Obama re-election triggers campus unrest in Virginia and Mississippi
By Alexis Webb
Special to the NNPA from the Afro-American Newspaper
Election-night unrest aimed at Black students flared on two college campuses Nov. 6 after President Obama’s re-election victory, triggering two arrests at the University of Mississippi in Oxford and an internal investigation at Hampden-Sydney College near Farmville, Va.
In apparently unrelated incidents, racial slurs were directed at Black student organizations on both Southern campuses. No violence was reported in the post-election episodes.
About 40 students at Hampden-Sydney set off fireworks, tossed bottles and shouted racial slurs at the building housing’s the campus’ Minority Student Union, the Associated Press reported.
When threats of physical violence were heard at the impromptu rally, students in the building called campus officials to report a crowd outside of their house, according to the AP. The crowd dispersed without further incidents after campus police arrived.
A forum to discuss bigotry and racism was held the next day after Dr. Christopher Howard, Hampden-Sydney’s first African American president, in an e-mail sent to parents, noted that the school will investigate the incident.
“I am terribly disappointed with the students who participated in this harmful, senseless episode including those men who stood idly by and watched it happen,” he said in the message.
Howard called the incident “a perfect storm of a tense nation, an uptight” nation and a campus of young men. “We love our men, but they’re young men,” he said. “Young men sometimes act before they think.”
“There is no room for bigotry or racism,” he said on Hampden-Sydney’s campus, where an honor code is required of each student and the curriculum includes a focus on the use of language.
Black students are nine percent of the 1,080-student liberal arts college for men, one of the oldest colleges in the nation. Chartered in 1783, Hampden-Sydney is one of only three all-male institutions in the nation. The school also has no history of racial discrimination.
In Mississippi, the size of the protest grew from a crowd of about 40 to roughly 400 within 20 minutes of the Obama victory announcement at Ole Miss’s student union, the university said. Police dispersed the crowd after demonstrators shouted what officials called “political statements” and burned an Obama campaign poster.
A second crowd formed 25 minutes later, according to a university statement. Campus police arrested two persons for disorderly conduct — one for public intoxication and another for failure to comply with police orders.
“While we are grateful that there were no injuries and there was no property damage, we are very disappointed in those students who took a very immature and uncivil approach to expressing their views about the election,” said University of Mississippi Chancellor Dan Jones. “The gathering seems to have been fueled by social media, and the conversation should have stayed there.”
A peaceful counter-protest was held on the Oxford, Miss. campus Nov. 7. In a candlelight march 600 students gathered, many of them telling onlookers that they endorsed “respect and dignity of each person.”
The incident occurred in the wake of the observance of the 50th anniversary of bloody rioting on the campus when the state was forced to accept Black students.