by Holbrook Mohr
Associated Press Writer
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A protest at the University of Mississippi against the re-election of President Barack Obama grew into crowd of about 400 people with shouted racial slurs as rumors of a riot spread on social media. Two people were arrested on minor charges.
The university said in a statement Wednesday that the gathering at the student union began late Tuesday night with about 30 to 40 students, but grew within 20 minutes as word spread. Some students chanted political slogans while others used derogatory racial statements and profanity, the statement said.
The incident comes just after the 50th anniversary of violent rioting that greeted the forced integration of Ole Miss with the enrollment of its first black student, James Meredith.
Ole Miss Chancellor Dan Jones promised an investigation and said “all of us are ashamed of the few students who have negatively affected the reputations of each of us and of our university.”
Police were alerted by people who saw Twitter posts about it. The students were told to leave, but about 100 came back later. One person was charged with public intoxication and another with failure to comply with police orders. There were no reports of injuries or property damage.
Rumors about the situation were fueled on Twitter after the university’s student journalists posted a video referring to the gathering as “riots.” The student newspaper posted a video of the crowd, but much of what the students said in it is unintelligible other than the “Hotty Toddy” cheer, which is common at football games and other school gatherings.
One picture that spread rapidly on social media shows people burning an Obama campaign sign, but the university hasn’t confirmed that the picture was taken on campus. The chancellor said some photos shared on social media showed things that were not seen by police on campus, but the reports of uncivil language and racial slurs appeared to be accurate.
Some students and teachers used social media to condemn the conflict.
Ellen Meacham, an Ole Miss journalism instructor, posted on Facebook that “anyone who calls that a riot has never read or heard anything about 1962.”
She was referring to when Meredith became the first black student to enroll at the university on Oct. 1, 1962. Federal authorities deployed more than 3,000 soldiers and more than 500 law enforcement officers to Oxford during the integration. An angry mob started an uprising that killed two white men. More than 200 people were injured. Ole Miss sponsored lectures and other events this year to commemorate the 50th anniversary.
“Now, 50 years later, about 2 percent of the overall student body goes out to protest when their guy doesn’t win the presidency and a portion of that small percentage displays the ugly strain that still infects too many in our student body,” Meacham wrote.
In a state with a 37 percent African-American population, Ole Miss now has a Black enrollment of about 16.6 percent. The current student body president, Kim Dandridge, is the fourth Black person elected to the post.
Jones said the campus was back to normal Wednesday.
The university was planning an event for Wednesday evening called the “We are One Mississippi Candlelight Walk” to condemn the protest, according to Thomas J. “Sparky” Reardon, vice chancellor for student affairs.
In a related story about 40 students at Hampden-Sydney College shouted racial slurs, threw bottles and set off fireworks outside the Minority Student Union within minutes after President Barack Obama’s re-election, officials of the tiny, all-male school said Thursday.
The disturbance late Tuesday and early Wednesday also included threats of physical violence, President Chris Howard said in an email to parents.
Members of the Minority Student Union notified campus police of the gathering outside their house. An investigation is under way.
“I am terribly disappointed with the students who participated in this harmful, senseless episode including those men who stood idly by and watched it happen,” wrote Howard, the college’s first African-American president. “There is no place for bigotry or racism on this campus.”
Howard said offenders will be adjudicated by the campus justice system. They could face punishments ranging from probation to expulsion, he said.
Howard said nearly 300 members of the campus community gathered at a campus meeting Wednesday night to discuss what happened.
“There were a lot more at that town hall meeting denouncing what happened than the knuckleheads who were misbehaving terribly that night,” Howard said in an interview. “We need to keep that in mind.”
A spokesman for the college said the unrest escalated within minutes of the presidential race being called on television for Obama, with students leaving their residences and “expressing their disappointment.” About 20 students were inside the house at the time and some left to peacefully confront the crowd, as did other students, spokesman Thomas H. Shomo said.
“There were slurs directed toward the MSU house, but at some point very quickly, certain responsible students got involved and said this is not right,” he said. There were no physical confrontations and no damage occurred as a result of the unrest, he said.
Howard called the incident “a perfect storm of a tense nation, an uptight” nation and a campus of young men.
“We love our men, but they’re young men,” he said. “Young men sometimes act before they think.”
He added, however, “You’ve got to look the facts in the eye and say what happened on that night was ugly.”
Howard said those who attended the Wednesday night meeting were intent on addressing the root causes and how to move forward.
“This is not who we are and we’re going to do better,” Howard said, calling the offending students “bad seeds.”
Hampden-Sydney, located about 60 miles southwest of Richmond, has a black enrollment approaching 9 percent of its 1,080 students. The private, tradition-bound school was founded in 1775 and is one of only three all-male colleges in the U.S.
The campus is known for its decorum and honor code. Visitors are greeted by passers-by, backpacks are left lying around without fear of theft and students dress in coat and tie for football balls.
Students are expected to hew two standards of honorable behavior:
“The Hampden-Sydney student will behave as a gentleman at all times and in all places.”
“The Hampden-Sydney student will not lie, cheat, or steal, nor tolerate those who do.”
Its former students have included a president, William Henry Harrison, and comedian Stephen Colbert.
(Associated Press writers Emily Wagster Pettus and Steve Szkotak contributed to this report.)