From Oberlin on to Ole Miss: We aren’t thrilled by the New York Times’ general approach to issues of race.
In our view, the paper favors a grandstanding approach built around tired and blinkered self-glorying notions of upper-class Northern exceptionalism. On balance, last week’s reporting about Ole Miss seemed like a case in point.
On Sunday, February 16, two or three youthful lost souls committed a pitiful act on the campus of the University of Mississippi. Three days later, the Times’ Alan Blinder reported what had occurred:
BLINDER (2/19/14): The Federal Bureau of Investigation said Tuesday that it had joined the inquiry into an act of vandalism at the University of Mississippi, where a statue of the university's first black student was found with a noose and a flag with the Confederate battle emblem.Some people are lost and still very dumb. That said:
The university authorities have said they are seeking two men in the episode, which happened early Sunday on the main campus in Oxford. The university has more than 22,000 students on campuses statewide, 24 percent of whom are minorities.
A witness said the men screamed racial slurs as they defaced the statue of James Meredith, who was admitted in 1962 amid violence and after the intervention of the Kennedy administration.
''These individuals chose our university's most visible symbol of unity and educational accessibility to express their disagreement with our values,'' the university's chancellor, Daniel W. Jones, said in a statement. ''Their ideas have no place here, and our response will be an even greater commitment to promoting the values that are engraved on the statue -- courage, knowledge, opportunity and perseverance.''
The university's alumni association is offering a $25,000 reward to aid in the investigation, which the school characterized as ''rigorous.''
Good for the FBI. Good for Chancellor Jones. Good for the alumni association.
Good for “the scores of students and employees,” black and white, who “staged a quickly planned vigil at the statue of Mr. Meredith.” Moving beyond the events of last week:
Good for Kimberly Dandridge, who was elected as the school’s first black female student body president in 2011. Good for Courtney Pearson, who was elected the first black homecoming queen in 2012.
(Pearson was a legacy. Her mother, father and stepmother all attended Ole Miss. Good for them as well, dating back to a tougher time. When Courtney Pearson became homecoming queen, the Dean of Students said he had known her father when they attended Ole Miss together.)
Moving farther back in time, good for Kimsey O’Neal Cooper, the first black student to be selected Miss Ole Miss, in 1989. And good for Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus, for a fascinating portrait of modern-day Ole Miss in their 2011 book, the clumsily titled but fascinating Higher Education?
By most lights, Hacker earned his bones on race a long time ago with his aggressive book, Two Nations: Black and White, Separate, Hostile, Unequal. What’s his view of the modern Ole Miss?
“Of all the flagship universities we visited, we found the University of Mississippi the most appealing,” he and Dreifus wrote. These were some of the reasons:
HACKER/DREIFUS (page 219): Today, on campus, there’s a statue of James Meredith and Ole Miss is a university where reconciliation and civility are at the very heart of the educational mission. Much of this transformation is the work of Robert Khayat, a remarkable leader, who retired from the chancellorship in 2009. Khayat, himself a former footballer, raised academic standards, tripled the African American enrollment, and banned confederate flags from athletic events—a truly courageous step...Good for Melissa Cole! We’re assuming she’s seeing clearly!
Ole Miss now has a Center for the Study of Southern Culture that focuses on the art, literature, music and food of the region, black and white. Rowan Oak, Faulkner’s home, is an on-campus museum. Rita Bender, the wife of Mickey Schwerner, one of the civil rights workers murdered during the summer of 1964, gives a course in “restorative justice.” And did we see correctly at the football game? Was that really a black athlete escorting an extremely white homecoming princess across the field?
When Melissa Cole, a pre-med student in the Barksdale Honors College, first though about attending Ole Miss, her friends back home in Jackson asked, “Why would you want to go there?” She’s African-American. Once at Oxford, she got involved with the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation, which she described as having started much “dialogue of racial reconciliation, racial issues on campus, and how to come together. It’s not only black and white, but also international students who are having different experiences.” She believes, “Ole Miss has a lot to offer for anybody of any race.”
Did Hacker and Dreifus see Ole Miss correctly? We can’t answer that question. But you pretty much knew where the Times would end up with an event like this from last week! That said, even we had to chuckle at their second report on this incident.
We will return to this topic. We’ll also return to Oberlin, where the Times bravely battled the Klan less than a year ago.