Clyde Kennard, an overlooked civil rights forerunner, saw this firsthand in 1955, when he attempted to become the first African American to enroll here at The University of Southern Mississippi, then known as Mississippi Southern College.
Instead of being welcomed into the university, Kennard was unjustly denied enrollment numerous times despite the “set” law. It was not until 1965 that the first African Americans, Raylawni Branch and Gwendolyn Elaine Armstrong, actually made history by becoming the first to enroll at Southern Miss.
Now, 50 years later, USM welcomes students of all races to enroll in the university based on their ability and not the color of their skin.
However, have we made genuine strides outside of desegregation in bridging the gap of the races? Visibly, the answer would be yes.
For one, Southern Miss inaugurated President Rodney Bennett as the 10th president and first African American to lead the university.
Southern Miss is not only made up of a diverse population of students but there is also a consistent increase of minority students.
However, there are many internal factors that show our institution still has room to grow. Examples of this needed growth are visible in the present organizations on campus.
While the university chartered organizations such as the Afro-American Student Organization to serve as a voice for minority students, there is still a lack of respect or attention paid to minority organizations. More of this racial divide is seen in our Greek community where there is a lack of diversity and councils seem to stick with more of the traditional racial presence.
In order to achieve a true harmonious environment, progress needs to be seen in more ways in our Southern Miss community.