UM outlines response to ‘Laramie Project’ incident

OleMissLogoBy Chris Kieffer

Daily Journal

OXFORD – The University of Mississippi will require every student in attendance at Tuesday night’s performance of “The Laramie Project” play to attend an educational dialogue session.

The university sent a statement late Friday afternoon from the Bias Incident Response Team (BIRT), a six-person committee of faculty and staff members tasked with investigating discrimination claims. The committee was looking into reports that students disrupted the theater department production and allegedly used gay slurs.

Their statement does not call for suspensions for any of the involved football players. It does state that university leaders encourage “faculty, staff, students and community members to fully support our LGBTQ community by attending and supporting PRIDE week activities.” The university’s previously scheduled Pride Week will be this Monday to Friday.

“The Laramie Project” is about the death of an openly-gay Wyoming college student, who was brutally beaten and left to die. Cast members said an audience of primarily students – including many student athletes – laughed during sensitive scenes and often were disrespectful.

The dialogue session will be led by university faculty and Allies, a university organization that supports the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community. Cast members will be invited to participate.

“The dialogue will seek to repair the harm that was done to the affected community,” the statement said.

Members of the response team met with cast members on Wednesday, and cast and crew said they didn’t want to see audience members punished but wanted to make this an educational opportunity, the statement said. Cast member Cayley Smith said the same thing to the Daily Journal on Thursday.

Identifying specific individuals who disrupted the performance is difficult, the statement said, because of the dark theater. The statement notes other students were present, in addition to student athletes, and stressed that no student has been singled out by name. It said for students with specific accounts to contact BIRT.

BIRT members met Friday and will meet again on Monday with faculty members in the theater department, staff members in the athletic department and students. They also will make long-term recommendations.

BIRT will support efforts of the athletic department to foster an environment of diversity and inclusion, the statement said, including partnering with the William Winter Institute to host racial reconciliation week Oct. 7 to 11 and continuing to support the LGBTQ community.

Members of BIRT include Coordinator of Division Operations for the Division of Student Affairs Merrill Magruder, Assistant Dean of Students for Multicultural Affairs & Volunteer Services Valeria Beasley Ross, staff counselor Camp Best, Coordinator of Student Conduct Derrick Dixon, Assistant Director of Equal Opportunity and Regulatory Compliance Judith Hopper and Crime Prevention Coordinator Jeff Kellum. Magruder and Ross are co-chairs of the team, which was established last spring.

chris.kieffer@journalinc.com