The University of Mississippi has turned an alleged race riot that wasn’t into a teachable moment, using it as a reason to add a new diversity speech to student tours.
On the night of the November election, some students at Ole Miss gathered to protest President Obama’s re-election. Emotions ran high. Apparently some Obama campaign signs were burned.
The protest was immediately written off by campus administrators and the mainstream media as an outburst of racism. Multiple news outlets reported “racial slurs” were uttered by some of the hundreds of students who spilled out on the university campus to participate – or just view – the protest. But no specific examples of said racial slurs were cited in news reports. There were also no reports of injuries or property damage. Some riot.
If there were racial slurs involved, we condemn it. But can’t a group of people burn a president in effigy without being deemed racist? That these students were upset about the direction of this country and legitimately expressing political speech wasn’t considered; not in today’s politically correct campus climate, and especially not at Ole Miss, which has a history of racial intolerance.
With that, Ole Miss turned its bogus race riot into a teachable moment. Donald Cole, a math professor at the University of Mississippi who suffered from bigoted acts when he was a student there in the late 1960s, now speaks during student tours, NPR reports:
With another school year looming, 3,700 new students are visiting campus this summer. They’re getting tours and, at times, an earful from Cole.
On a recent afternoon, Cole addressed 120 incoming freshmen and their parents … The talk is part of a new effort to turn last November’s incident into a teaching moment: how to use social media and how to just get along with others.
“The idea again is that learned men show their differences by rhetoric, show their differences by persuasive arguments,” Cole says during his speech. “Learned men don’t fight.”
Later, another speaker showed a photo of a white student burning that Obama campaign sign last fall. It’s important to confront what happened as directly as possible, says Brandi Hephner LaBanc, the university’s vice chancellor for student affairs.
“There was discussion about how direct,” she says. “And there were some folks who were a big fan of direct. And there were some folks that were probably a little more like … do we need to rehash it, type of thing. But in the end, we decided direct is the route to go and let’s have the conversation.”
Black students say there’s still work to do. Some students were afraid last November, says rising senior Hope Owens-Wilson, and still feel prejudice today.
“It’s very interesting kind of experiencing racism in the 21st century,” she says. “Nobody’s going to openly, you know, ostracize you. But there are whispers and there are looks.”