Students and alumni alike commonly refer to the University of Mississippi by its nickname, “Ole Miss.” Campus e-mail domains are even labeled as @olemiss.edu instead of @umiss.edu. But overly sensitive university administrators are uncomfortable with the name “Ole Miss.”
The university released a report sent to students by Chancellor Dan Jones on the issue of campus inclusivity and diversity, and came up with six steps they think will help make the campus more inclusive:
1. Create a vice chancellor-level position for diversity and inclusion.
2. Establish a portfolio model of diversity and engagement.
3. Deal squarely with the issue of race while also addressing other dimensions of diversity.
4. Implement a symbolic and formal dedication of all new students to the ideals of inclusion and fairness to which UM is devoted.
5. Offer more history, putting the past into context, telling more of the story of Mississippi’s struggles with slavery, secession, segregation and their aftermath.
6. Appropriate use of the name “Ole Miss.”
The sixth point has received a lot of negative backlash. The report suggests that even though the university’s national study last year showed that most people view the term “Ole Miss” as devoid of meaning except for being an affectionate term for the university, “a few, especially some university faculty, are uncomfortable with it. Some don’t want it used at all and some simply don’t want it used within the academic context.”
The term “Ole Miss,” according to the Associated Press, was originally used by slaves to describe a plantation owner’s wife. Ole Miss became the nickname for the University of Mississippi from a university yearbook contest in the late 1800s.
According to Inside Higher Ed, the report notes that “faculty, staff, and students chafe at having the email address read ‘olemiss.edu.’ They think the University should identify itself as ‘umiss.edu’ in such contexts.”
This is “worth considering,” the report says, and suggested the term “Ole Miss” should be used solely for “athletics and alumni relations.”
“If I could do one thing, the place would never be called Ole Miss again,” history professor Charles Eagles told The New York Times in February.
In response, an open letter from student Emma Jennings addressed to Chancellor Jones that was obtained by Inside Higher Ed shot back at the report, and specifically addressed the suggestion of changing the e-mail domain.
“Does changing our email address URL from ‘olemiss.edu’ to ‘umiss.edu,’ promote diversity?” Jennings asked. “Or does it suggest that we are a school that is ashamed of itself and ashamed of its past?”
“While the University of Mississippi has a history that we may not be proud of as modern Americans, the best approach is not to do what we can to erase the past. While it may seem like a noble idea to restrict ‘Ole Miss; to the athletic field, the fact is that I will continue to refer to the school as Ole Miss no matter what. Does this make me a racist? Or does this make me a student that is fond of the nickname (or simply fond of fewer syllables)?”
Jennings, an Alpha Omicron Pi sorority member, also took offense to the report’s swipe at the university’s Greek system, which described it as being “the proverbial elephant in the room” for being “attractors, incubators, and protectors for students wedded to the symbols and beliefs of the South’s racist past,” according to Campus Reform.
“Because of the actions of three fraternity members last semester, the entire Greek community is now subjected to the scolding looks of faculty, administration, and every non-Greek student. How does that promote diversity?” Jennings asked.