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The ghosts of Ole Miss are far from dead

In one word, I was shocked.
Shocked like so many other members of the Ole Miss family — students, alumni, faculty and staff — when I woke up Wednesday morning to the news that protests had occurred on campus in the wake of President Obama’s re-election. But as I read articles, Facebook posts and Twitter feeds documenting the blatant use of racial slurs towards not only the president, but other Ole Miss students, my shock turned into anger. And my anger turned into shame.
Even though initial reports of full-on “riots” proved to be blown out of proportion, the damage is done. The nation’s modern understanding of The University of Mississippi, which this entire year had focused on the 50th anniversary of integration and progress in race relations, was eclipsed in an instant.
What should have signified a new chapter in Ole Miss history has been forgotten.
As the fallout from the protests unraveled Wednesday, I heard many people argue that the protest was justified under the First Amendment’s protection of the freedom of speech. While I agree that the tenant is both an essential human right and a cornerstone to the democratic foundation of the United States, the actions of the election night protesters were absolutely inexcusable and carry consequences that we have only just begun to consider.
One of the easiest, most basic ways to assess whether an action is morally right or wrong is to analyze its consequences. But beyond protecting the freedom of speech, I cannot find one single argument or example of how the protest actually benefited our university, our community or even the protesters themselves. In contrast, there is already a mountain of evidence to explain how the protest hurt the Ole Miss family, and it is only the beginning.
Just like any other school, Ole Miss works hard to “recruit” not just athletes, but a well-rounded student body. If the riots that surrounded integration half a century ago still haunt the athletics and admissions offices today, this week’s protest will have an effect as well. Prospective students are less likely to see us as the beautiful, vibrant university that we are and are more likely to judge us based on the ghosts of our past and the ignorant actions of a small but vocal minority.
As a senior applying for jobs, including many that are out of state, I honestly fear what possible employers think when they read “The University of Mississippi” at the top of my resume. It frustrates me beyond words to know that the actions of a few disgruntled, immature students on election night will seriously affect Ole Miss’s public image for the foreseeable future. The protesters not only degraded our Alma Mater, but the degrees held by every single alumnus.
The protesters have reminded the entire nation of the stereotype that Ole Miss has fought for 50 years to dispel. They perpetuated the belief that we are racist, that we are ignorant and that we are unwilling to accept inevitable social change.
I, for one, am tired of trying to convince people that this is no longer the case.
As voluntary members of the Ole Miss community, we pledge to respect the dignity of each person, to believe in fairness and civility, and to believe in personal and professional integrity. These values are spelled out in the University Creed, but not one of them was upheld by the protesters on election night.
What happens now is up to us. We are an imperfect community still coming to terms with our past. But I know that Ole Miss has the resolution, spirit and drive to do what is morally right: to address this issue, learn from our mistakes and look towards the future.
The ghosts of Ole Miss might not be dead, but we can refuse to be defined by them.

Lexi Thoman is a senior international studies and Spanish double-major from St. Louis, Mo.