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Abstract and Figures

The hanging of a noose on the University of Mississippi’s statue of civil rights pioneer James Meredith in February 2014 was framed by university administrators as the act of a few deviant white students, but our analysis suggests otherwise. A historical review shows the university’s long-standing resistance to meaningful change and a continuing lack of transparency following racist incidents. Visual analysis shows that the university remains saturated with monuments, place names, and other symbols of racial dominance. Narratives of marginalized people on campus, including some of the authors, reveal the corrosive effects of normalized white supremacy. The authors’ analysis suggests that, instead of an aberration, the noosing aligned the statue with the prevailing symbolic environment. This study builds bridges between sociological analysis and critical race theory and demonstrates the importance of group processes in understanding and responding to racist incidents on campuses.
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Sociology of Race and Ethnicity
2016, Vol. 2(3) 338 –353
© American Sociological Association 2016
DOI: 10.1177/2332649215626937
Racial Ideologies and Racial Discourses
In the early hours of Sunday, February 16, 2014, a
contract worker at the University of Mississippi
(UM) came upon several white students yelling,
“white power” and “fuck niggers” near the campus
Civil Rights Monument (Ganucheau 2014). He
then discovered that the monument, which features
a life-sized bronze statue of James Meredith, the
first African American to attend the university
(Meredith and Doyle 2012), had been vandalized.
What the young men left behind—a noose around
the statue’s neck and an old Georgia state flag bear-
ing the Confederate emblem—became the univer-
sity’s latest incident of racism to spark international
In 1962, backed by the Kennedy White House,
Meredith, a young U.S. Air Force veteran, inte-
grated the famously segregated UM over the pro-
tests of Governor Ross Barnett and angry white
Mississippians, who rioted for several days,
wounding 48 soldiers and 166 federal marshals and
killing two bystanders (Doyle 2001). Since then,
626937SREXXX10.1177/2332649215626937Sociology of Race and EthnicityCombs et al.
1Clark Atlanta University, Atlanta, GA, USA
2University of Mississippi, University, MS, USA
Corresponding Author:
John Sonnett, University of Mississippi, Department of
Sociology and Anthropology, P.O. Box 1848, University,
MS 38677-1848, USA.
The Symbolic Lynching of
James Meredith: A Visual
Analysis and Collective Counter
Narrative to Racial Domination
Barbara Harris Combs1, Kirsten Dellinger2, Jeffrey T. Jackson2,
Kirk A. Johnson2, Willa M. Johnson2, Jodi Skipper2,
John Sonnett2, James M. Thomas2, and Critical Race Studies
Group, University of Mississippi
The hanging of a noose on the University of Mississippi’s statue of civil rights pioneer James Meredith in
February 2014 was framed by university administrators as the act of a few deviant white students, but
our analysis suggests otherwise. A historical review shows the university’s long-standing resistance to
meaningful change and a continuing lack of transparency following racist incidents. Visual analysis shows
that the university remains saturated with monuments, place names, and other symbols of racial dominance.
Narratives of marginalized people on campus, including some of the authors, reveal the corrosive effects
of normalized white supremacy. The authors’ analysis suggests that, instead of an aberration, the noosing
aligned the statue with the prevailing symbolic environment. This study builds bridges between sociological
analysis and critical race theory and demonstrates the importance of group processes in understanding and
responding to racist incidents on campuses.
racism, critical, theory, history, narrative, visibility
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Combs et al. 339
the university has made fitful progress toward
improving the campus racial climate, but racist
incidents continue. Recent years have seen black
students assaulted and their spaces vandalized by
whites (Associated Press 2007; Dees 2012), and
white students hurling racial epithets at black stu-
dents after President Obama’s election and reelec-
tion (Brown 2012; Ladd 2008).
When such incidents occur, university officials
respond with a standard narrative: they condemn
the offending individuals and proclaim that such
actions contradict the ideals of the institution. This
framing depicts such behavior as the misguided
actions of a few deviant individuals. This mis-
recognition is typical of many white (and non-
white) Americans who see racism as an individual
(and rare) moral failing rather than a systemic
social force (Feagin 2010), and whose personal
claims of colorblindness mask indifference to
structural inequality (Bonilla-Silva 2010; Foreman
2004). When this individualistic framing emerges
from campus administrators, it functions as denial,
and “a major management strategy” (van Dijk
1992:97) for silencing critics and dismissing insti-
tutional racism.
At a school whose history and geographic land-
scape are saturated with affectionate references to
the Old South, characterizing racist actions as
anomalous inverts reality. In this article, we argue
that the noosing represents an alignment of the
Meredith statue with the prevailing symbolic envi-
ronment, not an aberration from the norm. Thus, at
a transformational moment in our nation’s racial
history—the sixth year of the first African
American presidency—the noosing helped normal-
ize white supremacy at UM. Examining white
racial domination, which provides the scaffolding
for such incidents, helps explain why racist events
persist on campuses with segregationist legacies
and how these events undermine administrators’
efforts to promote diversity and fairness.
We ask two related research questions in this
study, one theoretical and one methodological.
First, how can a university’s visual landscape repro-
duce white racial domination? We offer a visual
analysis of the UM campus in its historical context
to show how institutional racism is reproduced in
the very structures of the university, thereby nor-
malizing racial domination. We explore how the
imagined geography of the university reflects the
ongoing negotiation and contestation of racial
meanings, formed in a dialectical struggle between
those who hold institutional power and challengers
of this power. We use counter storytelling, an
approach inspired by critical race theory, to show
the impact of the noosing incident on the lived
experiences of diverse members of the university
Second, how can scholars combine scholarship
and social justice in the face of color-blind institu-
tional racism? The coauthors of this article are
members of the UM Critical Race Studies Group
(CRSG), an interdisciplinary group of scholars
working to address racial and other inequalities at
UM and elsewhere. In response to the noosing inci-
dent, we developed a consensus-based approach to
collaborative writing that produced both a written
analysis and a collaborative faculty working group.
To address our second research question, we exam-
ine the diverse perspectives of our faculty working
group and how they became intertwined in a col-
lective counter narrative. In the following section,
we build at the intersections of sociology and criti-
cal race theory to outline the theoretical and meth-
odological foundations of our approach.
Visual Sociology and Critical Race Theory
To understand the noosing of the Meredith statue,
we must see how this action fits with the landscape
and history of the university. We use postcolonial
theorist Edward Said’s “imaginative geography” to
critically examine the university’s historical and
contemporary landscape. First introduced by Said
(1977) in “Orientalism,” imaginative geographies
reflect how discourses of power and empire imbue
physical landscapes with values reflective of the
desires and imagination of dominant groups. The
production and maintenance of these landscapes
functions as a form of authoritative knowledge,
locating “us,” “them,” and the differences between.
However, we temper Said’s critique with Victor
Turner’s (1967) concept of liminality to argue that
UM’s landscape represents an indeterminate envi-
ronment, where dominant values of white suprem-
acy are matters of ongoing contestation and
negotiation. This approach answers a call for more
visual analysis in the sociology of race and racism
(Bonilla-Silva 2015:80) and also articulates with
tenets of critical race theory.
According to Weber (1978), the interpretive
understanding of human action can be “rational” in
an intellectual sense, but also “empathetic,” requir-
ing the analyst to “adequately grasp the emotional
context in which the action took place” (p. 5). We
update Weber’s interpretive approach by drawing
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340 Sociology of Race and Ethnicity 2(3)
on critical race theory and in particular on the
method of “counter storytelling” (Solórzano and
Yosso 2002), which emphasizes how the voices of
marginalized people can help us better understand
the experiential component of racial domination.
Growing out of critical legal studies (Bell 1992),
and resonating with the work of W.E.B. Du Bois,
critical race theory is becoming more recognized
within sociology (Bonilla-Silva 2015). Weber’s
interpretive tradition owes a great deal of debt to
Du Bois, who was both an early influence on Weber
and arguably the founder of the American socio-
logical tradition (Du Bois [1968] 2014; Morris
2015; Rabaka 2012). Du Bois’s ([1903] 2007) The
Souls of Black Folk and his much later Dusk of
Dawn (Du Bois [1940] 2007) both foreshadow the
method of counter storytelling. Our use of counter
storytelling is therefore not only a borrowing from
critical race theory but also an acknowledgment of
an underrecognized history in classical sociologi-
cal theory.
Yosso et al. (2009:662–63) outlined five areas
for developing critical race theory, all of which are
represented in our combination of counter story-
telling with visual analysis in historical context.
Our research and our group both grew out of a
“commitment to social justice” that led us to
develop a scholarly “challenge to dominant ideol-
ogy,” a challenge that highlights systemic and
structural aspects of institutional racism on cam-
pus. We foreground “the centrality of experiential
knowledge” through counter storytelling and use
an “interdisciplinary perspective” to draw together
evidence from historical, visual, and narrative
sources. We highlight “the intercentricity of race
and racism” by revealing how racism is embedded
within the campus landscape and how racism inter-
sects with other dimensions of social inequality.
Collective Counter Narrative as Method
In the critical race theory framework, counter sto-
ries usually relate first-person perspectives and
experiential knowledge (Solórzano and Yosso
2002). We built on this approach by developing a
consensus-based model for group counter storytell-
ing, weaving first-person stories into a collective
counter narrative. As we developed this narrative,
we were also developing a collaborative group of
eight faculty coauthors in the context of ongoing
incidents at UM and other universities. In this
sense, our group process is a central aspect of our
methodology. We examine the setting of our col-
laborative work through a visual analysis of the
campus within the historical context of the univer-
sity. Doing this bridges between individual and
structural levels of analysis while developing sup-
portive social connections and furthering scholar-
ship and resistance to institutional racism.
The CRSG was formed in 2011 with a mission
“to identify and address racial and other inequali-
ties at the UM and elsewhere, thus helping to pro-
mote vibrant, respectful, diverse communities”
(Critical Race Studies Group N.d.). The very exis-
tence of the CRSG is due in part to the racial cli-
mate where we live and work. Over the years, the
CRSG has organized scholarly reading and writing
groups, hosted guest speakers and a symposium,
published public letters, and served as a forum for
discussion and support. When authors 5 and 7
began their term as co-chairs of the CRSG in
January 2014, they focused on group process and
engaging in scholarship and research. Modeled on
Quaker consensus (Bressen 2007), initiatives and
leadership were allowed to emerge from the group
process. Scholarship became a priority as it became
clear that individual members’ efforts to fight for
social justice were detracting from their ability to
produce scholarship.
The noosing incident in February 2014 pro-
vided us an early challenge and opportunity to use
the consensus model to develop scholarship as a
form of group engagement. This article is the col-
laborative product of eight members of the CRSG.
The eight coauthors, a subsection of the larger
CRSG, include three black women, one black man,
three white men, and one white woman. With the
exception of two black female authors and one
white male author, all other authors are tenured.
The sole white female author is also a department
chair. At the time of the incident, none of the writ-
ers had earned full professor status. Although the
gender divide of the group (50 percent male, 50
percent female) approximates that of UM profes-
sors (who are 57 percent male and 43 percent
female), the group is much more racially diverse
(50 percent white, 50 percent black) than is the fac-
ulty as a whole (81 percent white, 5 percent black)
(University of Mississippi 2014).
In the sections below, we first contextualize the
noosing of the James Meredith statue within the
history of UM, which features a deep-rooted racist
past, significant transformations during the twenti-
eth century, and a continual reworking and reartic-
ulation of embedded institutional racism. In the
visual analysis, we highlight how this history is
reproduced in the present through the ambivalent
memorialization of Meredith’s desegregation of the
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Combs et al. 341
institution. In the narrative section, we use counter
storytelling to illuminate the lived experiences of
people outside the established institutional power
structure, showing how the invisible but palpable
weight of racial domination continues to shape
everyday lives.
The most important factor that one must
consider is the condition for ending the war. My
objective in this war was total victory: victory
over discrimination, oppression, the unequal
application of the law, and, most of all, over
“White supremacy” and all of its manifestations.
(James Meredith, 2006)1
James Meredith’s likening of racial advocacy to
open warfare reminds that UM has been a bastion
of white supremacy since its creation in 1848.
Established by slave owners to educate their sons,
the university was founded at a time of overt racial
domination and subordination, evidenced by fed-
eral Indian removal, land grants to white settlers,
and, of course, plantation slavery. The racial-caste
exploitation at the core of this system created vast
economic and political power for entrepreneurial
enslavers who used their influence to fashion UM
according to their interests. Enslaved blacks pro-
vided the labor for this enterprise. They built the
campus and served faculty members and students
before war temporarily shuttered the university in
1861 (Sansing 1999).
The war changed slavery’s legal status, yet the
ideological underpinnings of the institution—a
place devoted to serving the educational needs of
white ruling elites to the exclusion of Mississippians
of color—remained. After the war, the university
paid homage to the (white) southern way of life by
launching a vigorous defense of the Old South and
constructing the intellectual framework for emerg-
ing Jim Crow oppression. The sons and daughters
of the Confederacy built prominent monuments on
campus as a message to future generations that the
slaveholders’ war was a just and holy cause that, as
the official seal of the Confederate States of
America proclaimed, was “Deo Vendice” (“cham-
pioned by God”).
Accompanying these new testaments to white
supremacy was growing nostalgia for a bucolic
“unspoiled” Old South. When the student yearbook
committee sought a name for their new photo-
graphic annual in 1896, they selected “Ole Miss”
because it evoked “all the admiration and rever-
ence accorded the womanhood of the Old South.”
Elma Meek, an Oxford woman who suggested the
name, described her inspiration thus:
I had often heard [that] old “Darkies” on the
Southern plantations address the lady in the
“Big House” as “Ole Miss.” The name appealed
to me, so I suggested it to the committee and
they adopted it. (“Name ‘Ole Miss’ Given Years
Ago” 1936)
Similarly, when students sought a new name for the
football team in 1929, the second- and third-place
choices were Rebels and Ole Marsters, names that
hearkened back to the Civil War and plantation
slavery. The winning entry, the Flood, a reference
to the great Mississippi flood of 1927, failed to win
the hearts of students, who held a second contest in
1937. This time, Rebels received the most votes,
topping Stonewalls and Confederates.
During this time, participation in the public life
of the campus was limited to whites, in line with
Chancellor John Newton Waddel’s famous 1870
declaration that the university “was founded origi-
nally and has been conducted exclusively . . . for
the education of the white race [emphasis in origi-
nal]” (quoted in Cohodas 1997:16). Nevertheless,
large numbers of black employees sustained this
privileged community behind the scenes as porters,
cooks, waiters, housekeepers, maintenance staff
members, groundskeepers, and personal atten-
dants. This “dark side of the University,” as the
1918 annual phrased it, was
absolutely indispensible to the wellfare [sic] of
the University. They care for our campus, they
look after our interests. . . . They clean out the
halls of debris so that we may pass, they make
up our beds to comfort us—yes, every time we
go to or from class, one of them rings the bell.
The subordinate role of campus servants reflected
the continuation of antebellum ideas about race.
The paternalism of Old South plantations was evi-
dent in the self-declared affection of white students
and faculty members for their “campus Negroes”
such as “Blind Jim” Ivy, a local reverend (Second
Baptist Church N.d.) who sold peanuts at football
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342 Sociology of Race and Ethnicity 2(3)
games and served as an unofficial mascot for the
sports teams from 1896 until his death in 1955
(Sansing 1999:275–76).
In the 1940s and 1950s, nostalgia for the Lost
Cause reached fever pitch, spurred by the popular-
ity of the 1939 film Gone with the Wind and the
1948 Dixiecrat revolt against the civil rights plat-
form of the Democratic Party. As the university
community intensified its love affair with all things
Dixie, symbols of white supremacy increasingly
dominated the social space. The university mascot,
Colonel Rebel, took on a greater role in campus
activities and increasingly adorned student sweat-
ers and pennants. “Dixie” became the school’s offi-
cial fight song, performed at games by band
members dressed in Confederate uniforms. The
Confederate battle flag became part of the univer-
sity’s symbolic repertoire. Cheerleaders distributed
them by the thousands at football games, and what
was billed as the world’s largest Confederate flag
took the field at halftime. In 1950, students inaugu-
rated Dixie Week, a yearly celebration featuring a
secession ceremony, Confederate balls with hoop
skirts and mint juleps, beard-growing contests in
honor of Robert E. Lee, and even a slave auction in
which cheerleaders served as “slaves for the week
to their buyers” (Sansing 1999:270).
As a direct challenge to civil rights advances,
particularly after the 1954 Brown v. Board of
Education decision, faculty members, administra-
tors, and board members became increasingly
committed to the symbolism and practice of racial
dominance. Most white Mississippians found com-
mon ideological ground in a steadfast refusal to
desegregate, thus constructing a “closed society”
(Silver 1964). In this insular, narrow world, profes-
sors and public officials who failed to subscribe to
the supposition of white domination were forced
out of their jobs (Campbell 1977). By 1962, wrote
William Doyle (2001), “the stranglehold of radical
white supremacy on Mississippi seemed both abso-
lute and eternal” (p. 3). Perhaps nowhere else in
American higher education was white supremacy
so firmly stitched into the fabric of an academic
Although the racial fortifications of the univer-
sity were permanently altered by Meredith’s 1962
self-declared war on white supremacy, his success-
ful enrollment represented a crack in the edifice
rather than a dismantling of the ramparts. The thou-
sands of white rioters who poured onto campus in a
futile attempt to block Meredith lost the “Battle of
Oxford,” as it has been called. But in retrospect, the
magnitude of the white resistance is instructive.
Since that time, whenever concerned students and
faculty members have launched initiatives designed
to alter university policies and practices that reflect
the school’s white supremacist past, these efforts are
often met with denial, avoidance, or delays, as
administrators cautiously weigh the potential oppor-
tunities and risks to the university’s reputation.
For example, in 1968, members of the newly
formed Black Student Union (BSU) sent a letter
protesting campus “Bigotry, Bias and Racial
Prejudice” to Chancellor Porter Fortune (Cohodas
1997:135). They objected to the open hostility of
white students, who had taken to carrying small
Confederate flags and blocking sidewalks when
they saw black students approaching, and they
asked administrators to recruit more black faculty
members and students (Nave 2012). In February
1970, after their grievances were largely ignored,
BSU students interrupted a performance of Up with
People in Fulton Chapel, taking the microphone to
read a statement of protest while others gave the
black power salute (Cohodas 1997:146–47). The
university responded by arresting 89 protesters and
sending the leaders to Parchman Farm, a state peni-
tentiary so infamous that one prison superintendent
called it “a throwback to another time and place”
(Cabana 1996:37). The protesters were released on
bail the next day, but 8 leaders were suspended for
a semester and 45 placed “on probation” (Cohodas
1997:155). The leaders appealed their suspensions
to Chancellor Fortune, who upheld the punishment,
and 7 subsequently left the university, while 1
senior was allowed to finish coursework but not to
attend graduation. In the fall, university officials
instituted modest reforms by hiring the first African
American faculty member, forming a black studies
program, and integrating athletic teams.
The post-Meredith years have seen many exam-
ples of such dialectics of protest and reaction: white
racism is met with black resistance, protest, and
demands for change, and administrators, often reluc-
tantly, make piecemeal reforms. As the African
American population on campus grows, and as
increasing numbers of nonblack allies support anti-
racist efforts, some administrative responses have
led to lasting institutional transformations. Even in
such cases, however, the prospect of change inspires
some white students and alumni to defend the status
quo, complaining that “their” university and heritage
are under siege. Such defensiveness finds frequent
support among white supremacist groups.
For example, in the summer of 1982, the univer-
sity’s first black cheerleader, John Hawkins, told a
reporter that “he would not wave a Confederate
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Combs et al. 343
flag” at football games (Sansing 1999:325). That
fall, Meredith also criticized the university’s official
use of the Confederate flag in an on-campus speech,
and a few weeks later, the Ku Klux Klan rallied in
Oxford to support the flag. Some of the estimated
450 students who attended heckled the Klan mem-
bers, but others voiced open support (Sansing
1999:327). Rather than an outright ban, the univer-
sity renounced its official affiliation with the flag,
while allowing fans to continue to bring their own
flags (Rychlak 1992). In 1997, the overwhelmingly
white members of the campus senate voted for stu-
dents to refrain from waving the flag and passed a
resolution banning the use of sticks for flags (King
and Springwood 2001:138–39). Chancellor Robert
Khayat’s administration supported this resolution,
deftly citing safety concerns. White supremacists
intervened again, challenging the measure in court
on free-speech grounds, but lost the case.
As overt institutional racism in America recedes,
we have seen a remarkable transformation in UM’s
openness to racial self-scrutiny. The increasing
enrollment of students of color, a slowly growing
presence of black faculty members and administra-
tors, the end of Dixie Week, the retirement of Colonel
Rebel, Chancellor Dan Jones’s (2014) action plan on
diversity and inclusion, and the university’s support
for the 2015 removal of the state flag (Victor 2015)
all point to the possibility that symbolic and real arti-
facts of white supremacy could be in retreat. At the
same time, resistance, sometimes in new locations or
in new configurations, has been resilient.
The evolving relationship between supporters
and critics of the university’s racialized history
recalls Marx’s materialist dialectic: a confrontation
between those wielding power (thesis) and those
challenging that power (antithesis) that results in a
new social arrangement (synthesis). For many
years, antiracist protest has been overwhelmed by
the most strenuous institutional resistance, thus
testing Marx’s idea of social change. The symbolic
lynching of the Meredith statue is situated in the
context of this ongoing and evolving dialectical
struggle. As the next section argues, the universi-
ty’s racial history lives in the present through its
visual landscape.
By conventional standards, UM is a beautiful set-
ting (“The 50 Most Amazing College Campuses
for 2015” 2015). The university’s historic buildings
have grand architectural features and tall white
columns, and there is an abundance of green space
and mature trees on campus. Flowering trees on the
well-maintained grounds bloom nearly year round.
At the center of campus is the Grove, a lightly
wooded space that hosts an elaborate tailgating
scene on home football weekends (Gentry 2014).
Although the physical features of campus create a
pleasing aesthetic environment, this conventional
interpretation downplays and ignores abundant
racist symbolism.
Scaffolding Edward Said’s concept of imagina-
tive geography with Victor Turner’s notion of lim-
inality, we argue that UM’s physical landscape
represents an indeterminate environment where
meanings of events and objects are negotiated and
contested. From a practical standpoint, the number
and prominence of memorials, place names, and
other artifacts that refer uncritically to the univer-
sity’s segregationist past create a visual landscape
that overwhelmingly validates the ideology of
racial dominance. Although administrators have
depicted the noosing of the Meredith statue as a
violation of the ideals of the university, we suggest
the opposite: to the extent that the institution’s ide-
als are embodied in visual elements of campus
geography, the noosing aligned the statue with
other symbolic features of the landscape.
Said’s imaginative geography refers to how
ideas about places are invented and constructed by
those in power in order to shape how observers per-
ceive that space and its inhabitants (Said 1994:247).
In the Meredith case, the university’s explanation
of the noosing incident imbues the event with a cer-
tain meaning even as competing interpretations
from other observers offer alternative meanings. In
this respect, Said’s imaginative geography embod-
ies Turner’s (1967) notion of liminality, a concept
that refers to a transitional state of “betwixt and
between” occurring when established ways of
thinking are disrupted in favor of something new.
Because imagined geography is socially con-
structed, its liminality—its state of contested mal-
leability—allows individuals or institutions to try
to “fix” the meaning of a symbol (such as the noos-
ing incident). Depending on the interpreter, the
symbolic geography of the UM campus might be
seen as enabling, constraining, and even disrupting
the university’s exclusionary legacy.
Despite these interpretative contestations, sym-
bolic references to racial domination and the struggle
to maintain it are inescapable. For example, at the
core of the campus lies the Lyceum, a massive Greek
Revival–style building fronted by towering columns.
This building, initially UM’s sole academic structure,
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344 Sociology of Race and Ethnicity 2(3)
was built by enslaved people between 1846 and
1848. During the Civil War, it functioned as a hospi-
tal for Confederate (and some Union) soldiers. In
1962, it was the scene of anti-integration rioting, and
bullet marks from the confrontation with federal
troops remain in the building’s edifice. It presently
houses the offices of the university’s senior adminis-
trators, including the chancellor, provost, and vice
chancellors. Thus, a building whose history inter-
twines with racial domination and racial violence is
the campus locus of institutional power.
The Lyceum is part of a federally designated
National Historic Landmark that includes eight
campus buildings that surround the Circle, a
teardrop shaped expanse of grass and mature hard-
woods (Figure 1). Across the Circle from the
Lyceum stands a 30-foot-high marble monument
topped by a Confederate soldier. At the base of the
memorial, an elegiac couplet remembers the hon-
orable fallen who were summoned to war and obe-
diently answered a higher calling. Erected in 1906
by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, the
monument is “a special tribute” (Upton 2002:51)
to the University Greys, students from the class of
1861 who joined the Confederate army and suf-
fered nearly 100 percent casualties during Pickett’s
charge at Gettysburg. The fallen were buried with
Jefferson Davis in Richmond, Virginia. One quar-
ter mile southwest of the Circle lies the universi-
ty’s Confederate cemetery, the resting place for
approximately 432 Confederate soldiers (The
Center for Civil War Research N.d.).
No such memorials exist for the many enslaved
and servants who built and maintained the campus,
nor for prominent African American Mississippians
such as civil rights pioneers Fannie Lou Hamer, Ida
B. Wells Barnett, and Medgar Evers, all of whom
arguably deserve recognition at the state’s flagship
public university. Before the Meredith statue was
installed, the only visible recognition of African
American contributions was a tree planted in honor
of Mae Bertha Carter, a woman whose children
desegregated schools in Drew, Mississippi, and
later attended UM (Ownby 2012). The words
“Freedom Fighter,” however, were not allowed on
the accompanying plaque (Wright 1999).
Figure 1. The Visual Landscape of the University of Mississippi.
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Combs et al. 345
Elsewhere are other reminders of white racial
dominance. For years, students have approached
the university’s 10 sorority and 15 fraternity houses
via Rebel Drive and Confederate Drive, respec-
tively (Confederate Drive was renamed Chapel
Drive in 2014). Ventress Hall, home of the College
of Liberal Arts, features a three-panel Tiffany
stained-glass window commissioned in 1891 to
memorialize the University Greys. Lamar Hall, the
home of the UM Department of Sociology and
Anthropology, was named for L.Q.C. Lamar, a
U.S. senator (1877–1885) and prominent segrega-
tionist who drafted the articles of Mississippi
secession. Lamar denounced blacks as unfit for
voting rights and proclaimed “the supremacy of the
unconquered and unconquerable Saxon race”
(quoted in Lemann 2007:151). Vardaman Hall,
home to several administrative offices, was named
for James K. Vardaman, a governor of Mississippi
(1904–1908) who characterized African Americans
as “lazy, lying, lustful animal[s]” and said “if it is
necessary every Negro in the state will be lynched;
it will be done to preserve white supremacy”
(“Biography: James K. Vardaman” N.d.).
The noosing incident took place in the context
of this racialized imaginative geography. The
Civil Rights Monument is located outside the
western edge of the Circle. It shows Meredith
striding toward a limestone portal inscribed with
the words Courage, Opportunity, Knowledge, and
Perseverance (see Figure 2). The original design,
which called for the monument to be placed prom-
inently in front of the Lyceum, was opposed by
Chancellor Khayat. His decision to move the
monument to the rear of the building has been
criticized for positioning Meredith at the “back
door” of the Lyceum, reminiscent of black
Americans’ Jim Crow access to many white-con-
trolled public facilities.
But as James E. Young, who writes extensively
about memorials (Young 2000), noted during an
October 2014 campus visit, the monument is also
situated between the Lyceum and the campus library,
which means it lies “at the nexus of power and
knowledge.”2 Young suggested that the placement
of Meredith’s likeness within the memorial is
instructive. Depicting Meredith not yet having
arrived at the portal, the statue represents the idea
that neither the campus nor the nation has yet
resolved its central national shame: the legacy of
slavery and Jim Crow. Although the university uses
the past tense to claim that the monument represents
Figure 2. The James Meredith Statue and Civil Rights Monument at the Rear Entrance of the Lyceum.
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346 Sociology of Race and Ethnicity 2(3)
a discrete accomplishment—“a tribute to those who
sought to open the doors of higher education to all
citizens in the South” (University of Mississippi
Virtual Tour N.d.), Young views the monument as
representing an ongoing realization of the potential
of an individual, and a nation: “We are in
Young’s reinterpretation aligns with Said’s con-
cept of imaginative geographies as sites of reflec-
tion but also projection, which invites ongoing
discourse. Such ongoing interaction has the poten-
tial to disturb the intended message of a monument
or place name because it challenges the idea that
artifacts have singular meanings. Rather, the mean-
ing of any geographic feature serves as a barometer
of a historical moment and an audience. For exam-
ple, the Circle was the site of opposition to integra-
tion in 1962 but also of candlelight vigils for
tolerance after the angry election-night protests in
2008 and 2012.
The administration’s framing of the noosing
and other acts of overt racism as a “byproduct of
our commitment to change” reflects Said’s imagi-
native geography. That is, it elevates one aspect of
the university’s cultural history—its determination
to modernize—at the expense of other, more thorny
realities, such as the lingering culture of racial
domination that affects the everyday experiences
of diverse community members. Similarly, the uni-
versity’s Web site explains that the Civil Rights
Monument was dedicated in 2006, “to commemo-
rate the efforts of James Meredith and others who
strove to create educational opportunities for all
citizens in the South” (University of Mississippi
N.d.). Framing such work in the past tense side-
steps both ongoing efforts to open opportunities
and the continuing reality of the state’s dramatic
race-related educational disparities (Associated
Press 2014). Whether the noosing is described as a
reaction to the institution’s progressive policies, or
the monument is framed as honoring past accom-
plishments, the dominant narrative suggests past
exclusion and contemporary inclusivity.
A similar example comes from local historian
John Cofield, writing on, a “next
generation news source” for “those who love Ole
Miss and Oxford.” Cofield (2014) emphasized the
importance of recognizing the university’s racial
legacy, which he wrote is “as clear as the wealthy
white men who built the Lyceum and as black as the
slaves who made every brick of the original struc-
ture.” He likened the bronze-statued Meredith to its
campus counterpart, the Confederate Memorial:
“They stand shoulder to shoulder, on either side of
the Lyceum, representing where we came from and
just how far we have come.” By juxtaposing
Meredith with the Confederate Memorial to demar-
cate the starting and ending points of heroic racial
struggles, Cofield implies that racial inequality has
been achieved, despite evidence that individual and
institutional racism continue. The counter narra-
tives in the following section show that racial equal-
ity on campus remains elusive.
The noosing is one of a series of continuing racial
microaggressions on campus. Pierce (1995)
defined microaggressions as “subtle, innocuous,
preconscious, or unconscious degradations, and
putdowns . . . [which] may seem harmless, but the
cumulative burden of a lifetime of microaggres-
sions can theoretically contribute to diminished
mortality, augmented morbidity, and flattened con-
fidence” (p. 281). We consider recurring racist inci-
dents in and around campus, the prevalence of
Confederate visual imagery, and the historical cli-
mate of racial animus all as “institutional microag-
gressions” (Yosso et al. 2009:673). We seek to
make visible the hidden cognitive labor or racial
battle fatigue associated with these phenomena and
to identify how white privilege produces the condi-
tions that perpetuate the necessity for this labor.
Critical race theory recognizes the power of
counter narratives to foreground marginalized
voices (Solórzano and Yosso 2002), and we use
counter storytelling to illustrate how the racist his-
torical and visual context of our institution shapes
the lived experiences of people working and attend-
ing here, especially people of color. We build on
the critical race theory approach by examining how
our group functions as a space for creating counter
stories and developing a collective counter narra-
tive. We address how race, gender, and occupa-
tional position may have contributed to our
individual responses to this incident and how a sys-
tematic analysis of these dynamics would
strengthen efforts to develop effective responses to
crises and racial inequality in institutions. An insti-
tution such as a university tends to speak with one
official voice. In contrast, our group is composed
of multiple voices, each with its own set of
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Combs et al. 347
The CRSG as Collective Counter
When UM officially released news of the noosing
incident on the evening of Monday, February 17,
2014, it offered a $25,000 reward for information
leading to the arrest of the individuals involved.
The university’s statement quoted the chancellor,
who defined the act as an aberration:
These individuals chose our university’s most
visible symbol of unity and educational
accessibility to express their disagreement with
our values. Their ideas have no place here, and
our response will be an even greater commitment
to promoting the values that are engraved on the
statue—Courage, Knowledge, Opportunity, and
Perseverance. (“Statement from the University
of Mississippi” 2014)
To many CRSG members, this response suggested
that the university’s main concern was with percep-
tions of the institution’s reputation—a common
pattern among university administrations (Schmidt
2015)—rather than recognizing and responding to
racist acts as racism. The CRSG co-chairs con-
vened an emergency meeting to discuss the inci-
dent and how (if at all) the group should respond.
As one of the co-chairs stated, “We were cautious
about getting stuck reacting to events, but this inci-
dent required a response.”
The group decided to write an editorial, and
three volunteers wrote a draft for publication in the
UM student newspaper, the Daily Mississippian
(Critical Race Studies Group 2014, discussed fur-
ther below). Some group members also proposed a
teach-in, but the co-chairs and others agreed that
the teach-in might be too challenging to organize.
The visual aspects conjured by the noosing contin-
ued to occupy the mind of one group member, and
she suggested that a coauthored, mixed-method
research paper might be a good means of engage-
ment with the incident. Over several meetings,
eight volunteer coauthors brainstormed ideas and
came up with a basic outline including historical,
visual, and narrative components. These compo-
nents emerged from our group discussion and
reflect the combined expertise and interests of the
coauthors. Three coauthors refined this outline and
created a writing plan, assigning pairs of coauthors
to section and editorial teams. Throughout the writ-
ing, we have remained ever aware of our group-
process model—the group leading the group—and
our diverse membership.
To more fully explore individual experiences
and capture personal narratives, we asked group
members to examine their e-mail, text messages,
social media, and other written exchanges from the
first three weeks after the noosing, between Sunday,
February 16, and Monday, March 10, 2014, just
prior to spring break. After this initial collection of
data, group members were given an opportunity to
contribute individual counter stories about the noos-
ing incident and aftermath. The stories shared fit
into three broad themes, which are presented below.
Here We Go Again: The Emotional
Labor of Racial Battle Fatigue
One common theme in our narratives is a high level
of frustration and anger accompanied by a sense of
dread that we were facing yet another racist inci-
dent on campus. This response of “here we go
again” fits well with the critical race theory tenet of
“the intercentricity of race and racism” (Yosso
et al. 2009:662), which posits racism as endemic in
society. Upon learning of the noosing incident over
the university e-mail notification system on
Monday, February 17, author 2 reports holding her
head in her hands and yelling, “No!!!!” Author 1
reports learning about the incident the evening
before through an e-mail circulated by one of the
Sistah Scholars in her network. As with the
election-night incident, reported through social
media in the early morning hours after the 2012
election, the Sistah Scholars shared news of the
noosing among their tight circle so that members of
the network could emotionally fortify themselves
before returning to what they perceived as a “hos-
tile” campus space.
Although many white people seemed oblivious
to the seriousness of the incident, author 5 shared
this account, which highlights the deeply historical
nature of the incident and the fundamental threat it
represented for people of color:
The noosing of the Meredith monument
resurrected images in my mind’s eye of
lynchings that I had seen in newspaper clippings
and of gratuitous violence that I knew about and
imagined seeing. There are no photos that I
know about, but white men in Alabama had
beaten my great-grandfather Tolbert Mathis
nearly to death for no cause during Jim
Crow. . . . I was appalled that a student reported
to me that she overheard another professor
saying that s/he did not understand what the big
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348 Sociology of Race and Ethnicity 2(3)
deal was about the noosing. The noosing
brought to the fore all of the anxieties, pain and
fear about a loved one who was so badly beaten
that he barely uttered a word the rest of his life.
In a letter to the university police department,
author 3 explained how his family background
shaped his understanding of the incident:
I am white, and I am originally from out of
state. I also come from a multi-racial family,
one that has taught me to be wary of threats
from racists, white supremacists and hate
groups, in general. I know from experience
that those threats intend to do me and my
family harm. . . . I am reluctant to invite my
family to campus. When this event made news,
members of my family immediately contacted
me to inquire about my well-being. Their
question, “Are you OK?” came from a place of
recognition that I might very well be
emotionally affected by what happened to the
statue. I believe I am not alone when I
responded, “Not exactly, no.”
Status Quo, Status No! Social Justice
Race is a master status, and although for many on
campus the incident served to polarize the commu-
nity, for us it reforged our commitment to social
justice and belief in the centrality of socially situ-
ated experiential knowledge (Yosso et al. 2009).
Although white allies in the group felt frustration
and anger, they were not the target of direct hate
speech and ongoing violence. Clearly, the burden
faculty members of color and students carry is fun-
damentally different, and this affected the ways we
experienced our work for social justice.
Author 1 and one other Sistah Scholar attended
a February 26, 2014, evening meeting called by
ONE Mississippi, a group devoted to improving the
social climate on campus. The meeting was colle-
gial; however, the campus space outside was fraught
with tension. Author 1, a black woman, stated,
The facilitators needed a dry erase marker. The
meeting was held in a classroom facility;
however, it was after hours, and all the materials
were locked up. I agreed to go to my car (parked
just outside the building) in the Grove area—one
of the most prominent and traveled spaces on
campus. I’m well over 40 and was dressed
professionally. It was a school day. Slowly a
newer, well-maintained truck with a group of
white, college-aged young men dressed in button
down shirts approached. The men yelled, “Bitch!”
Taken aback, I said, “Excuse me?” Again, they
yelled, “Bitch!” I did not know any of them.
During the meeting, another Sistah Scholar sent out
a text revealing that a black female student had
been verbally assaulted and had alcohol thrown on
her by white, college-aged men in a passing truck.
The student was standing by her car in non-
university-owned student housing. One by one,
other women (of all races) told stories of being ver-
bally accosted on campus. If this was the status
quo, we say, “No!”
Several white members of the group also
describe strategies for disrupting the status quo that
were rooted in their social locations and institu-
tional positions. Author 7 reflected on challenging
white male privilege and centering the experiences
of friends and colleagues of color:
I feel my experience at that time was somewhat
vicarious, through hearing and seeing how
friends, colleagues, and students experienced
the aftermath. It was apparent the incident had
visceral impact on people of color, and I often
reflected on the white male privilege that
shielded me from fully understanding this. I felt
my role was to challenge my privilege by truly
listening to the experiences, responses, and
initiatives of others, and by giving them my
support. I learned that my work with the CRSG
was not just about research and activism, but
also about mindfulness and compassion.
Just after the incident, author 2 noted that she felt
paralyzed to support her colleagues, students, and
friends in a meaningful way, so she found herself
resorting to her “middle manager” position as chair
to, at the very least, facilitate bureaucratic report-
ing of discrimination:
I sent an urgent message to the Dean asking him to
detail the institutional mechanisms for reporting
racist incidents on campus and the process by
which they would be handled. And when I saw
that the University was not making it absolutely
clear how to report information for the FBI case, I
called the University Police Department and
tracked down specific information about who
people should call or write and shared that with
the Department by email.
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Combs et al. 349
Who’s Got Your Back? Social Networks
and Trust
The last theme we unearth relates to trust and social
networks. This idea combines critical race theory
tenets of challenging dominant ideology and the
fruitfulness of an interdisciplinary perspective
(Yosso et al. 2009:663). Doing social justice work
is not what any of us were hired to do, but it is only
this work that makes it possible to approach aca-
demic work with a sane mind. It is an integral part
of our identities, yet attending to social-justice con-
cerns makes us—especially the untenured among
us—vulnerable to negative reviews by students and
peer academics, who might wonder if we are too
busy with activism to do our jobs properly. Even
discussing such matters is problematic. Whom do
you trust with such issues? In moments of racial
crisis, social networks are invaluable. They provide
spaces to vent frustration and feelings of hopeless-
ness, to analyze the situation, to devise strategies of
action, and to feel a sense of belonging.
The CRSG is one such network that has continued
to function as a space of support for addressing the
systemic nature of racism within UM. We challenged
the dominant university narrative in an editorial and
letters sent to administrators and investigators, and
this encouraged us to mobilize as a group in other
ways as well, including the creation of this article. In
contrast to definitions of racist incidents as individual-
level aberrations from the norm, our editorial and
other statements highlighted the institutionalized
nature of racism. The first paragraph of the editorial
published in the Daily Mississippian (Critical Race
Studies Group 2014) illustrates this theme:
Dear University of Mississippi Community
We denounce the symbolic actions and overt
threats of racial terror directed toward our
African-American community members. We call
upon the University of Mississippi administration
to take every available action to ensure the safety
of all our community members. The public
lynching of our university’s shared symbol of
inclusiveness was a direct affront not just to
African-Americans, but, to all people of color, to
our LGBTQ friends, to our interfaith community,
and to everyone who honors our commitment to
equality and diversity. We know these actions do
not stand alone, nor are they exceptional. Instead,
they are the norm for people of color and others
and they occur all too frequently.
Beyond the CRSG, each of us has developed a
social network that allows us to survive amidst the
insanity. We survive, in part, because we have built
a network of individuals we can rely upon to get us
through such times. But these networks can be dis-
rupted by the racist context in which we live and
work. Mississippi has an undeniable history of
racial repression. Incidents such as the noosing of
the Meredith statue and the physical and verbal
assaults on black women by white men make that
history a present reality. Author 1 reports that the
racial tensions on the campus have prompted many
of her Sistah Scholars to leave. As a result, the all-
important network that sustains her is constantly
being rebuilt, making it difficult to survive,
let alone thrive. And since the start of this project,
she has also moved to another institution.
In conclusion, our narratives reveal the emo-
tional and cognitive labor we regularly perform as
race-based, homophobic, sexist, and other inci-
dents arise on campus. Although the camaraderie
and strength we derive from one another should not
be underplayed, we are still pressured to develop
silo- or cocoon-like relationships as we confront
the challenge of whom to trust with our innermost
thoughts, fears, and frustrations. It is important to
state that our retelling of the noosing incident is not
just in opposition to that of the institution. Rather,
our variably marginalized statuses mean that,
unlike many in the male-centered and white-
dominated halls of academia, we do not have the
luxury of being blind to injustices such as sexism
and racism. We unfairly bear the disproportionate
weight of these assaults, and we will continue to do
so until more scholars tell their stories and expose,
analyze, and challenge “majoritarian stories” of
racial privilege (Solórzano and Yosso 2002:28).
Our analysis reveals that racial domination has
continued, in modified forms, since UM was estab-
lished in 1848. Through the 1960s, white adminis-
trators, faculty members, and students maintained
the racial hierarchy of the Old South in at least four
ways: through naming the university (Ole Miss),
sports teams (Rebels), and mascots (Colonel
Rebel); in celebrating the Confederacy, from band
uniforms and flags to Dixie Week and monuments;
by excluding through admissions and hiring poli-
cies that denied access to education and nonsubser-
vient employment for nonwhites; and by justifying
segregationist policies and actions, both institu-
tional and individual, through the intellectual work
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350 Sociology of Race and Ethnicity 2(3)
of the university. Although recent years have
shown unprecedented willingness by administra-
tors to examine the university’s racial policies and
practices, the response to criticism has often been
caution, defensiveness, and resistance.
Through the lens of historical sociology, the
enduring pattern of campus racism can be under-
stood as path dependent, reproduced in the present
through a sequence of self-reinforcing events. As
Mahoney (2000) explained, path-dependent events
unfold as “initial steps in a particular direction
induce further movement in the same direction such
that over time it becomes difficult or impossible to
reverse direction” (p. 512). The inertia of a self-
reinforcing system propels it undisturbed unless a
shock intervenes (Mahoney 2000:521). Some
shocks are external to the system, such as the unex-
pected events of the Meredith desegregation in
1962. Internal shocks can also intervene, as might a
sweeping overhaul of campus policies and practices
regarding race. Without such large changes, how-
ever, the continuation of past patterns is inevitable
(Bell 1992; Byng 2012). This lesson applies to the
nation (Feagin 2010) as much as it does to UM.
Our visual analysis demonstrates a university
context that supports continued white racial domi-
nation. Prominent visual reminders of UM’s segre-
gationist past, when viewed uncritically if not
affectionately, continually validate the racial order
of the Old South. Thus, the vandalism of the
Meredith statue aligned the monument with the
symbolic landscape on campus. The James
Meredith statue, in this interpretation, is a “body
out of place” (Combs 2015), and the noose signals
“death for Black bodies who would dare to ‘trans-
gress’ white space” (Yancy 2008:xviii). Our work
shows how visual analysis can reveal racialized
landscapes, an understudied area in sociology
(Bonilla-Silva 2015:80). More research attention is
needed on how commemorative spaces on univer-
sity campuses might better contribute to efforts to
diversify and desegregate (Riley and Bogue 2014).
Finally, we draw on critical race theory to high-
light the lived experiences of those most affected
by white supremacist contexts and actions, includ-
ing both marginalized people and their more privi-
leged allies. By highlighting not only the structural
contexts of racist incidents, but lived experiences
as well, we contribute to bringing the study of
affect and emotion into the study of race (Thomas
2014). Such an approach demonstrates the felt
meanings of racism, such as the “race fatigue”
experienced by African American female faculty
members (Harley 2008). Highlighting such
experiences helps show the realities of systemic
racism and might enlighten those who remain
unaware of such realities. Resisting such racism
requires attention not only to explicit and implicit
beliefs that shape action but also to affective
engagements and “a felt sense of one’s social situ-
atedness” (Perry and Shotwell 2009:41).
Racial tension is not unique to UM. Many
schools struggle to maintain livable environments
(“Campus Racial Incidents” N.d.), but few are as
saturated with symbols of the Old South (cf. Inwood
and Martin 2008). We find that analyzing the histori-
cal legacy and visual landscape of our campus helps
contextualize the profound ambivalence and pain in
narratives of diverse university community mem-
bers. The narratives reveal why persons of color
might feel particularly unwelcome at our campus,
thereby impeding the university’s minority recruit-
ment and retention goals (“Diversity Matters” 2013).
This suggests an inverse relationship between valo-
rization of the university’s history and geography
and realization of its commitment to diversity. Our
work adds to that of Feagin, Vera, and Imani (1996),
who found that black students’ displeasure with their
schools’ legacy of discriminatory admissions often
contributes to their premature withdrawal from these
institutions. Understanding historical and visual ele-
ments of campus racism makes available new inter-
pretations of these phenomena, and we call for
further research and collaboration to build collective
counter narratives to such patterns of inequality.
Of course, UM is a reflection of something
larger. The United States was founded as a slave
society, it has a long history of institutionalized rac-
ism, and it continues to be troubled daily by racially
charged events such as police killings of young
black men. We see widespread visual evidence of
white dominance, from monuments to presidential
slave owners in Washington, D.C. (including
Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and Jackson), to
the inequalities encoded into patterns of residential
segregation. Although we believe that our work is
most applicable to other southern universities with a
legacy of segregation and a history of resistance to
scrutiny, our ultimate goal is to demonstrate the
transformative potential of our method to the broad-
est extent possible. Dominant interpretations are
subject to challenge. Our method of developing a
collective counter narrative “embraces diversity,
multiplicity, and heterogeneity” (Zuberi and
Bonilla-Silva 2008:330) and puts into action Audre
Lorde’s ([1983] 2003) insight that “difference is
that raw and powerful connection from which our
personal power is forged” (p. 26).
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Combs et al. 351
In this study, we construct counter narratives to a
widespread historical amnesia about the imagined
geography of campus, and we reinterpret the noos-
ing incident as aligning the James Meredith statue
with its symbolic environment. This symbolic
lynching served some of the same purposes as actual
lynchings in terrorizing a target population through a
public spectacle (Bailey and Tolnay 2015; Wood
2011). In responding, marginalized groups as well as
the chancellor himself are constrained by the con-
text, but the consequences for these parties are not
the same. Our collective counter narrative shows
how history and landscape shape present-day expe-
riences for marginalized people, while others
actively seek to maintain the status quo, protecting
“their” white space and symbols that reflect a racist
“tradition.” We believe our reinterpretation opens
the door to an understanding of the incident that
encourages vigorous action instead of complacency.
Our collaborative writing project has been an exer-
cise in breaking down silos of communication in the
service of social change. We hope this can be a
model for others looking to create safe spaces and
proactive academic work in pursuit of racial justice.
Authors are listed in alphabetical order.
1. James Meredith, “For the Dedication of the Civil
Rights Monument at Ole Miss, 1 October, 2006.”
2. James E. Young, personal communication with one
of the coauthors, October 24, 2014.
Associated Press. 2007. “Ole Miss Suspends Fraternity
after Black Student Alleges Harassment and
Assault.” Diverse Issues in Higher Education,
September 17. Retrieved February 22, 2015 (http://
Associated Press. 2014. “Federal School Report
Highlights Mississippi Racial Disparities in
Education. March 21. Retrieved February 27,
2015 (
Bailey, Amy Kate, and Stewart E. Tolnay. 2015. Lynched.
Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.
Bell, Derrick. 1992. Faces at the Bottom of the Well. New
York: Basic Books.
“Biography: James K. Vardaman.” American Experience.
Retrieved February 25, 2015 (
Bonilla-Silva, Eduardo. 2010. Racism without Racists.
3rd ed. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
Bonilla-Silva, Eduardo. 2015. “More Than Prejudice:
Restatement, Reflections, and New Directions
in Critical Race Theory.” Sociology of Race and
Ethnicity 1(1):73–87.
Bressen, Tree. 2007. “Consensus Decision Making.” Pp.
212–17 in The Change Handbook, 2nd ed., edited by
Peggy Holman, Tom Devane, and Steven Cady. San
Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler.
Brown, Robbie. 2012. “Anti-Obama Protest at Ole Miss
Turns Unruly.” The New York Times, November 7.
Retrieved February 22, 2015 (http://www.nytimes
Byng, Michelle D. 2012. “You Can’t Get There from
Here: A Social Process Theory of Racism and Race.”
Critical Sociology 39(5):705–15.
Cabana, Donald A. 1996. Death at Midnight. Lebanon,
NH: University Press of New England.
Campbell, Will D. 1977. Brother to a Dragonfly. New
York: Seabury.
“Campus Racial Incidents.” N.d. Journal of Blacks in
Higher Education. Retrieved February 27, 2015
The Center for Civil War Research. N.d. “Confederate
Burials.” Retrieved February 25, 2015 (http://www
Cofield, John. 2014. “Cofield on Oxford—Lest We
Forget.” August 20. Retrieved February 25, 2015
Cohodas, Nadine. 1997. The Band Played Dixie. New
York: Free Press.
Combs, Barbara Harris. 2015. “Black (and Brown)
Bodies out of Place.” Critical Sociology.
Critical Race Studies Group. N.d. University of
Mississippi. Retrieved February 20, 2015 (http://
Critical Race Studies Group. 2014. “Letter to the
Editor.” Daily Mississippian, March 3. Retrieved
May 1, 2015 (
Dees, Tom. 2012. “Racist Attacks against Ole Miss
Student.” My Fox Memphis, November 8. Retrieved
February 22, 2015 (
“Diversity Matters.” 2013. Retrieved February 27,
2015 (
Doyle, William. 2001. An American Insurrection. New
York: Doubleday.
Du Bois, W.E.B. [1903] 2007. The Souls of Black Folk.
New York: Oxford University Press.
Du Bois, W.E.B. [1940] 2007. Dusk of Dawn. New York:
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Barbara Harris Combs is Associate Professor of
Sociology and Criminal Justice at Clark Atlanta University.
She was previously Assistant Professor of Sociology and
Southern Studies at the University of Mississippi. Her
research interests include race and racism, the contempo-
rary American South, and the role of place in social change.
She is the author of From Selma to Montgomery: The Long
March to Freedom (Routledge 2014).
Kirsten Dellinger is Professor of Sociology and Chair of
the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at the
University of Mississippi. Her research and teaching inter-
ests include gender, sexuality, workplace culture, and
qualitative methods. She has published articles on work-
place culture and sexual harassment, workplace dress
norms, the construction of masculinities in organizations,
and the dynamics of gay friendly workplaces in journals
such as American Review of Sociology, Sociological
Spectrum, Gender & Society, Gender Issues, Sexuality
Research and Social Policy and Social Problems.
Jeffrey T. Jackson is Associate Professor of Sociology at
the University of Mississippi. He teaches courses on race
and ethnicity, globalization, and international develop-
ment, and his current research focuses on two main themes:
the sociology of the “global south,” and the historical
examination of racial inequalities at the University of
Mississippi. He is the author of The Globalizers:
Development Workers in Action (Johns Hopkins University
Press 2005).
Kirk A. Johnson is Associate Professor of Sociology and
African American Studies at the University of Mississippi.
His work on news depictions of African-Americans has
appeared in Howard Journal of Communications and
Discourse & Communication. His recent projects include
an ethnography of African-American Tea Party sympa-
thizers and a collaborative analysis of 1,600 student-gen-
erated race diaries at the University of Mississippi.
Willa M. Johnson is Associate Professor of Sociology at
the University of Mississippi. Her research interests
include religion, especially Judaism, the Holocaust and
art, race and racism. Her first book is titled, The Holy
Seed Has Been Defiled: The Interethnic Marriage
Dilemma in Ezra 9-10 (Sheffield-Phoenix Press, 2011).
Jodi Skipper is Assistant Professor of Anthropology and
Southern Studies at the University of Mississippi. Her
research explores African American heritage through cul-
tural representations of the past in the U.S. South. Her
work has been published in The Black Scholar, Journal of
Community Archaeology & Heritage and The Southern
John Sonnett is Associate Professor of Sociology at the
University of Mississippi. His research interests include
climate change, music, race and racism, and research
methods. His work has been published in Global
Environmental Change, Poetics, Public Understanding
of Science, and Sociological Forum, among other
James M. Thomas (JT) is Assistant Professor of
Sociology at the University of Mississippi. His research
interests include histories of race and racism, critical race
theory, phenomenologies of power, and critical affect
studies. His research has been featured in Ethnic and
Racial Studies, Ethnicities, and Sociology of Race and
Ethnicity, among other outlets. His most recent book,
Affective Labour: (Dis)Assembling Difference and
Distance (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016), explores four
distinct landscapes to demonstrate how collective feel-
ings are organized by social actors in order to both repro-
duce and contest hegemony.
at UNIV OF MISSISSIPPI on June 20, 2016sre.sagepub.comDownloaded from
... Yet, from the Black campus movement of the 1960s to the advent of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, Black students, alongside non-Black allies, have long demanded more equitable campuses and the removal of symbols of White supremacy (e.g., Clark et al., 2011;Combs et al., 2016;Connolly, 2000). Although, as I highlight next, sociologists (e.g., Combs et al., 2016) and geographers (e.g., Brasher et al., 2017;Inwood & Martin, 2008) have done foundational work in studying university place-naming and memorialization, higher education researchers can do more to examine how memorialization and symbols of White supremacy shape students' experiences. ...
... Yet, from the Black campus movement of the 1960s to the advent of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, Black students, alongside non-Black allies, have long demanded more equitable campuses and the removal of symbols of White supremacy (e.g., Clark et al., 2011;Combs et al., 2016;Connolly, 2000). Although, as I highlight next, sociologists (e.g., Combs et al., 2016) and geographers (e.g., Brasher et al., 2017;Inwood & Martin, 2008) have done foundational work in studying university place-naming and memorialization, higher education researchers can do more to examine how memorialization and symbols of White supremacy shape students' experiences. ...
... On the other hand, those critical of such imagery rightfully argue that making mascots out of Native Americans represents a distinct type of racism tied to settler colonialism (Clark et al., 2011). Combs et al. (2016) provide a counternarrative about the symbolic environment of the University of Mississippi. The authors suggest-through building names, street names, and other memorials on campus-that the university, itself, provides "reminders of White racial dominance" (Combs et al., 2016, p. 345) throughout the campus landscape. ...
Universities across the globe continue to reckon with memorialization and symbolism tied to racist histories. In this paper, the author uses Critical Race methodology to examine how 23 Black undergraduate students at the University of Cincinnati interpret and experience one such symbol—the namesake of an enslaver—memorialized throughout campus. The enslaver, Charles McMicken, bequeathed money for what would become the University of Cincinnati explicitly for the “education of White boys and girls.” The author begins with the assumption that the namesake is a symbol of White supremacy. Using Critical Race Theory, the author analyzes 1) to what extent this symbol shapes students’ campus experiences and 2) the mechanisms by which students’ learned of the racist histories behind the symbol. The data presented demonstrates how counternarratives surrounding this symbol were shared and how the concept of racial realism—the belief that racism is permanent—might be useful in understanding how Black students are not completely demoralized by such symbols.
... Our engagement with campuses as wounded places highlights the normalized violence that has structured (and continues to structure) what might at first glance appear to be an idyllic and apolitical landscape. To the contrary, campuses are wounded due to their connection to white supremacy (Wilder 2013;Bonds and Inwood 2016;Combs et al. 2016;Inwood and Bonds 2016). Characterizing the U.S. university as wounded might strike some readers as disturbing, but such a perspective denies that the college campus not only reflects, but emerged historically and geographically from racialized economic, political, and cultural institutional structures. ...
... Importantly, universities also served as battlegrounds for the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. In 1962, at the University of Mississippi, James Meredith's formal enrollment sparked a firestorm of riots and white mob violence in visceral reaction to the opening of the school to its first black student (Combs et al. 2016). Meredith's violation of the color line seemingly redefined the politics of racial belonging in the previously all-white Ole Miss campus, but the vitriol he encountered served as the foundation for reinforcing the resolve of white supremacists. ...
... President John F. Kennedy had to send federal troops to quell the violence. As recently as 2014, an Ole Miss student hung a noose around the statue of James Meredith on campus (Combs et al. 2016). This recent symbolic lynching of the James Meredith statue points to the role of universities as sites for contesting the memory of our racialized past and highlights the fact that universities remain open and unhealed wounds within the U.S. geography of race relations. ...
... Our engagement with campuses as wounded places highlights the normalized violence that has structured (and continues to structure) what may at first glance appear to be an idyllic and apolitical landscape. To the contrary, campuses are wounded due to their connection to white supremacy Inwood and Bonds 2016;Combs et al., 2016;Wilder, 2013). Characterizing the US university as wounded might strike some readers as disturbing, but such a perspective denies that the college campus not only reflects, but emerged historically and geographically from racialized economic, political and cultural institutional structures. ...
... Importantly, universities also served as battlegrounds for the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s. In 1962, at the University of Mississippi James Meredith's formal enrollment sparked a firestorm of riots and white mob violence in visceral reaction to the opening of the school to its first black student (Combs et al., 2016). Meredith's violation of the color line seemingly redefined the politics of racial belonging in the previously all-white Ole Miss campus, but the vitriol he encountered served as the foundation for reinforcing the resolve of white supremacists. ...
... President John F. Kennedy had to send in federal troops to quell the violence. As recently as 2014, an Ole Miss student hung a noose around the statue of James Meredith on campus (Combs et al., 2016). This recent symbolic lynching of the James Meredith statue points to the role of universities as sites for contesting the memory of our racialized past and highlights the fact that universities remain open and unhealed wounds within the US geography of race relations. ...
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A number of U.S. universities are embroiled in debates over the long-time commemoration and valorization of white supremacy through the campus landscape. Recognizing place naming as a legitimate political arena, activists have called for—and in some instances succeeded—in removing from university buildings the names of historical figures shrouded in racial controversy. However, for the broader public and even sympathetic higher education officials, there is a lack of understanding about why these demands are important and even less recognition about the violence that racially insensitive place naming inflicts on the belonging of marginalized groups. Instead, the renaming of campus landscapes is understood as merely an act of political correctness and thus campus authorities have offered uneven and incomplete solutions in the name of progressive reform. Applying recent innovations in race and memory studies, specifically the ideas of " wounded " places and " memory-work, " we situate ongoing university place naming controversies in a critical context. Specifically, we build upon the recent work of law scholar Stephen Clowney and discuss the opportunities and challenges of developing a policy of landscape fairness that recognizes the power of place to transmit ideas about racial power across generations and the right of critics to challenge dominant historical narratives.
... The university was formally integrated by James Meredith in 1962, but black student enrollments increased slowly afterwards, rising to a high of 17% by 2011, which is still much less than the 37% of Mississippians who identify as African American. Black students have been elected to prominent positions at the university, including President of the Associated Student Body and Homecoming Queen; however, racial incidents continue to occur on campus (Combs et al., 2016), racial microaggressions have been extensively documented (Johnson et al., 2019), and 'freedom is a process, not an event' (Combs and Skipper, 2014: 134). Although a survey of university students is necessarily limited by the typical age range of students, this university provides a good setting for examining cross-racial interactions and 'southern assumptions' about persistent and indestructible racism (Walker-Devose et al., 2019). ...
... The role of race in creating musical bridges and boundaries is therefore fundamentally asymmetric. These findings are consistent with patterns of racialized social distance in the study setting (Combs et al., 2017), which is enclosed in a physical and symbolic environment that bolsters white supremacy (Combs et al., 2016), and this suggests the need for further studies on race and embodiment in musical situations. ...
Full-text available
The ways that music creates bridges and boundaries between people has long been of interest in the sociology of music, and a core problem is understanding patterns in relationships between consumers and producers. Survey research details the comparative context of who likes or dislikes various musical genres, but has little to say about what those categories actually mean to listeners. Ethnographic and interview research offers insight into musicking in particular situations, but seldom compares listeners, artists, and genres in a larger musical field. This study uses a mixed methods approach to examine the bridging and bounding processes organizing relationships between listeners and artists. Based on a survey of students at the University of Mississippi, I examine how musical relationships are shaped by race, gender, genre, and listening situation using a combination of social network analysis and correspondence analysis. Results show an overall pattern of racial segregation in musical tastes that is intersected by multiple paths of racial crossover, from relatively private to public situations. Black musical styles are central to racial crossover in the musical field, creating ambivalent spaces of cultural integration in the context of social segregation. Music profiles of listeners illustrate how situational meanings and comparisons of artists within genres shape musical relationships and mark social distance. The conclusion draws implications for the study of musical practices, racialized musical fields, and mixed methods approaches in cultural sociology.
... She was co-owner of the graduate student in the Center for the Study of Southern Culture and founder of HISTORICH, a tourism and educational services company, helped guide the pilot tour in November 2019. 32 The objective of the umcwcg is to improve community well-being through collective engagement and the integration of various academic areas of expertise and specialization. The grant criteria specified that the project be based on partnership with and have a wider impact on the specified community. ...
School mascots, including the Confederate Rebel, have come under scrutiny with calls to adopt more inclusive and representative symbols for all school stakeholders. Using qualitative methodology, we interviewed six school-based helping professionals in a southeastern US school district to examine their perceptions and experiences with the educational, personal, social, and community impacts associated with the Rebel school mascot. Four unique themes were identified from the participants and will be discussed along with implications and future research.
When leaders at institutions of higher education downplay everyday incivilities directed against racial and other minority groups, it can obscure the magnitude of intergroup antipathy at these schools. At the most prominent university in the only state whose flag contains the Confederate emblem, we wondered whether reports of so-called microaggressions were more common than university leaders sometimes suggest, more frequent in certain campus spaces than in others, and likely to invoke the South and its history. Using online diaries, we collected 1,301 accounts of incidents from 684 students during the 2014–2015 academic year. Our mixed-method approach revealed widespread incivilities, many of them blatant, both on and off campus. Microaggressions in classrooms were less frequent but as blatant as those in living spaces, and reports of environmental microaggressions seemed particularly likely to invoke students’ references to the history of the region. This research suggests the value of using online diaries as a method for understanding the everyday experiences of vulnerable students at predominantly white institutions of higher learning.
Directing attention to racial ignorance as a core dimension of racialized social systems, this article advances a process-focused Theory of Racial Ignorance (TRI), grounded in Critical Race Theory and the philosophical construct white ignorance. TRI embodies five tenets—epistemology of ignorance, ignorance as ends-based technology, corporate white agency, centrality of praxis, and interest convergence. TRI’s tenets explain how racial ignorance reinforces white domination, attending to mechanisms of white knowledge evasion and resistance that facilitate racial reproduction—in everyday life, through institutions, and across societies more broadly. I illustrate TRI’s assets by comparison to an extant theory of racial cognition—color-blind theory (CBT). I argue TRI generates returns by shifting from racial ideology to racial ignorance, and from era-defined structures to ongoing historical processes; and demonstrate TRI’s unique capacity to explain and predict changes in dominant logics, supporting more strategic resistance.
Studying in-group affiliation preferences can be a valuable tool for understanding race relations in the contemporary United States. We draw on theories of social dominance and social identity to analyze racial attitudes, as measured by the Social Distance Scale, for a subset of black and white students at the University of Mississippi. While both black and white students expressed strong in-group preference, this preference was stronger for whites than for blacks, especially for white women presently affiliated or planning to affiliate with campus Greek organizations. Social dominance orientation, a measure describing whether social inequalities are accepted and justified, mediated the greater in-group preference of many whites, especially for intimate or high-power relationships. We discuss possible individual and institutional causes for the differences we observe, and we draw implications for understanding continued self-segregation both on- and off-campus in a society that implicitly, and sometimes explicitly, espouses “color-blind” ideals.
Full-text available
This article addresses how critical race theory can inform a critical race methodology in education. The authors challenge the intercentricity of racism with other forms of subordination and exposes deficit-informed research that silences and distorts epistemologies of people of color. Although social scientists tell stories under the guise of “objective” research, these stories actually uphold deficit, racialized notions about people of color. For the authors, a critical race methodology provides a tool to “counter” deficit storytelling. Specifically, a critical race methodology offers space to conduct and present research grounded in the experiences and knowledge of people of color. As they describe how they compose counter-stories, the authors discuss how the stories can be used as theoretical, methodological, and pedagogical tools to challenge racism, sexism, and classism and work toward social justice.
Full-text available
In this article, Tara Yosso, William Smith, Miguel Ceja, and Daniel Solórzano expand on their previous work by employing critical race theory to explore and understand incidents of racial microaggressions as experienced by Latina/o students at three selective universities. The authors explore three types of racial microaggressions-interpersonal microaggressions, racial jokes, and institutional microaggressions-and consider the effects of these racist affronts on Latina/o students. Challenging the applicability of Vincent Tinto's three stages of passage for college students, the authors explore the processes by which Latinas/os respond to racial microaggressions and confront hostile campus racial climates. The authors find that, through building community and developing critical navigation skills, Latina/o students claim empowerment from the margins.
Racism has always been “more than prejudice,” but mainstream social analysts have mostly framed race matters as organized by the logic of prejudice. In this paper, I do four things. First, I restate my criticism of the dominant approach to race matters and emphasize the need to ground our racial analysis materially, that is, understanding that racism is systemic and rooted in differences in power between the races. Second, I reflect critically on my own theorization on race (the racialized social system approach) and acknowledge that I should have explained better the role of culture and ideology in the making and remaking of race. Third, I describe some of the work I have done since this early work. Fourth, I advance several new directions for research and theory in the field of race stratification.
Theorizing the centrality of race remains a key issue within the social sciences. However, an examination of four programs that dominate critical inquiry, particularly in the US context - Racial Formation Theory; Systemic Racism; Color-Blind Racism; and Critical Race Theory - reveal two key problems: a reductivist account of the role of culture in the production of race and racism and the essentializing of the political identity of racial Others. This article, then, considers a different paradigm for the study of race - an affective program. Two components of an affective program identified in this article are: (a) a more dynamic account of culture, opening up the realm of the discursive to more than just signification and representation, but also expression; and (b) locating the possibilities of racial politics as matters of racialized and anti-racist practices rather than matters of racial identity.