Students at The University of Southern Mississippi gathered at the entrance of the university campus in response to the officials taking down the Mississippi state flag. President Rodney Bennett decided to replace the Mississsippi and university flags with American flags.
“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.
Students who agree with the removal of the flag protested for the university to make its decision to remove the flag permanent. Yelling, “Southern Miss, keep it down,” students from a social work class, among other Hattiesburg residents, stood for the university’s removal of the flag.
Molly Fedele, a social work graduate student, stood with her classmates in protest.
“I disapprove with the flag as it is,” Fedele said. “I feel like it represents what African- Americans went through back in the Civil War and during integration. So, I believe we should change it to show that Mississippi has more unity.”
Southern Miss is known for being the most diverse university in the state. Many of the university’s students do not agree with the current state flag. Senior music education major Jeremy Moore said he respects that people voice their opinions and things they care about.
“As a symbol for the state of Mississippi, I don’t believe this should represent our state, because the Bible says, ‘If you’re doing something that offends your brother, don’t do it in his presence,’” Moore said. “So as a lot of people are offended by the flag in Mississippi, so then per the Bible, if you are a religious person, as Mississippi is, then you should respect their beliefs and take it down.”
These beliefs did not come without opposition. Two students stood holding the Confederate flag in support of the Mississippi flag. Protesters against the university’s decision to remove
the flag believed that in doing so the university played a part in removing the heritage of the state.
One of those students was junior psychology major Christine Miller.
“When I look at this flag, I see the history of it,” Miller said. “I don’t think we should ever take down the flag of the state of Mississippi at The University of Southern Mississippi.”
Miller said the flag represents how far the state has moved beyond past times of hate and oppression.
Junior entertainment industry production major Kris Kolakowski said that the current flag still represents both of those issues. He believes the university taking down the state flag was a move in the right direction for the state.
“It’s moving away from not just an economic system but a system of institutionalized racism that still exists today,” Kolakowski said. “That’s why the prison system is so messed up. That’s why the policing systems are so messed up. That’s why we have movements like Black Lives Matter, because it’s still a big issue.”
For him, removing the state flag acknowledges that deeper issues are at play and should be handled with consideration to all Mississippi citizens.
Despite the argument that removing the flag allowed Mississippi to be more progressive, for some, that comes at the cost of the state’s history.
Isaac Hitt, a senior computer science major, decided to counter-protest after hearing news that people planned to protest against the flag. He said the flag should not have been removed since it has not been court mandated or gone through a vote.
“I don’t believe we should cherry pick the good and the bad,” Hitt said. “We should know that we had bad times in our history as well as the good and learn from the mistakes. By removing the Confederate flag from the state flag, we’re taking the first steps (in) removing it from our history.”
The decision to remove the state flag from university grounds followed the flag’s removal from other public institutions. Officials have not determined whether this is a permanent change for the university or not. A new state flag would likely prompt the university to raise a flag in representation of Mississippi. For Miller, a state university should support its state. Changing the flag could be a way to compromise for all of the people of the state.
“If they change the flag of the state of Mississippi, then that’s just something we’ll have to deal with, and I’ll stand behind that,” Miller said.