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Trends and traditions rock the student body

Petre Thomas

 

University of North Carolina transfer student Madeline Basden steps into the University of Mississippi Student Union cafeteria expecting to enjoy lunch with her fellow students. 

She walks up to a table in the front near the food court, which is filled with African Americans dressed in snap-back hats, high-heeled shoes and skirts. 

“Is anyone sitting here?” she asks. 

The black students look at her awkwardly for wanting to sit with them, and Maddie, who is white, flees to another table in the back of the Union, where she is forced to sit with other white students dressed in polo shirts, leggings and khakis. 

Some students, like Basden, are used to a more integrated campus, and the color line drawn in the Union cafeteria illustrates how far Ole Miss has to go in dissolving racial boundaries.

“I totally notice the separation in the Student Union,” said Valencia Williams, a sophomore biology major who is black, said. “Once I greeted someone from another race, and he looked at me crazy.”

Students like Laken Burrell, who is a sophomore pharmacy major from Amory, don’t even realize the involuntary segregation that occurs in the Union. 

Yet other students, such as junior journalism major Kimberly Dandridge, who is also the president of the Black Student Union, do recognize this division.

“The seating in the Union is definitely noticeable,” she said. “I don’t think people do it on purpose; I think it’s just a habit.

“The culture of Ole Miss is just so different from any other place I’ve ever experienced.”

Though this involuntary segregation is present, many students have ambitions or ideas that could possibly create a more diverse environment for the campus. 

“Ending problems with segregation begins with the individual,” said Chelsea Brock, a sophomore biology major from Ocean Springs. “An individual must find interest in going out and interacting with someone different from them on a regular basis. That way, it becomes more natural.”

On any given day, black students occupy the dozen or so tables closest to the food vendors, and the white students sit at the tables closer to the windows. 

Few tables are integrated.

“It’s always bothered me, but that’s the way of our racist school,” said Devunti Mickey, a sophomore from Tupelo.

The seating arrangements have always been the same, and no one has really ever addressed the situation because everyone has always seemed content with the way things are, according to several Union workers. 

“I think that we should diversify ourselves,” Christopher Miller, a freshman from Amory, said. “We’re on a college campus so students should want to socialize with others that are not like themselves.” 

Some students say that in some ways, a more crowded campus helps to break down these barriers. 

Organizations such as the Ole Miss Alumni Association have made many attempts to lessen the distance between races, though on a mostly symbolic level — the school’s recent mascot change, for example. 

“Changing the Ole Miss Rebels to the Rebel Black Bears isn’t taken seriously,” Basden said. “When I log onto Twitter, I always see white students mocking the mascot. Personally, I think the mascot is our way of showing minority students, and not just the black ones, some respect.”

Organizations within the student body have even made multiple attempts to do away with segregation and advertise how far the university has come with diversity.

“You’re going to feel most comfortable with people that are like you, so you migrate towards those people,” said Kaylen Addison, the Assciated Student Body director of diversity affairs, said. “The Associated Student Body has created events that show the university’s diversity, such as our Two+2 program and Black and White Affair.”

The Two+2 program allows students to interact with one other and with faculty. 

“I’m involved in the Two+2 program and interacting with other students has been an amazing experience,” said Larry Ridgeway, vice chancellor of student affairs. “As far as student seating in the Union, I think it’s just human nature, but our campus has come a very long way with diversity over the past years.”

Not only is the Union’s seating arrangement a reminder of segregation and racial distance, but the Grove on game days is as well, when the campus is swarming with thousands of Ole Miss alumni and fans, the majority of which are white, according to many of the black students interviewed.

Though many tents are set up in the Grove, not all are welcoming to strangers or students who want to have fun. Some black students are hesitant when it comes to approaching an all-white tent. 

“I have white friends that I trust, but I am a bit nervous when it comes to approaching a tent that is hosted by all white people,” Anastasia Griffin, a sophomore political science major from Jackson, said. 

“I don’t think every white person that comes to Ole Miss is racist, but there are some that just don’t like us.”

Along with segregated tents, another tradition that remains at Ole Miss is dressing up on game day. Many students know it is a tradition to dress up for games, but not every student is comfortable with dressing to the nines for each home game. 

“I love Ole Miss, but I’m not used to wearing polos and khakis, but sometimes I feel like I have to conform because it is such a culture shock,” said. Mark Fabi, a freshman from North Carolina, who is adjusting to campus styles.

Is it possible that minorities, who make up only 24.6 percent of the student population, feel the need to out-dress their counterparts to gain respect? 

“It doesn’t matter to me, neither does it affect me,” said Kiara Washington, a sophomore biology major who is black. “Most students dress up to look professional for meetings, class or even seminars. I think it’s nice to occasionally see people always dressing up rather than dressing down.”

Gregory Brown, a senior pre-dental and biology major from Brookhaven, said he feels that while some of his black peers might just like the attention that comes with dressing nice, it’s also just a part of black culture. 

“When I was in high school, a lot of black people dressed up on the first day of school and continued to dress nicely because it was a competition for us,” he said. “As far as white people, they never really cared much about it.” 

Some students say the university still needs to grow racially and lose some of its cherished traditions that, they say, tend keep the status quo, like the seating arrangements in the Union and the racial composition of the Grove.