LESLIE CRISS: Ole Miss not responsible for bad behavior of its students

By Leslie Criss

“There is nothing more frightful than ignorance in action.”
– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

“Racist thought and action says far more about the person they come from than the person at whom they are directed.”
– Chris Crutcher

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
– Martin Luther King Jr.

In September 2008, just prior to the presidential debate between John McCain and Barack Obama at the University of Mississippi, something good happened.
Ole Miss student members of The Daily Mississippian Editorial Board, wrote an open letter to the Ku Klux Klan, who were threatening their presence – and perhaps trouble – during the candidates’ campus visit.
Here’s a small portion of that letter: “Come Sept. 26, we will show this nation and the world the real Mississippi, not the Mississippi burning of the past, but rather the Mississippi rising into the future – a future in which your bigoted ideology has no place.”
I wrote a column offering praise aplenty for the courage of these kids. I thanked them for giving me a powerful pride in the younger generation of Mississippians who seemed far more enlightened and forward-thinking than many members of my own generation and the one that came before.
And then came this past Tuesday night, election night.
The whole story has been reported ad nauseum locally, state-wide, even nationally – students upset over the outcome of the election wreaking havoc.
All the work that’s been done by so many in the past decade to help write a different, kinder history of today’s Ole Miss, was all but forgotten by many.
No matter how this election turned out, there would be disappointment. That’s just how life is. But there are certainly more productive, more intelligent, more mature ways to express disappointment.
Shouting racial epithets is ignorant. It’s just plain stupid.
I, for one, expect better from anyone in the process of getting an education which is anything but inexpensive, no matter who’s paying the bill.
Early rumblings of Tuesday night’s incident used the word riot.
In light of what happened on that campus in 1962 when James Meredith sought admission to Ole Miss, last week’s happening was not a riot. It was a free-for-all that started with a relative few and grew in mass and in stupidity.
Still and yet, the word riot was used. And it was passed on in Tweets, in blogs, on Facebook.
Then the Mississippi-misunderstanding national media folks heard it and ran with it.
And the bad parts of a history we’ve worked hard to right are, once again, front and center.
Not such a good thing.
Hopefully, the candlelight peace rally and march held Wednesday evening – with more than 650 participants – showed the world a different Ole Miss, a different Mississippi, a different South.
I just hope the world was watching.
leslie.criss@journalinc.com