The bias response team at the University of Mississippi made news recently when an honors student contacted the administration to report he had worn blackface in a photo he posted on social media.
According to a statement by the university, the student “acknowledged the racist and hurtful impact of his poor judgment” for his decision, which occurred in early October.
“The student recognized the immediate impact of this behavior, reached out to staff, expressed remorse, and began engaging in a voluntary educational process that includes curricular, experiential, and reflective components,” reported a local Fox affiliate.
The restorative justice process “allows students who have negatively impacted certain groups to engage with those groups and learn from the experience.” The program involves “curricular, experiential, and reflective components” and its goal is to “reintegrate members back into the community.”
Yet administrators weren’t quite ready to drop the issue. Later in October, administrators used the self-reporting student as a warning to others on campus to avoid wearing inappropriate Halloween costumes.
Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Community Engagement Katrina Caldwell and Provost Noel Wilkin released a statement to the student body titled “My Culture is Not a Costume,” warning students against “the use of blackface, costumes that mock or demean other people’s culture, and identity-based slurs.”
“While most of these cases involve examples of protected speech and expressions, we want our community to understand that these practices are both insensitive and rooted in a history of hate that causes real harm to individuals and our community,” they said.
Caldwell did not respond to multiple requests by The College Fix to comment.
The College Fix, meanwhile, recently obtained the 26 bias reports filed during the 2018-19 school year to the University of Mississippi’s Bias Incident Response Team. The reports were obtained by The College Fix through a public records act request. The names of the parties were redacted by the university to protect their identities.
In another notable incident that took place in March 2019, the Ole Miss campus was embroiled in controversy when a photo of three students holding guns near a memorial to Emmett Till surfaced on social media. Till was a 14-year old African-American boy who was tortured and killed in 1955.
The university later turned the photo of the three students over to the FBI, which concluded that no crime had taken place. In June, Chancellor Larry Sparks conceded the university had mishandled the investigation into the students by waiting until the FBI had concluded its work before taking action.
Other incidents included in the reports include:
A banner with a rap album theme was hung outside a fraternity house.
A student was told by a professor to “drop out of school and come back later in life to finish her degree.”
Someone told another campus community member, “You’re a stupid fat bitch. You couldn’t have taken the stairs.”
A public whiteboard in Stewart Residence Hall featured messages such as, “Hilary lover (crossed out),” “Left votes Hilary,” “Swiggity sway you now have fhi double gay,” “Long Live Pablo Escobar!!! We can’t finish,” “Lock her up (crossed out),”Youssef the gay tripod,” and “Donald Trump is my president deal with it!!! (crossed out) Donald Trump!!!”
Two students were reported for posing for photos while making a “white power” hand signal, presumably the “OK” sign.
A student had an encounter with another student who “screamed at them twice while they were talking and said ‘fuck’ four times.”
In its process, the Bias Incident Response Team outlines “Step 3: Intervention,” which states a member of the team will “work with the affected parties to reach a resolution, which may include education, outreach and training within 5 days.”
In November, Caldwell told the Daily Mississipian that free speech wasn’t a concern at Ole Miss because the response team doesn’t have enforcement authority.
“BIRT doesn’t punish,” Caldwell told the paper. “(Education) is its only function.”
But that education “may or may not be voluntary, depending on the situation,” according to the article, paraphrasing Caldwell.
It’s unclear whether Caldwell believes forced education is a punishment.
As for the incident in which the student self-reported his blackface, it’s something of an anomaly. Student self-reporting to a campus bias response system is extremely rare. Typically such systems are used by students and other campus members to report one another for bias incidents.
Reached for comment, Kirk Johnson, associate professor of sociology and African American studies at Ole Miss, who has called for stronger enforcement of microaggressions and bias on campus, told The College Fix that he supported the restorative justice plan over reprimanding or expelling the student.
“Instead of simply banishing a student for doing something offensive, establishing a conversation between the student and members of marginalized groups helps the student understand why his or her actions are so offensive from the perspective of the people who are most likely to be harmed by these actions,” he said.
“Without this educational component, I think it’s easy for a perpetrator to feel that he or she was sacrificed on the altar of political incorrectness, which could conceivably embolden them to behave even more aggressively the next time.”