OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi’s Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on History and Context held its second listening session Thursday (March 23) to hear from the community about designing the content and format for physical sites recommended for contextualization.
The meeting Thursday represents the second part of the committee’s work. The first listening session was held March 6 at the Inn at Ole Miss and it focused on input from students, faculty and staff.
Thursday’s event, held at Burns-Belfry Museum in Oxford, allowed the advisory committee to focus on input from the broader community. More than 25 community members and alumni came to the meeting.
In addition to the listening sessions, the committee is accepting input from the community via an online form about facts or other information, such as noted experts or resources to be considered in the design of the content and format. Submissions will be accepted until March 31. The committee also has recently updated its website with a FAQ section.
Don Cole, assistant provost and professor of mathematics, who serves as CACHC co-chair, opened the session and invited UM Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter to talk about the significance of the committee’s work.
“Our university has long been committed to honest and open dialogue about its history and how to make our campuses more welcoming and inclusive,” Vitter said. “I think it is important to recognize that we are on the forefront of institutions of higher education in the nation to systematically and vigorously undertake contextualization efforts.”
Vitter established the committee in summer 2016 in an effort to address UM’s physical site contextualization efforts in a comprehensive and transparent process informed by expertise.
There are more than 100 structures on the Oxford campus. Seven of those have been identified for contextualization. Designing the content and format for the contextualization of these sites will finish the committee’s work. The group will use the public’s input to help draft their final recommendations to submit to the chancellor by May 31.
The chancellor explained the importance of the listening sessions.
“I’ve made it clear that the committee of experts needs to listen and engage in constructive conversations with all our university stakeholders – students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends – so that they don’t miss anything and so that they weight all relevant information,” Vitter said. “It’s the best of all worlds: a committee of experts but at the same time, very wide and broad input.”
During his remarks, Vitter referenced his March 9 letter in response to misperceptions that emerged from the March 6 listening session. He emphasized that the committee’s work is focused on contextualization of existing physical campus sites.
“No other items are under the purview of the CACHC as a part of tonight’s discussion,” he said. “For example, as I explained in my letter of June 10, the terms ‘Ole Miss’ and ‘Rebels’ are here to stay as positive and endearing nicknames for the University of Mississippi.”
Rose Flenorl, an Ole Miss alumna and manager of social responsibility at FedEx Corp., serves as co-chair of the committee along with Cole. Flenorl talked about how the committee has used community engagement as a key part of its effort.
“Dr. Vitter understands that community input and engagement are paramount to the integrity and success of our efforts,” Flenorl said. “He encouraged the committee to utilize transparent and inclusive mechanisms such as the online form we used in August 2016 to solicit public input into the identification of the physical sites to be considered for contextualization.”
“The committee received 45 separate submissions, and we used those to inform our discussions and guide our recommendations. And we are again using an online form to ask for your input and ideas about the final part of our work.”
The listening session included committee members Andy Mullins and Charles Ross presenting background information about the committee, the work completed so far and the plan to address the final part of their charge.
Ross explained the seven sites to be contextualized include Lamar Hall, Barnard Observatory, Longstreet Hall and George Hall. The antebellum sites of Barnard Observatory, Croft Hall, the Lyceum and Hilgard Cut are to be contextualized with one plaque to be placed just west of Croft, within sight of the three buildings, noting that these four projects were built with slave labor.
In addition, one building, Vardaman Hall, which was already approved for renovation by the Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Education last spring, will be recommended for renaming. A new name is yet to be determined. The renaming would occur through university processes and be subject to IHL approval.
Also, signage at the Paul B. Johnson Commons will altered to add “Sr.” to clarify that it is named after Paul B. Johnson Sr.
Cole explained the committee’s approach to the final part of its work.
“The CACHC is armed with a wealth of knowledge and perspective through the assemblage of talented faculty, staff, alumni and students,” Cole said. “We are approaching our second task by dividing into smaller work groups, which will each address one or more of the sites. We will organize our effort while we eagerly await the results on the online submission form.”
The committee heard from a handful of attendees including community members, students and alumni.
“The achievements of these people who these buildings were named after must not be understated or overstated,” said UM alumnus Richard Noble of Indianola. “Personal modern day opinions and prejudices are not necessary and are not applicable to explain the facts of their time. If we let the events of the past dictate the decisions of the present, our future will be lost. We are all entitled to our own opinions, but we are not entitled to alter the facts of history.”
The comments from the listening sessions along with the online feedback will be used by the committee to inform their recommendations to the chancellor.