Their actions, which come two weeks after pro-Confederate groups rallied at the monument site, were intended to mirror the will of those at the university who say the statue no longer has a place on Mississippi’s flagship campus.
It marks the latest effort nationally to reexamine Confederate monuments and symbols. While advocates say the artifacts are important for understanding history, opponents argue that they symbolize racism and a segregated past. The debates have been contentious. At the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, protesters toppled a statue of a Confederate soldier at the start of the academic year. The school’s chancellor at the time ordered the remnants of the monument removed before she was abruptly ousted, and people on both sides repeatedly rallied at the site.
At Ole Miss, a school that reveres its Southern traditions, the statue, erected in the early 20th century, has particular resonance: The university shut down during the Civil War because nearly all of its students enlisted to fight for the Confederacy. And while the campus has evolved — a statue of the first black student to enroll has a prominent spot on campus, and in 2015 the university took down state flags that include the Confederate emblem — the monument still has strong support.
“We had been working on this for so long, and we were prepared for a lot of outcomes. It was a daunting and, to be quite honest, scary process,” said Katie Dames, a sophomore who helped lead the months-long effort toward the student resolution. “For the black students who co-wrote the legislation, it was even scarier for them.”
She was shaking when the vote took place, she said, overwhelmed and astonished that the final tally was unanimous.
“I love this campus and all the opportunities and the beautiful traditions it has,” she said, “but there’s so much hate embedded in that. I wanted to help in any way I could to make people feel more comfortable. Things move really slowly here — but they’re headed in the right direction.”
The Graduate Student Council and the Staff Council both approved a resolution this week to move the statue. The Faculty Senate called an extraordinary meeting after the student vote, said Brice Noonan, an associate professor of biology who chairs the senate.
Students kept their effort quiet, he said, because the university has become a flash point in the cultural debate, and they did not want to attract animosity before the vote.
The Faculty Senate unanimously endorsed a resolution that includes the following ideas: “The University of Mississippi has a complex history in regard to slavery, injustice, and race that negatively impacts the University community as a whole; . . . The current placement of the Confederate monument is unsuitable and undermines our mission to maintain an inclusive and safe environment; . . . The Confederate cemetery would offer a contextually appropriate location to house the statue that acknowledges historical characters while not inhibiting the livelihoods of current students.”
On Thursday, the university’s interim chancellor, Larry Sparks, sent a campuswide message. “We appreciate the thoughtful and deliberate consideration that the student groups have given to formulating, debating, and passing their resolutions recommending relocation of the monument,” he said in a statement.
Sparks also wrote that the administration would not have the final word on moving the statue. To relocate the monument, the university would need to submit an agenda item to the Board of Trustees of the Mississippi State Institutions of Higher Learning for consideration, he wrote, and justify the cemetery as a suitable location.
The president of the board of trustees and the commissioner of higher education did not immediately respond to requests for comment Friday.
Caron Blanton, a spokeswoman for Mississippi Public Universities, wrote in an email that the executive officer of the institution would make the determination on whether to submit an item for approval by the Board of Trustees. By law, she wrote, “the Mississippi Department of Archives and History must be consulted prior to public construction or improvement affecting potential Mississippi landmarks.”
The Faculty Senate had not formally considered a resolution before to relocate the Confederate statute, Noonan said. The most common argument for keeping the statue — primarily from people not on campus, he said — is that it would be erasing history to remove it.
“That’s certainly not the intent here,” he said. He praised the student-led effort to move the statue to a more appropriate location where it can reflect history without alienating people on campus.
“A number of faculty have left this university because they just don’t feel safe or comfortable here,” he said. “It’s the first thing you see when you drive onto campus. It’s not welcoming.”