The controversial state flags previously flown around campus were recently taken down quietly.
The removal of state flags around campus has been a long process. In 2001, both the Student Association Senate and the Faculty Senate called for Mississippi to choose a new state flag. The subject drew attention again in 2015 after the Charleston shooting. This past academic year, the Faculty Senate voted for a change in the state flag which the Student Association also supported. Last April, students rallied around the flag pole on the Drill Field in a protest ending on the steps of Lee Hall below the office of President Mark Keenum.
Keenum said multiple factors have led to the state flags’ removal and replacement across campus.
“The underlying sense, is you have students, faculty, and leadership of administration on record calling for a change,” Keenum said. “It’s a quite natural thing that the respective colleges on campus would want to emulate the display of the American flag on the Drill Field with their college and that’s what transpired.”
Keenum said he received a request from the dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine and later received a similar request from the dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences to replace the state flag to emulate the American flag on the Drill Field.
“They asked did I have a problem with that, and I said ‘no,’” Keenum said.
Sid Salter, chief communications officer and director of public affairs, said the replacement of the flags was a process specifically designed for MSU’s campus.
“The process on campus was one where when you have shared governance, the faculty and staff approach the chief executive officer with a request, and he waives that request and says proceed,” Salter said.
Cody Coyne, president of MSU Faculty Senate, said when the subject of the flag came up, there was no hesitancy for the Faculty Senate to become involved.
“How it works is, after contacting all the presidents of the other seven faculty senates within the state, we meet at a designated location where we discuss and draft a document of alternatives and other different options that end with signatures from everyone in attendance,” Coyne said.
Coyne said after all of this is done, they submit the draft to the Commissioner of Higher Education.
“We try to maintain an atmosphere that is non-inflammatory to opposing views and subtly submit the drafts to the State College Board with the recommendation to consider an alternative flag rather than no flag at all,” Coyne said.
The state flag has been a controversial topic for several years, and Salter explained the university’s stance on the matter over the past decade.
“It was an evolving process,” Salter said. “This debate began 15 years ago, then renewed in 2015 after the South Carolina shooting and continued until last May. All a process. All and evolution.”
In regards to the quiet manner in which the flags were removed, Salter said because it went through so many channels within MSU, the university decided to take a different approach.
“There are institutions that decided to do a press conference, but this has been an evolving process,” Salter said.
Roxanne Raven, president of the Student Association, said the SA wants to make sure they are listening to every person on all issues, especially one as significant as the state flag.
“Going forward, speaking as a representative of all students, we want to create programs to bring students of different backgrounds and ethnicities together to continue to promote a family atmosphere,” Raven said.
Keenum has previously voiced his support of changing the flag through policies in the state legislature.
“There has been an environment at Mississippi State supporting flag change, but within the law and acknowledging the fact that no one here has the power to change the flags,” Salter said. “This has to happen with elected officials in Jackson. Dr. Keenum has called on state officials to debate that in an expeditious manner. For whatever reason, that has not happened.”
Salter said regarding the protest last May, the administration believes everything that happens on campus definitely has impact. He said this particular decision was based on a number of factors.
“It would be disingenuous to say that the decision was based solely on the protest, rather there has been an evolution on the issue,” Salter said.
Flags most recently flew near the Wise Center, the Hunter Henry Alumni Center and the Veteran’s Center. The state flag also flew near the MAFES conference center off Highway 182 and in the Perry Cafeteria. The flag in the Perry was moved from its position next to the U.S. flag this past year.
MSU follows the University of Mississippi and University of Southern Mississippi in removing the Mississippi flag from campus.