Monday, January 30, 2023

Ole Miss ASB Pushing Vitter For Student Representation On Contextualization Committee

Ole Miss Chancellor Jeff Vitter – photo by Steven Gagliano

Tuesday night, the Ole Miss Associated Student Body passed a resolution by a vote of 34-11 to pause the work of the Chancellor’s Committee of Contextualization, which has existed since 2015. 
The Committee recently announced plans to contextualize five sites around the Ole Miss campus with plaques along with the renaming of Vardaman Hall. The legislation was written by five ASB senators, Coco McDonnell, Hunter Story, Ty Deemer, Brady Kies and Taylor Story. The legislation was written to attempt to give students representation on the committee and have their voices heard, which the senators don’t believe has been the case. 
“We’re not trying to take an ASB stance on what the committee is doing, rather on how the committee was formed, how information was distributed, lack of effort to find out what students thought and wanted,” Hunter said. “It was more so a resolution about student representation and far less about what we thought about their work.”

As previously reported, the committee is set to finish their recommendations by the end of this semester. The committee held two listening sessions earlier in the semester to garner feedback on the recommendations made to Chancellor Vitter, but the senators feel that their questions fell on deaf ears. They spoke of a lack of open discussion during the sessions, and that their concerns were directed to an online submission form, which they never felt was a reliable source of having their voices heard. 
“They held the two listening sessions, and it was very clear that they didn’t listen to students. Chancellor Vitter never stuck around to answer questions. They relied on an online submission form and with that, there’s no accountability, there’s no discussion,” Kies said. “I questioned the legitimacy of the sessions because they had already made the recommendations to the Chancellor. They gave us a false sense of hope that we could make a change.”
McDonnell added, “We all sent in submissions and never heard back. We have no way to follow up on what we sent in to see if they were taken into consideration.”
One student has served on the committee over the past year, out-going ASB President Austin Powell. Powell is graduating, and his departure left questions in the minds of senators who felt he may not have been able to devote enough time to the committee. While acknowledging that Powell is more than qualified, several authors of the legislation voiced that he couldn’t possibly speak for 18,000 students.
The information on the contextualized plaques has not yet been released, but the senators wanted to pass this legislation in order to give the committee more time to gather input from the student body because of the lasting impact it will have on the University’s campus. 
“There making this a rushed process. A committee member told us that they wish they had more time. I think we’re doing the committee a favor by giving them more time,” Deemer said. “This is going to be something that affects our campus for years to come. My issue isn’t with contextualizing parts of campus; it’s that I want it done the right way and that everyone gets a say in what’s on the plaques.”
Kies mentioned that he among other senators reached out to Vitter but were unable to get a response after multiple attempts. The lack of response ultimately led to the composition of this legislation according to the senators. 
“When you’re blocked out so many times, you’re ready to get to work and take action, and that’s what we did with this resolution,” Deemer said. “It’s up to the administration to realize that they serve the students, and if they don’t accept that we should have a say, we’re going to keep butting heads. This resolution has gotten tremendous support because people are excited that their voices are being heard.”
During the second listening session, Vitter spoke of his commitment to hearing the voices of all those involved in the Ole Miss community. 
“We have a committee of experts, and I’ve made it clear to the committee of experts, it’s very important for them to listen and engage in constructive conversations with all university stakeholders. That’s students, faculty, staff, alumni, friends, community members so that we don’t miss anything and we weigh all relevant information.” Vitter said.
Now that the bill has been passed through the ASB Senate, it now has ten days to be either signed or vetoed by ASB President Deon Kevin. If Kevin signs it, the legislation will then go in front of Chancellor Vitter, who can also choose to sign or veto the bill. 
“The next step is big for us because we passed the resolution by a wide margin. We’ve kept going and talking to people and getting feedback,” Hunter said. “We’re at a point where we’re going to see people like Chancellor Vitter decide if student representation is important or if pushing a personal agenda is more important.”
HottyToddy.com received the following statement from Chancellor Vitter regarding the resolution passed by ASB.
“First, I would like to recognize and thank the students of the ASB for their service in student government and being active participants in the life of our campus.  Student government is a tremendous responsibility and deserves much effort and commitment.  Our university has long been committed to honest and open dialogue about its history and how to make our campuses more welcoming and inclusive.  
Unfortunately, the ASB resolution and discussion around the resolution were based upon inaccurate information.   Since I first announced on March 29, 2016, that I would establish the CACHC, we have been transparent and open with our communications with students, faculty, staff, alumni, and friends.  From meetings to determine the criteria for membership, the nomination process, a dedicated website, online input forms for both Phase I & II, group meetings, email communications, ads, and social media platforms, among others, we have sought input from our community every step along the way to keep all aware of the process and to engage the public.  I especially encourage all to check the full context.OleMiss.edu site, which provides details and is regularly updated.  I look forward to receiving the committee’s report, representing the CACHC’s extensive work over this entire academic year.”


Steven Gagliano is a writer for HottyToddy.com. He can be reached at steven.gagliano@hottytoddy.com
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