Dear New and Returning Students in Southern Studies:
Last week was a difficult one at the University of Mississippi. On Saturday, a male student allegedly took the life of a female student, and on Thursday images surfaced of three UM students, two of them armed, celebrating the desecration of a memorial to Emmett Till, whose murder we often understand as catalyzing the Civil Rights Movement. We are horrified by the violence of all of these acts.
Here on the University of Mississippi campus, we again find ourselves confronting a blatant act of racism with a mixed message: the University as an institution condemns the behavior of others with words, but it does not sufficiently respond with actions that forestall similar events happening in the future. The University of Mississippi has been in this untenable position before, and we will continue to be here until we communicate unequivocally to broader constituencies that we will not tolerate racism.
In Southern Studies, we are uniquely challenged by situations that capitalize on a toxic national climate at the same time that they burrow deep into a regional context, the very context that we study every day. Whether you are returning to us in a few weeks, or joining us for the first time, we want you to be confident about what we stand for in Southern Studies:
• we are committed to conducting our research, to producing our scholarship, and to teaching our students in an atmosphere that respects everyone, regardless of race, nation of origin, or sexual identification. We denounce acts of violence or intimidation outside of our building and we will not tolerate them within its walls. We likewise condemn acts of misogyny, racism, and racial threatening on this campus and in this nation.
• at the same time, we recognize that structural racism is deeply rooted in our society and allows equally insidious, but less obvious, inequities to form around us every day, thus supporting racism’s more blatant displays. We work actively to name and disrupt racism in every context where we encounter it, including at this institution.
• we are invested in the health of our broader academic learning community, and we will continue to work in our classrooms, in our scholarship, and in our programming to help create the campus all students who attend this university deserve. We are not there yet.
We want to say to you very directly: you are welcome in Barnard Observatory. We are looking forward to meeting you or being with you again. We have a lot of work to do, and we need you here.
Kathryn B. McKee
Director of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture
McMullan Professor of Southern Studies and Professor of English
July 29, 2019