Is Ole Miss—Sorry, O** M***—NSFW?

by Ryan Lovelace
Olé, Olé, Olé! University of Mississippi discourages use of its nickname after finding that hardly anybody thinks it offensive.

The University of Mississippi will require university officials to use discretion when identifying the school as “Ole Miss” because it could be understood as a racist nickname.

“UM’s longstanding nickname is beloved by the vast majority of its students and alumni,” says a statement from Ole Miss. “But a few, especially some university faculty, are uncomfortable with it. Some don’t want it used at all and some simply don’t want it used within the academic context.”

The university says it conducted a national study during the last year and found that the “vast majority of respondents don’t attach any meaning to it [Ole Miss] other than an affectionate name for the university” and “a significant margin likes and prefers the ‘Ole Miss’ name.” Despite “a very small percentage” of respondents who said they associate “Ole Miss” or “University of Mississippi,” with negative race issues, the school has decided to use the nickname sparingly as a representation of school spirit and in athletic circumstances going forward.

Dan Jones, Ole Miss’ chancellor, told the Daily Mississippian a new chief diversity officer would work with the provost to offer guidance to UM Communications about its usage of the school’s nickname. Jones also mentioned the statue of James Meredith, the first black student to enroll at the school, when talking about the university’s new comprehensive action plan to increase diversity and inclusion. Earlier this year, a fraternity at Ole Miss reportedly closed after three members were accused of tying a noose around the neck of the Meredith statue.

Emma Jennings, a student at Ole Miss, told the Daily Mississippian she wrote an open letter to Jones questioning the university’s plan as a response to the Meredith statue incident. As a result, she said she has been called racist. “Does changing our email address URL from “olemiss.edu” to “umiss.edu,” promote diversity?” Jennings wrote in the letter. “Or does it suggest that we are a school that is ashamed of itself and ashamed of its past? While the University of Mississippi has a history that we may not be proud of as modern Americans, the best approach is not to do what we can to erase the past.”

Ole Miss has taken several recent steps to change the way others perceive it. In 2009, Ole Miss reportedly stripped lyrics from its fight song to discourage fans from chanting “the South will rise again,” and in 2010 it dumped the “Colonel Reb” mascot. While the New York Times referred to the mascot as a “caricature of an antebellum Southern plantation owner . . . a man dressed as a Confederate soldier” and “Mark Twain crossed with Colonel Sanders,” Ole Miss’ website says “Blind Jim” Ivy may be the inspiration for the mascot. Ivy, the son of an ex-slave, was a peanut vendor on campus who was famous for saying, “I’ve never seen the rebels lose a game.” In the late 19th century, the university website says, Ole Miss students made him the mascot of the football team and dean of the freshman class.

Rather than discouraging use of the nickname of the university to appease some faculty members, perhaps Ole Miss could do a better job of educating the public about its history.  

— Ryan Lovelace is a William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute.