idea of balancing historical icons with contemporary symbols of African-American courage can be found in one of the action plan’s recommendations. Though not currently named for anything related to the Civil War or Jim Crow, Coliseum Drive will need a new name in light of the forthcoming demolition of C. M. Tad Smith Coliseum; the street will be renamed Roy Lee “Chucky” Mullins Drive in honor of the African-American Ole Miss football player who eventually died after a suffering a paralyzing injury on the field.
In another action plan point that may prove controversial, Chancellor Jones announced that the term Ole Miss would be primarily used in connection with the school’s athletic program and to reflect the “broad spirit” of the university, but not used prominently in reference to academics.
“Some faculty are uncomfortable with (the term “Ole Miss”) — either because they see it as a nickname or because they believe it has racial overtones,” he said. “Our research indicates that the term “Ole Miss” is beloved by the vast majority of students, faculty, alumni and university supporters. We’ll use the University of Mississippi in most academic applications.”
Other points in the action plan, which is a continuation of the recommendations advanced by the Extended Sensitivity and Respect Committee that started in late 2012, represent a commitment to deal honestly with race and diversity issues. Chancellor Jones says this will happen through leadership offered by the new vice chancellor for diversity and inclusion supporting active research and cooperating with promising efforts such as the William Winter Institute for Racial Diversity and the forming-this-fall Center for Inclusion and Cross Cultural Engagement.
Also in the plan is a call to increase commitment to racial, ethnic, and lifestyle diversity from all students, especially incoming freshman.
“If you look at the incidents that have been reported in the press, the vast majority have involved freshman,” Chancellor Jones said. “We have to more effectively deal with the reality that many of our students come to us with very little exposure to cross-cultural experience. Many have attended high schools and lived in communities that were virtually segregated in their opportunities to interact with people of different races and backgrounds. We hope to welcome them to here and quickly expose them to pathways that embrace our values in support of human dignity that is expressed in our creed.”
HottyToddy.com contacted a few readers to get their reactions to the plan.
“I think renaming certain areas of Ole Miss is good for change,” said alumnus Bill Perry, Jr., a pianist and composer living in Oxford, who has helped raise funds for music education camps at the university though showings of his exploratory jazz/visual project Mother Universe and All Her Children. “A modern contemporary perspective would be good to show Ole Miss is moving in a progressive direction. I also think it’s good to have diversity added to the oath of this university. It’s time for the rest of the nation to see that this college is moving forward and doing what is necessary to create an atmosphere of inclusion.”
Jeremy Cooker graduated Ole Miss in 1991 with a bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism, during an era when the use of the confederate flag by fans at football games was a hot-button issue. “These changes feel like a natural evolution for a progressive university with a racially charged past,” said Cooker, who is director of marketing and special projects for New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation. “What’s being proposed now seems like it’s long overdue. They can put this part of the past in some kind of historical context for people to learn from it, but it’s time to move on.”
Following is the full statement released by the University:
UM Announces Plan for Leadership on Issues of Race and Diversity
Chancellor releases report on campus environment, creates new position of vice chancellor for diversity
OXFORD, Miss. – University of Mississippi Chancellor Dan Jones has released a comprehensive action plan for fostering a more inclusive and welcoming environment on campus.
The recommendations are the fruit of a study of wide-ranging opinions on campus culture from students, faculty and administrators, which were paired with input from respected consultants. The plan includes a new position of vice chancellor for diversity and a variety of initiatives focused on inclusion and race relations.
Last summer, an expanded Sensitivity and Respect Committee completed its review of the university’s environment on race and diversity. After the committee’s report, consultants Ed Ayers and Christy Coleman of Richmond, Virginia, were brought in to study the effect on campus culture of building names and campus symbols tied to historical issues of slavery and segregation. Consultant Greg Vincent, who led the University of Texas in addressing issues of diversity and inclusion, was hired to analyze the university’s organizational structure and how it relates to diversity and inclusion.
The consultants submitted reports on their interviews with members of the campus community, as well as recommendations based on their experiences with similar issues. Jones complimented the work of the university community and consultants in generating the ideas included in the action plan.
“The reports from everyone involved were candid and thoughtful in suggesting that more can be done here to improve our environment for diversity and inclusion,” Jones said.
“It is my hope that the steps outlined here – reflecting the hard work of university committees and our consultants – will prove valuable in making us a stronger and healthier university, bringing us closer to our goal of being a warm and welcoming place for every person every day, regardless of race, religious preference, country of origin, ability, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or gender expression.”
Jones said he knows that some people will find parts of the recommendations that they like and some they don’t. “Every idea was not included, but I’m confident everyone involved will find evidence of their substantial contributions.
“There were and will continue to be differences of opinion among us. But, I am encouraged that while our discussions over recent months were frank, even tough, they also were civil and respectful. My very sincere thanks go out to all of those who demonstrated these values throughout the process.”
The process was designed to gather as broad a range of opinion as possible, the chancellor said.
“It was important that we hear from everyone who loves this university,” he said. “Too often when viewpoints are wide-ranging, nuanced and emotional, the easy answer for leaders is a non-decision, freezing people at a point in time and putting progress off to another day. To me, that is not leadership. And our mission as a university is to lead.”
The plan involves six steps, with more initiatives expected when the new vice chancellor position is filled:
1. Create a vice chancellor-level position for diversity and inclusion. UM’s provost will create a specific position title, portfolio, set of responsibilities and initial budget for a new administrative position. The job will be created after consultation with faculty and will be subject to approval by the university’s governing board. A search committee will be formed to begin work during the fall semester.
2. Establish a portfolio model of diversity and engagement. As part of the creation of the job description for the new vice chancellor position, a set of standards for diversity and engagement will be drafted for the university to follow moving forward.
3. Deal squarely with the issue of race while also addressing other dimensions of diversity.
“We look forward to a day when it is the norm to embrace and celebrate our differences, when our country and state have become a truly post-racial society,” Jones said. “But that day has not yet arrived. Clearly, there are still issues regarding race that our country must address. And we will need to continue a dialogue on race at our university. Our unique history regarding race provides not only a larger responsibility for providing leadership on race issues, but also a large opportunity – one we should and will embrace.”
A faculty group focused on UM’s history with slavery began work last year. The initiative is an example of the kind of scholarly leadership UM can provide on the issue, Jones said, voicing renewed commitment to the work of the university’s William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation. He also said the new vice chancellor for diversity will be engaged in efforts to address issues of race and diversity and will work with existing campus organizations, such as the Critical Race Studies Group, that have focused on these issues.
4. Implement a symbolic and formal dedication of all new students to the ideals of inclusion and fairness to which UM is devoted.
The UM Creed was adopted as a means of communicating and cultivating the university’s core values. A public university can’t require a pledge or oath as a condition of enrollment. It can and will work with students and others to pursue methods of elevating and strengthening the UM community with the creed’s values. The university’s vice chancellor for student affairs will implement this recommendation.
5. Offer more history, putting the past into context, telling more of the story of Mississippi’s struggles with slavery, secession, segregation and their aftermath.
Consultants cited Richmond, one of capitals of the Confederacy, as a good example of appropriately addressing a negative history. City leaders opted not to erase history, even some of the more difficult parts of it, and chose not to remove existing statues and building names. Instead, the city has balanced its presentation of history by offering broader, contemporary context for symbols and adding new symbols more representative of the city’s current culture. An example of that approach already implemented at UM is the statue honoring James Meredith, the university’s first African-American student. Additional opportunities with more contemporary symbols lie ahead, and the new vice chancellor will be engaged in long-term evaluation of those recommendations. Until the new vice chancellor is hired, that job will be handled by the provost and the assistant to the chancellor for multicultural affairs.
Among buildings and symbols that will be evaluated for plaques adding context and perspective are Vardaman Hall, the ballroom in Johnson Commons and the Confederate statue at the entrance to Lyceum Circle. Several steps have been taken already:
- The entrance of the Manning Center was recently designated the Williams-Reed Foyer in honor of Ben Williams and James Reed, the university’s first two black football players. Jones thanked Athletics Director Ross Bjork and head football coach Hugh Freeze for their leadership in the recommendation.
- The new Center for Inclusion and Cross Cultural Engagement opens this fall in Stewart Hall. The center, which will move later to the renovated and expanded Student Union, enhances the quantity and quality of programming and leadership initiatives for underrepresented students.
- Coliseum Drive will need a new name when the Tad Smith Coliseum is replaced with the new basketball arena. A recommendation from the UM Alumni Association and the M-Club to rename it “Roy Lee ‘Chucky’ Mullins Drive” has been adopted. Mullins, a black football player who was paralyzed and later died, became a unifying symbol of an indomitable human spirit at the university.
- Confederate Drive, which enters Fraternity Row, will be renamed “Chapel Lane.”
6. Appropriate use of the name “Ole Miss.” UM’s longstanding nickname is beloved by the vast majority of its students and alumni. But a few, especially some university faculty, are uncomfortable with it. Some don’t want it used at all and some simply don’t want it used within the academic context.
The university completed a national study about the name “Ole Miss” during the last year and found the vast majority of respondents don’t attach any meaning to it other than an affectionate name for the university. In fact, a significant margin likes and prefers the “Ole Miss” name. And a very small percentage of respondents associate the university, either as “Ole Miss” or “University of Mississippi,” with negative race issues.
Both names will be used in appropriate contexts going forward, with particular emphasis going to “Ole Miss” in athletics and as a representation of the university’s spirit. Other campus efforts already in place will continue to grow
The action plan includes a wide variety of other initiatives launched even as the study of campus environment was underway, including creation of the Bias Incident Response Team, diversity training for employees, construction of a National Pan-Hellenic Council garden representing the history and campus engagement of historically black fraternities and sororities, periodic surveys to monitor the campus environment, and various programs to enhance student success.