The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

Confederate statues on college campuses stir up controversy

Recently, the presence of Confederate monuments across the south has been called into question, particularly on college campuses.

The rekindling of this issue comes on the coattails of events in Charlottesville, Virginia, in which one woman was killed and several others injured.

Mississippi currently has over 130 Confederate symbols across the state, including ones located on college campuses. The two main universities in the state, Mississippi State University and the University of Mississippi, both house monuments of controversy.

The bust of Stephen D. Lee, the first president of MSU and former member of the Confederate Army, sits in the middle of the Drill Field on MSU’s campus. Similarly, a statue of a Confederate soldier is located on Lyceum circle on the campus of Ole Miss.

According to Mississippi law, “no statue, monument, memorial, or landmark from any war can be removed from a public property unless it is being moved to another approved location or if it blocks visibility for drivers.”

However, in reference to college campuses, a university’s president can authorize the removal of Confederate monuments. This was seen at both Duke University in Durham, North Carolina and the University of Texas in Austin, Texas, earlier this year.

MSU President Mark Keenum addressed the controversy over the school’s statue of the first president. He stated in an email that the monument is there to recognize and honor the first president of the university.

“With respect to Stephen D. Lee, I will say that his bust on the Drill Field is a reminder of the work that Mississippi State’s first president did to build a new institution that looks to the future and not to the past,” Keenum said.  “It’s important to remember that President Lee was a leader of reconciliation efforts after the Civil War.”

Alison Greene, associate professor of history at MSU, was one of over 30 professors from colleges across the state to sign a letter calling for the removal of the state flag this year. She said the flag went up 30 years after the Civil War when white supremacists held absolute control over the state.

“I do think that historians, particularly those of us who work on U.S. and Mississippi history, have an obligation to speak to and of this history,” Greene said.

Greene also said she believes individual communities must engage the question of how to handle Confederate monuments, adding that communities are responsible for the discussion of their histories of white supremacy.

John R. Neff, director of the Center for Civil War Research at Ole Miss, was a part of the Chancellor’s Contextualization Committee chosen to revise the plaque placed near the Confederate monument in a way that accurately describes the school’s historical role in the Civil War.

Neff said students across college campuses are “absolutely affected” by these monuments.

It is difficult to determine to what degree each person is impacted, Neff said, since different students are affected across a vast spectrum. Personally, he said he would not like to see these monuments destroyed.

In the news today, Neff said there are arguments that as a consequence of removing historical monument, people would forget history, therefore dooming themselves to repeat it. In response to this, Neff said that idea is not a sound argument and too often people seem to confuse monuments with history. He said history is in our books and classes, that is where we learn.  

“The monuments themselves are not history,” Neff said. “They did not make history when they were put up, they will not change history if taken down.”

In addition to the faculty and staff of Mississippi universities, students have taken a personal interest in the discussion of Confederate monuments. Different students from each college have come out in both support of and disapproval of tearing down these monuments.

Tiffaney Johnson, a junior communication major at MSU and native of San Diego, California, said she believes Confederate monuments have a negative affect on students because they represent racism and white supremacy. She said since the Confederacy wanted to be its own nation apart from the union it does not represent America. As for the university’s monument to President Lee, Johnson said she does not wish to see his memorial taken down.

“His statue is not up to honor him being in the Confederacy, but to recognize him as the first president of the school,” Johnson said. “So it makes sense to have his statue up.”

Stephen Adegoke, a senior computer science major from Gainesville, Florida, also said he does not necessarily want to see the Lee statue taken down. He also said it was erected to honor his presidency at the school, not his participation in the Confederate Army. However, Adegoke understands both sides of Lee are not unrelated and it is hard for some to differentiate between the two.

“If a group of people can’t come to a conclusion because they can’t separate historical necessity and negative connotation, then maybe it’s best to take it down,” Adegoke said.

A native of Oxford and a junior criminal justice major at Ole Miss, Tyler Smith, had a slightly different opinion towards the Confederate soldier’s monument on his university’s campus. He thinks Confederate monuments can have a negative affect on certain students, however, he does not think these monuments should be taken down or destroyed.

“I strongly believe that these monuments should be left alone. They are a symbol of history,” Smith said. “I do realize that the past they represent is terrible, but nevertheless it is history and it should be remembered.”

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The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University
Confederate statues on college campuses stir up controversy