Letter From the Editor (The Ole Miss 2016)
One cold afternoon during my freshman year, I was hiking up the Rebel Drive hill from Martin Hall surrounded by other students heading to lunch, class or back to their dorms. Fifty yards in front of me, a group of African-American students walked together, chatting. A big truck flew past us and the white male students inside shouted degrading, hateful and racist words at the students in front of me. In broad daylight. On a college campus. In 2010.
What shocked me more than the hollers from the truck was the reaction of the students — they were unfazed. They continued walking with little-to-no reaction. I immediately reported the incident to UPD, but I neither had their license plate nor did I see the faces under the baseball caps. Nothing ever came from this moment. I received no follow-up call, and everyone, including the harassed students, appeared to shrug it off move on. But this moment, this glimpse into the racial tensions that still existed on campus 48 years after integration, followed me throughout the next six years of my education at the University of Mississippi. It pushed me to realize my own privilege and work harder to empathize and engage with those around me.
During an interview for the story about the removal of the state flag from our campus earlier this year, I asked professor James Thomas, the University NAACP chapter sponsor, how he feels walking on campus. Then, I explained the tension I feel when I walk on campus: A part of me loves this university, but another part of me fears what will be written about Ole Miss when I see it in the headlines.
Thomas explained exactly how I never knew I felt.
“Ambivalence,” he said. “It’s a really important disposition to have, the way you might be if you feel ambivalent about something. It allows for (you) to have and then maintain a very critical disposition. You are not willing to just have something wholesale whether it is one intensity or the other. You are at a place where you have to figure stuff out — you have conflict and you have to resolve that conflict.”
One could say this yearbook is an experiment in which my staff and I work to resolve this conflict. I feel I’ve developed a unique perspective of experience at the University, with six years and two degrees. I’ve witnessed our football team lose to Jacksonville State and then only five years later beat Alabama. I’ve seen the mascot change (by the way, I love Rebel the Black Bear, if you can’t tell). I’ve seen Colonel Rebel change to Mr. Ole Miss. I’ve seen the first black Homecoming Queen. I’ve seen students arrested for hate crimes. I’ve seen enrollment skyrocket and diversity intensify. I rallied for Dan Jones, cried when he left and turned around to welcome Jeff Vitter. Through this yearbook I wanted to identify the complexity that is Ole Miss while simultaneously creating reconciliation.
After completing the book, I’ve had to concede that conflict still exists on campus and beyond. And as you flip through the pages I hope you feel the tension but also the passion each student possesses for the University.
Through my time at the University, professors like Jeffrey Jackson, Ted Ownby, Charles Wilson, Patrick Alexander, Pat Thompson, Joan Hall, Jodi Skipper, Charles Eagles, Darren Sanefski, Cynthia Joyce, Jay Watson and Jennifer Snook transformed my worldview. Instead of filling my brain with ideas, they gave me the tools and ability to critically think for myself. I learned to read, ask questions, and listen.
I hope this book embodies those qualities. I hope we did our research; I hope we asked good questions; I hope we listened to the University of Mississippi student body as it is today.
Walking on campus, everyone you meet experiences the University in a unique and distinctive way. They each possess their own version of the University of Mississippi. I hope the book represents all of our voices.
Modern Mississippi to me is beating Alabama, again. Modern Mississippi to me is a brand new Pavilion with milkshakes and students cheering on the court. Modern Mississippi to me is gathering in the Grove on game day and drinking party tea (ask anyone from my tent about my famous recipe). Modern Mississippi to me is lifelong friendships formed over classes, community and rallying together over something we love.
We are Modern Mississippi.
We are Ole Miss.
Mallory Simerville Lehenbauer