Ole Miss student government groups: Move Confederate statue

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — University of Mississippi student government groups are calling for a Confederate soldier monument to be moved from a prominent spot on the Oxford campus to a Confederate cemetery in a secluded area behind a coliseum.

Members of the Associated Student Body Senate voted 47-0 Tuesday night for a resolution asking administrators to move the statue, which has stood since 1906 in a park-like setting near the white-columned Lyceum, the university’s main administrative building. The Graduate Student Council Senate adopted a similar resolution Monday.

The groups say the statue undermines the university’s mission to be inclusive.

Three African-American and three white students researched and wrote the resolution before it went to the Associated Student Body Senate. Among them was Jarvis Benson, a senior from Grenada, Mississippi, and president of the Black Student Union on campus.

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“This is not a political issue. … This resolution is about respect, and this resolution is about humanity,” Benson said during discussion of the resolution, shown on Facebook.

The university, founded in 1848, has worked in fits and starts the past two decades to distance itself from Confederate imagery, often amid resistance from tradition-bound donors and alumni. Since 2016, Ole Miss has installed plaques to provide historical context about the Confederate monument and about slaves who built some campus buildings before the Civil War.

Pro-Confederate groups from outside the university rallied at the statue Feb. 23, and Ole Miss basketball players knelt during the National Anthem to protest their activities.

The cemetery is in a remote part of campus and has the graves of Confederate soldiers killed at the Battle of Shiloh.

University spokesman Rod Guajardo said in a statement that Ole Miss uses a “model of shared governance” that includes student groups.

“We commend the ASB Senate for using the democratic process to engage in debate on topics that impact our community,” the statement said.

It was not immediately clear whether Ole Miss administrators have the power to move the statue without asking permission from the state board that oversees all eight of Mississippi’s public universities.

The Confederate soldier statue was a rallying point in 1962 for people who rioted to oppose court-ordered integration of the university.

The nickname for athletic teams remains the Rebels, but Ole Miss retired its Colonel Reb mascot in 2003 amid criticism that the bearded old man looked like a plantation owner. In 1997, administrators banned sticks in the football stadium, which largely stopped people from waving Confederate battle flags. The marching band no longer plays “Dixie.”

Because of a student-led effort, the university in 2015 stopped flying the Mississippi flag, which is the last state flag to prominently feature the Confederate battle emblem.

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Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter: http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus .

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