Three freshmen at the University of Mississippi have been expelled for their alleged actions in the racial vandalism of a statue on campus. The fraternity to which they belonged, Sigma Phi Epsilon, has suspended the chapter indefinitely and also voted to expel the men as well as to reveal their identities to officials investigating the incident. The students expelled on Friday are all white, 19 years of age, and from the state of Georgia.
The statue of James Meredith, who in 1962 was the first black student to enroll at Ole Miss, which until then was an all-white college, was found by police with a noose around its neck on Sunday after a worker reported hearing men yelling racial slurs near the location of the statue. A dated Georgia Flag which contained an emblem of the Confederate flag was found nearby. At the time of Meredith’s admission, the governor of Mississippi attempted to prevent him from attending the school, which caused violence to erupt on campus. Days after the U.S. Attorney General, Robert Kennedy, dispatched 500 U.S. marshals to regain control of the campus, Meredith was allowed to begin classes. Although he dealt with harassment while attending the school, he earned a political science degree from the university.
The investigation by the University of Mississippi resulted in police asking to interview two of the students in connection with the racist statue vandalism. Although the two at first consented to meet with police on Thursday morning, neither one of them showed up for the interviews. While trying to find the two missing students, police learned that three students had hired an attorney. The lawyers for the three students have prevented police from questioning their clients until they have arrest warrants. Due to campus privacy laws, the three fraternity members who are now expelled have not been identified.
Danny Blanton, spokesperson for the University of Mississippi, stated on Friday that the school has turned over the results of its internal investigation to the district attorney. D.A. Ben Creekmore has said that charging the students criminally would prove difficult because there was no trespassing in order to place the noose around the statue, nor was there physical damage done to the statue. Should new information arise that leads him to believe that criminal charges could be filed, Creekmore could reopen the investigation. The university also plans to internally discipline the students using their own judicial panel of students and faculty. The panel has the authority to dismiss and ban the students from its campus.
The racial vandalism of the statue by the three as-yet-unidentified white students has deeply embarrassed the University of Mississippi, which has made a great effort to overcome its racist past and the violence that occurred when Ole Miss integrated. Students seeking to take a stand against racism held a demonstration near the statue on Tuesday. The fraternity which expelled the students has denounced the actions of its now-expelled members, stating that it condemns racism and will not tolerate it in their chapters.
By Jennifer Pfalz