University of Mississippi investigates student over Palestine counter-protest

Ed Pilkington

The conduct of at least one student at the University of Mississippi is under official investigation after white counter-protesters at a pro-Palestinian demonstration made what the school called “offensive, hurtful, and unacceptable” statements with “racist overtones”.

The university’s chancellor, Glenn Boyce, said that a conduct investigation had been launched into one student and more might follow in the wake of Thursday’s volatile scenes on campus. The clash occurred after a diverse group of about 30 students protesting against Israel’s war in Gaza were outnumbered by almost entirely white counter-protesters at a ratio of 10 to one, according to the Mississippi Free Press.

A video that has since gone viral showed one of the white male counter-protesters jumping up and down and making monkey noises in front of a Black woman with the pro-Palestinian protest group. Other white men then echoed the racist noises, and began chanting: “Lock her up!”

Some of the protesters were dressed in Stars and Stripes dungarees, others held aloft US and Donald Trump flags. They threw water bottles and cups at the pro-Palestinian protesters and yelled: “Who’s your daddy?”, “Take a shower”, and “Shave your legs”, among other offensive chants.

Announcing the investigation, Boyce acknowledged the bitter history of racism and segregation at the 25,000-strong university, which only accepted its first Black student under legal duress in 1962. “It is important to acknowledge our challenging history, and incidents like this set us back. It is one reason we do not take this lightly,” the chancellor said.

The fraternity Phi Delta Theta has said that it has expelled a member it called “the responsible individual” behind “racist actions” that it said were “antithetical to the values of Phi Delta Theta and the Mississippi Alpha chapter”. The identity of the individual, as well as that of the person under university investigation, have not been released.

Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential candidate, struck a different response. Invoking an acronym for his “Make American great again” slogan, the former president published a video on Instagram showing white counter-protesters waving a Trump flag and wrote: “Thank you Ole Miss – MAGA!”

The overtly racist tone adopted by some of the counter-protesters on such an august campus called to mind some of the most regrettable events of segregation in the deep south of the US. When James Meredith became the first Black student at the university 62 years ago, his arrival was met with rioting by 2,000 white people, culminating with President John F Kennedy sending in the national guard.

In 1983, Black students had to go into hiding on campus after 1,000 white students descended on their house singing “Dixie”. A year earlier, the Ku Klux Klan marched brazenly through the university grounds.

Today the university remains disproportionately white. About 11% of the student body is African American and 76% white, compared with an overall Mississippi population that is 38% Black and 58% white.

(Source: The Guardian)