U of Mississippi opens probe over hostile protest that involved racist taunts

By Emma Bowman
The University of Mississippi’s school banner is waved during the pregame activities prior to the start of an NCAA college football game in October 2021. The university’s leader denounced actions at a protest last week. AP

The University of Mississippi opened a student conduct investigation after it said “actions that conveyed hostility and racist overtones” were made at a demonstration on campus last week.

Videos of Thursday’s protests that were circulating on social media showed heated confrontations between pro-Palestinian protesters and a much larger group of counterprotesters.

One video shows a Black woman and a group of white male counterprotesters yelling at each other. In it, a man imitates the sounds and dance of a monkey toward the woman, while others in the crowd chant “Lock her up!”

Stay informed on the latest news

Sign up for WPR’s email newsletter.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

In a letter to students and faculty the next day, university Chancellor Glenn Boyce said that “university leaders are aware that some statements made were offensive, hurtful, and unacceptable,” and have launched an investigation into the conduct of one student. “We are working to determine whether more cases are warranted,” he added.

“Behaviors and comments that demean people because of their race or ethnicity marginalize them and undermine the values that are fundamental to a civil and safe society,” Boyce wrote.

In a statement on Saturday, the fraternity Phi Delta Theta said it removed a member from its Mississippi Alpha chapter at the school responsible for the “racist actions in the video,” which it said are antithetical to its values.

University student government leaders said in a letter on Friday that “unacceptable remarks were made that departed from our cherished values” during the protest.

For many, the moment stands as a dark reminder of the history of racism at the University of Mississippi. Dismantling segregation there has been a decades-long effort. Its former mascot was a plantation owner named Colonel Rebel.The university has in recent years moved to banish Confederate symbols long entwined with the school and state pride.

Boyce acknowledged the school’s past.

“While we are a modern university with a vibrant community of more than 25,000 people, it is important to acknowledge our challenging history, and incidents like this can set us back,” he said. “It is one reason we do not take this lightly and cannot let unacceptable behavior of a few speak for our institution or define us.”