On Oct. 5, President of The University of Southern Mississippi Rodney Bennett addressed the student body via mass email about the incident that allegedly occurred at the Golden Eagles football game Oct. 1.
“By now you may be aware of an incident that was reported this past Saturday at our home football game,” Bennett wrote. “I want to assure each of you that The University of Southern Mississippi works to create an environment that is welcoming and inclusive of each member of our community. As president, I was deeply concerned when I learned of this incident, and I have since spent nearly two hours meeting with the students who filed the complaint and one of the students’ family members to reassure them of our institutional commitment to inclusion.”
Allegedly, game attendees threw drinks at and used derogatory language against two African- American students who remained seated during the national anthem, according to one of the two students’ twitter page.
The Monday following the game, students organized a peaceful protest in Shoemaker Square to support the victims.
“[The protest] was an expression of concern and unity on the behalf of their fellow students,” said Assistant Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of Students Eddie Holloway. “It has always been official to give time for the results of investigation, vetting of facts and conclusion of matters that are so prone to be guided by emotion.”
The University Police Department is currently investigating the situation by reviewing footage of the incident and identifying and interviewing the persons involved, according to Holloway.
“The case has been investigated by UPD, particularly Capt. Rusty Keyes,” Holloway said. “He has reviewed the footage of the alleged incident and has met with the majority of the persons that have been identified.The claims on behalf of the impacted students have been investigated, and the corresponding persons have been interviewed.”
Holloway said Keyes will complete the review on Oct. 6 and forward his findings to The Dean of Students.
“Once the [findings] are received by the Dean of Students office, all parties that have been identified and the students impacted will be interviewed by the Dean of Students,” Holloway said. “The students will have the Student Code of Conduct and the Creed at Southern Miss explained to them. The creed at USM outlines the model of behavior expected of our students and our community of scholars. The code also outlines prohibited behavior by students and the judicial process of the Student Code of Conduct.”
The investigation into this incident is nearing completion, and any student alleged to be in violation of the Student Code of Conduct will be referred to our Dean of Students for possible disciplinary action, according to Bennett’s email.
“I appreciate the swift work of our University Police Department, Division of Student Affairs and Department of Athletics in responding immediately to this complaint,” Bennett said. “I have been updated several times regarding the investigation and have full confidence in the thoroughness and transparency with which it is being conducted.”
Holloway said the case will go on to the Student Judicial Process. This process will determine the consequences for the students in question.
“I want to thank UPD for its rapid response and efforts to resolve this case,” Holloway said. “It is unfortunate that we are at this point in time with this case, but our system affords us the opportunity to resolve within the interest of both parties.”
Due to the demands of investigating this case, Keyes was unavailable at the time of publication.
The university is serious not only about our commitment to fostering an inclusive environment and culture, but also about protecting the safety and well-being of individuals who study, work and attend events on our campuses, according to Bennett’s email.
“Regardless of the findings of this investigation, any form of harassment, intimidation, or retaliation is not acceptable and will not be tolerated at The University of Southern Mississippi,” Bennett said. “Institutions of higher education are rich with debate, discourse and the free expression of ideas. It is our collective responsibility to respect each individual’s right to express their opinions and beliefs without fear or intimidation. I challenge all members of our university community to demonstrate collegial, respectful behavior that supports all of the different perspectives that make up our Southern Miss story.”
Bennett said the university encourages students who believe they or others have experienced harassment, intimidation or retaliation to contact one or more of the following offices: UPD at 601-266-4986, Office of the Dean of Students at 601-266-6028, Title IX Office at 601-266-6804 or 601- 266-4466 or Human Resources at 601-266-4050.