On Wednesday, June 3, the Southern Miss student body, faculty and staff stood amongst one another in The District of USM’s Hattiesburg Campus to support Black Lives Matter in protesting racism and police brutality.
It started at 1:00 P.M. near the Luckday gateway arches in front of the Thad Cochran Center. Once gathering there, UPD assisted in leading the protest to the front of the school to prevent traffic from potentially injuring the protestors.
The protest was a response to a controversial post Southern Miss alumnae Amanda Lea McElyea shared on her Snapchat story. In the video, McElyea says the N word to describe a black woman walking by. Current Southern Miss nursing student Breana Kelley is also present, laughing with McElyea as soon as the woman walks away.
The post spread quickly on social media. Many were outraged by the video and further frustrated they couldn’t confront McElyea and Kelley directly, since they have deactivated all of their social media accounts. On Sunday, May 31, President Rodney D. Bennett issued a statement regarding the video, announcing he had assigned Vice President of Student Affairs Dr. Dee Dee Anderson to investigate and address both women involved.
The protest was organized by Taylor McDonald, Verkilyah Hogan, Kendra Lee, Sherrice Wright, Toni Crisler, Ciedarius Jacobs, Angel T and Erin Thomas, all leaders of various organizations in the Multicultural Services Department, such as the Afro-American Student Organization, I.D.E.A.L Women, Men of Excellence, Women Empowerment Association, N.A.A.C.P. and National Pan-Hellenic Council.
The repeated chant of “No Justice, No Peace” could be heard throughout the Eagle Walk as Southern Miss students from all racial backgrounds marched together.
The Student Alumni Association set up a tent with water and pizza to show their support and provide relief from the hot afternoon. Multiple school officials, like President Bennett, Dr. Anderson, Dean of Admissions Kate Howard and Vice Provost of Academic Affairs Dr. Amy Chasteen, also showed up to support the protest.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for students, faculty, staff and administrators to come together and just show support for the students who are leading this and to show solidarity around all of our concerns about racism in America[.] [W]e at the University of Southern Mississippi value diversity, equity and inclusion and want to prioritize it in everything we do,” said Chasteen.
When the protest stopped in The District, McDonald called for everyone to take a knee, asking for volunteers to share stories of experiencing or witnessing racism and/or police brutality to remind others why the protest was being held.
“To see everyone come together that Wednesday[,] I was really in tears[,] because I just felt like [when] people come together it is so powerful. Especially when we all don’t look alike, you see that it is just not one race being affected or a specific group, it’s everyone,” said McDonald.
April Estelle-Lomax, Interim Director of Student Counselor Services, was also present at the protest. She commented on the mental importance and healing participating in protests provides participants.
“When we think about things like the peaceful protests today and what this stands for, this is representative of systemic racial inequality and generational racial trauma and that’s a real thing. It triggers things that make it difficult for everyday people to accomplish things. So protesting brings the sense of validation, there’s so much in having a collective group together to support one another,” said Estelle-Lomax.
Overall, with so much tragedy, frustration and anger present in protests and riots, the Southern Miss Family stood strongly against racism, instead being an agent of positive change in the Pine Belt Community and State of Mississippi.