November 8, 2012 10:57:38 AM
Ole Miss has more than 20,000 students enrolled at its campuses, including the Medical Center. But it only takes a small percentage to tarnish the image worn by all.
That's a lesson the University and its people have learned the hard way over the years. One step forward, two steps back. The cliché goes something like that. And so it goes with Ole Miss.
In late September, the University commemorated the 50th anniversary of James Meredith's integration. In 1962, Meredith's enrollment was greeted with riots resulting in deaths. In 2012, the commemoration was greeted with anecdotes of how far from hatred and segregation the institution has come in five decades.
The glowing resulting press was similar to what Ole Miss got in September 2008 when Democratic Presidential nominee Barack Obama squared off against Republican challenger John McCain on campus. Media from around the world cited the event as historic. Pundits celebrated the fact that Obama, an African American trying to become the first elected president in American history, was welcomed to debate on the Ole Miss campus, where just two generations before rioting broke out in the name of keeping Meredith from becoming the first African American to enroll at the University.
Obama's debate appearance at Ole Miss was lauded with this headline from The Associated Press: "For Ole Miss, presidential debate marks racial progress."
"I think what we have here is really a confluence of two lines of history, where you have a new Ole Miss, a postracial Ole Miss, and you have a postracial black candidate running for president," said David Sansing, professor emeritus of history at the university, in the 2008 article that accompanied the headline. "Nowhere in America could these two forces reinforce each other as they do here at Ole Miss."
But then we have the events that occurred at Ole Miss Tuesday night after news spread that Obama had been re-elected to a second term in office. Several hundred students sent postracial Ole Miss into a racial controversy with their social-media inspired flash mob highlighted by racial slurs against Obama and African Americans.
Granted, it was only a small minority of the entire student body that acted and spoke out so offensively Tuesday night. But the actions and the words from that small group spoke a language that unfortunately taints us all -- those associated with the University, and those who live in the state of Mississippi.
The case can be made that the protest erupted as a combination of social media outrage due to the election results meeting youthful exuberance, if not foolishness. The result, however, was something that looked and sounded a lot like hatred.
For the University, that translates into another step back after years of considerable progress.
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