Dear W university community,
As promised in my last Founder’s Day message I am writing to update you about the university’s plans to mark one of our most important historic milestones, the desegregation of the university in 1966. I also want to talk further about the Mississippi state flag.
In 1966 The W was desegregated and the first steps taken by a handful of courageous students to open our doors of opportunity to all Mississippians. The university’s official observance begins this year at Homecoming, as the first event organized to celebrate The W’s African-American graduates will take place. The Black Alumni Reunion Gala is open to all attending Homecoming, and I hope you will join us for this fun event.
I would like to thank the MUW Alumni Association’s leadership for their support of the university’s continuing efforts to broaden the appeal of Homecoming to more graduates as we embrace our traditional class years and social organizations, while reaching out in new ways to engage graduates who more closely identify with their academic college or major, another campus organization, activity, or shared interest.
Those attending Homecoming will have the opportunity to see firsthand the excellent undergraduate research conducted by our students with the support of our talented faculty with the premiere of In Their Own Words—Desegregation of The W, actors reading from the oral histories of the first African-American women to enroll in the Fall of 1966.
These programs launch a full schedule of events over the next 18 months. The university is planning a signature event at the beginning of Fall semester to mark this 50th Anniversary, and details will be forthcoming. The academic programming developed by our students and faculty will extend through the 2016-2017 academic year and will be available to our students, faculty, staff, alumni, and friends.
The university’s programming will conclude at Homecoming 2017 as we celebrate the wonderful diversity of The W today. In 2016 The W’s student body reflects the racial make up of the state of Mississippi. In the past five years the university has recorded a 7 percent increase in the number of African-American graduates, and last year Diverse Issues in Higher Education reported The W ranked #12 nationally in the number of African-American graduates in “Registered Nursing, Nursing Administration, Nursing Research and Clinical Research.”
I hope you will attend many of these events.
I know you are aware of the debate about the Mississippi state flag. Last July I announced my support for a new state flag, one that will unite Mississippians and not divide us. I called on the university community to view this issue as a teachable moment for our students, as well as the broader university community. I said the Mississippi state flag should continue to fly as a means of ensuring this conversation took place and as a reminder of the work before us.
I am proud of the civil and respectful conversation that has taken place across the campus. I would especially like to thank the Student Government Association and SGA President Quincy Hughes for organizing an open forum last November on the Mississippi state flag. Our students have continued these discussions, and our faculty and staff have provided a supportive learning environment.
As you might imagine, I have heard from many on all sides of this issue. This issue is difficult to discuss civilly and it invites quick, simple solutions—declare your support for the state flag and fly it, or take it down. I have been asked to do both. I fully understand the reasoning, but remain committed to a new state flag. I also know quick, simple solutions won’t change the state flag of Mississippi.
Changing the Mississippi state flag will only come from hard work and active citizenship. I am always pleased when those who seek me out on this issue have also taken the time to contact their state representative or senator. Civic engagement and becoming a fully participating and well-educated citizen have long been a part of the education provided by this university. It is here where students begin to practice citizenship.
Since late last Fall I have been in nearly weekly contact with the presidents of the SGA, Faculty Senate, and Staff Council regarding this issue. These leaders have also been engaged with their counterparts across Mississippi’s public university system working toward a unified voice. I am confident this good work will lead to constructive civic engagement during this legislative session.
Our state’s history cannot be changed and the collective experience of our citizens cannot be diminished. These are among the influences that shape our understanding of what it is to be a Mississippian. While it is essential we know and learn from the past, I suggest we must focus on the future lest it be less than we are capable of becoming.
No one can deny the evil of slavery, the pernicious nature of Jim Crow, the lost opportunities, the human cost of the Civil War in bloodshed and loss, the heroism of the Civil Rights movement, or the decades of economic deprivation and suffering brought about by division and failing to invest in developing our state’s human capital.
Patriotism unites us. We all know patriotic Mississippians who fought in the World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, or the War on Terrorism. Mississippians have been among the first to serve the United States and fight for the freedoms we enjoy today. After all, it was the greatest generation who came home from World War II and began to level the playing field to allow equal opportunity, access to public accommodations, and the right to vote to all Americans.
Economic opportunity unites us. Our economy is rapidly evolving to high paying advanced manufacturing and knowledge economy jobs. We seek out the economic opportunities and diversity provided by the investment of international corporations such as Nissan, Toyota, and Yokohama Tire.
The generous spirit of Mississippians unites us. After every flood, fire, tornado, or hurricane neighbors help neighbors, many of them strangers to one another. Our generosity of spirit is legendary. Time and again our citizens have pulled together to recover from disaster, and to give of their time, talent, and resources to help the less fortunate.
It is a mistake to dwell on division when so much unites us. As Mississippians we know our state’s challenges and opportunities, and we know we cannot afford to deliberately impair our future by marginalizing any among us.
As a public university The W is responsible for educating all Mississippians, and to be successful in our mission we must be welcoming to all, while at the same time respectful of diversity of opinion. I encourage each of you to carefully consider this issue and to exercise civic engagement as our state leaders also consider these issues.
I will be back with an update to this Spring semester letter when we have more information about budget prospects.
Until next time,