Ole Miss Chancellor Vitter: Student’s lynching comment was ‘racist’

Published 9:02 am Saturday, September 24, 2016

By The Associated Press

The University of Mississippi chancellor on Friday condemned a student’s online comment about lynching as “racist, offensive and hurtful” after dozens of other students said the chancellor’s initial response to the comment was weak and insensitive to African-Americans.

Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter issued a statement after he met privately with some of the students — black and white — who occupied the main administration building in Oxford to protest a Facebook comment from an account listed as belonging to a white student at Ole Miss. The Associated Press was not immediately able to confirm that the post was made by the student himself.

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The comment responded to another student’s post that criticized people protesting the police killing of a black man in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Vitter had issued a statement earlier Friday criticizing social media comments that “suggest or condone actions” inconsistent with the university’s core values and requesting that people on campus “be respectful and civil in our discourse.”

Dozens of students occupied the university’s white-columned Lyceum building for several hours Friday afternoon, and protest leaders demanded that Vitter label the lynching comment as a “racist threat of domestic terrorism.” After meeting with protesters, Vitter said they expressed “great pain, sadness, and concern for their own safety.” He confirmed the lynching comment had come from an Ole Miss student, but he did not publicly confirm the student’s name.

“To be clear, we condemn the recent social media post by one of our students that referenced lynching,” Vitter said in a statement Friday night. “In light of our country’s history, that comment can only be seen as racist, offensive and hurtful, especially to members of our African American community. There is no place in our community for racist or violent acts.”

The student newspaper, The Daily Mississippian, posted video online of conversations on the Lyceum steps between black protesters and Andrew Soper, a student government senator who is white. Soper acknowledged he wrote a Facebook post criticizing the North Carolina protesters but said he was unaware for several hours that a comment about lynching had been made in response to it. He said he deleted the lynching post.

Video from The Daily Mississippian showed protesters asking Soper whether he had watched videos of black men killed by police officers. He said he had not.

Vitter became chancellor in January, weeks after other Ole Miss administrators stopped flying the Mississippi state flag on campus because the banner prominently features the Confederate battle emblem that critics see as a divisive reminder of segregation and slavery. Soper has sharply criticized university officials for removing the flag.

At Ole Miss’ home football game last weekend, protesters unfurled an oversized state flag in the stadium and university police officers confiscated it, citing a longstanding policy that bans items that obstruct the view of other spectators.

Vitter’s predecessor as chancellor, Dr. Dan Jones, launched an effort in 2014 to provide historical context for some symbols and buildings on a campus that dates back to 1848 and is home to a Confederate cemetery. Earlier this year, the university put a plaque by a Confederate soldier statue near the Lyceum.