Two more universities to take down Mississippi flag

The Mississippi state flag is displayed with the banners of other American states, territories and commonwealths, above a walkway in the tunnel from the Capitol Building to the Dirksen Senate Office Building in Washington, Friday, July 1, 2016....
The Mississippi state flag is displayed with the banners of other American states, territories and commonwealths, above a walkway in the tunnel from the Capitol Building to the Dirksen Senate Office Building in Washington, Friday, July 1, 2016.... (Copyright by WSLS - All rights reserved)

Mississippi State University and the Mississippi University for Women confirmed Tuesday that they removed the flag from outdoor flagpoles over the summer. The universities' actions came after state lawmakers failed to act on changing the flag this year.

"The university community supports a flag that unites everyone in the state behind it," said Jim Borsig, president of the Mississippi University for Women.

Delta State University is the only public Mississippi university still flying the flag. A statement from that school Tuesday opened the door to removing it if the university cabinet votes to do so.

Gov. Phil Bryant told reporters Tuesday that he disagrees with the universities' decision to remove the flag. He cited a state law calling for Mississippi's flag to "receive all of the respect and ceremonious etiquette given the American flag" if displayed. The law doesn't require public agencies to fly the flag. K-12 schools are required to, but some ignore it.

"Whether you like the flag or not, the state law calls for it to be treated with equal respect," Bryant said.

In a 2001 referendum, Mississippi voters strongly supported keeping the flag, which has included the Confederate battle emblem in its upper left corner since 1894. But agitation against the flag resumed following the 2015 massacre of nine black worshippers at a church in Charleston, South Carolina. The white suspect in that case posed for photos with Confederate flags.

After the church shooting, Bryant had said he wanted to give voters another chance to decide whether to change Mississippi's flag. He repeated that position Tuesday.

"I believe the people have the right to speak on this," he said.

The changes at both schools came quietly while many students and faculty were away. MSU spokesman Sid Salter said Tuesday that President Mark Keenum approved campus leaders' requests to remove the flag from five locations on the Starkville campus in June and July. Salter said the flags have been replaced with larger American flags, to mirror the large American flag that has flown alone in MSU's central quad for at least 15 years. He said 21,000-student MSU removed Mississippi flags from athletic arenas several years ago.

Borsig said 2,700-student MUW was expanding a driveway where the only state flag stood. Borsig said he acted after campus groups discussed the flag last year and he encouraged them to lobby elected officials. He also cited the 50th anniversary of the university's integration and Mississippi's 2017 bicentennial.

Mississippi flag opponents welcomed its removal.

"It was important to us to take it down because it just reminded us of the Civil War and people who wanted to keep us slaves," said Deborah Frazier, president of the Mississippi State campus branch of the NAACP. "Now it doesn't remind us daily when we see the flag of that oppression."

Frazier, a junior English major from Benton, was among students who protested the flag in front of Keenum's office in April. At the time, Keenum said taking the flag down was "a symbolic gesture that accomplishes nothing toward actually changing the state flag."

Salter said Tuesday that Keenum "has been outspoken in expressing his heartfelt personal support for flag change and has maintained an open dialogue with those representing diverse points of view on the question of the state flag." Salter said Mississippi's flag remains part of a display of state and international flags in the university's main cafeteria.

The University of Mississippi, MSU's archrival, lowered the Mississippi flag in October. The University of Southern Mississippi also removed state flags last year and three historically black universities removed them earlier. Some Mississippi lawmakers introduced unsuccessful bills in 2016 to force governments and schools to display the flag.

Delta State spokeswoman Jennifer Farish said that 3,500-student university would remove the flag if President Bill LaForge's cabinet, including faculty, staff and students, votes to do so.

"Delta State continues to fly the State flag out of respect to our relationship with the State of Mississippi, and despite our disagreement with symbols that cause an unfortunate barrier to understanding," Farish said.

Read the statement below from Dr. Jim Borsig, President of Mississippi University for Women:

A year ago Charleston, South Carolina experienced a tragedy that led to a renewed call to change the state flag. I publicly supported changing the state flag.

Respecting the role of shared governance on our campus, I asked our Student Government Association, Faculty Senate, and Staff Council to engage the university community in a thoughtful conversation about the state flag. And they did.

This conversation was respectful to all points of view and marked by great civility. The university community was united in asking state elected officials to adopt a state flag that unites all Mississippians.

The redesign of the north campus grounds required removing a flag pole and the decision was made at that time to not replace the state flag.

The W's student body reflects Mississippi's wonderful diversity and over 85 percent of our students are from Mississippi. Enrollment is up this fall and we remain committed to our mission of creating opportunities for all Mississippians.

Read Farish's full statement below as to why Delta State continues to fly the State flag:

During the last few years, discussions about the State flag have occurred variously on the Delta State campus among faculty, staff, students, and organizations. There seems to be a consensus that the flag should be changed, and that State government leaders should make that change.

Last summer, Delta State released the following statement regarding Mississippi's flag.

"Delta State University stands as a living testament to the successes of equality, fairness and social justice. We will continue to recognize and reflect on Mississippi's history, but we will also continue to provide leadership throughout the state and beyond in advancing the understanding and appreciation for our differences and our common challenges in the region. For these reasons, Delta State University supports making a change to a symbol, such as Mississippi's state flag, that promotes divisiveness and serves as a barrier to understanding.

As Mississippi's most racially diverse public university, Delta State proudly embraces the region, heritage and its people. Despite being located in an area characterized by some as a place of poverty and racial inequality — the Mississippi Delta — Delta State has successfully recruited students and faculty from diverse backgrounds. Delta State is leading conversations about race relations and building stronger communities — most notably through the award-winning race relations conference."

As a public university, Delta State continues to fly the State flag out of respect to our relationship with the State of Mississippi, and despite our disagreement with symbols that cause an unfortunate barrier to understanding.

In President William LaForge's recent State of the University address, he shared with faculty and staff the ten building block visioning principles that will help guide Delta State as we plan and shape our future. One of the principles is titled "Core Values", and it speaks to Delta State's focus on being inclusive in its decision-making efforts, as well as a welcoming environment for all.

"To support the well-rounded development of our students, and to provide a conducive environment for teaching and learning, Delta State will promote and embrace traditional core values of …civility, inclusive excellence, and respect for all; integrity and ethical conduct; accountability and transparency; diversity, inclusion…," LaForge said.

In the spirit of authentic shared governance, the President's Cabinet includes the Faculty Senate President, Staff Council Chair, and the Student Government Association President—in addition to top executive officials—all of whom are voting members.  Any change to Delta State's decision to fly the State flag will be made by this representative group, and will be informed by input from Delta State's various constituencies.

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