Following the controversial decision to remove the state flag from the University of Mississippi’s campus, The University of Southern Mississippi no longer flies the state’s colors as of yesterday.
Campus police lowered the flags from their poles late Wednesday morning per USM President Rodney Bennett’s order. They replaced both the Southern Miss and Mississippi state flags with American flags, the three flying high in front of the Lucas Administration Building at the front of the Hattiesburg campus.
Soon after, a demonstration against the Confederate flag took place at noon. The crowd continued to grow as word spread about the demonstration. Nearly 40 people demonstrated with signs, banners and chants in an effort to get the flag removed.
Susan Hrostowski, associate professor of social work and organizer of the event, gained a significant amount of support and reaction from the protest that was planned just 24 hours prior to its occurrence. Hrostowski was joined by faculty, students and staff of the School of Social Work.
“The Confederate battle flag represents violence, oppression and hate to many Mississippians and to people all over the world,” Hrostowski said. “Such a symbol does not reflect the best Mississippi has to offer. It is as offensive to many as the swastika. Preserving this symbol, for whatever reasons the opposition may express, only serves to embolden those who maintain policies and practices of oppression. We do not propose to bar anyone from flying this flag at their homes, or putting it on their cars or wearing it on t-shirts. We are asking that this flag not fly over public buildings and institutions or represent our state.”
Bennett released an email to the USM community shortly after the flags’ removal, stating his decision’s reasoning. In the email, Bennett ordered the Mississippi state flag to be taken down on all USM campuses. Bennett’s vision is supportive of the demonstrators’ efforts.
“I have chosen to raise American flags on all University of Southern Mississippi flagpoles to remind the university community of what unites us,” Bennett said in the email. “We have all chosen to work, study and live in a country in which debates like those around the state flag of Mississippi can take place and ideas can be civilly expressed and advanced. While I love the state of Mississippi, there is passionate disagreement about the current state flag on our campuses and in our communities. I am looking forward to a time when this debate is resolved and USM raises a state flag that unites us.”
In June, the university released a statement, which includes its position on the state flag controversy: “The University of Southern Mississippi is educating the next generation of leaders for Mississippi and beyond, a group that includes diverse individuals from more than 60 countries, every region of the United States and every corner of Mississippi. Our commitment to inclusion compels us to recognize that the current state flag does not represent the spirit of all Mississippians, and as such should continue to be discussed in an educated and civil manner.”
The change received traction after the University of Mississippi’s decision to take the state flag down after the student government made a 33- 15 vote last week to remove the emblem from its campus. Ole Miss removed the state flag from its campus on Oct. 26. Two days later, USM joined the movement. USM is the fifth public university in the state that does not fly the flag; others include Jackson State University, Mississippi Valley State University, Alcorn State University and Mississippi State University (which removed the flag in 2001).
Counter-protesters arrived at the demonstration carrying a Confederate flag.
“To me, it’s sad since we’re the state of Mississippi, and we’re supposed to be proud of who we are and how far we’ve come,” said Christine Miller, junior psychology major and counter-protester carrying the Confederate battle flag at the protest. “To take it down feels like you’re rejecting everything you are and how far you’ve come, as if you’re spitting on all the progress you’ve made.”
It is not yet known whether the removal of the flag is temporary or permanent.
However, the Student Government Association Senate is continuing to actively obtain the thoughts, opinions and concerns of the student body through civil efforts.
“This is organic,” said Nathan Barron, senior political science major and SGA senator. “This is from the ground up and that is what we want in Senate. For the students to get involved, and now that we know that the flag has been down, it has become exciting news.” Barron offered a resolution in the SGA Senate to remove the state flag from campus.
Students are encouraged to contact their respective senators directly via email and express their opinions through the Speak Up Southern Miss application on the Southern Miss SGA website.
“I would like to encourage every student to voice his or her opinion regarding this current event,” SGA Vice President Kyle Stoner said. “The SGA senators represent the voice of the student body, and I have challenged the senators to research and formulate their thoughts and opinions based on the thoughts and opinions of their constituents in order to be as informed as possible for further decisions made by the SGA Senate.”