Delta State University on Thursday evening joined the state’s other public colleges in lowering the Mississippi flag. DSU will replace the state flag with a banner created by the Mississippi Economic Council to commemorate the state’s bicentennial.
William N. LaForge, Delta State University’s president, made the announcement in a news release, adding that the flag would would be retired to the university archives.
“I wish to make it clear that this university is making an institutional decision on this issue because the state government has declined to change the flag. This is a painful decision in many respects because this is a highly charged emotional issue for many people,” LaForge said in the release.
“The University finds itself in the untenable position of making a decision that will disappoint some, no matter the outcome. But in the absence of state action, we are making a decision that I believe is right and just on all levels.”
Kayla Hines, an African American junior studying childhood development at Delta State, said she was happy to hear that the school would no longer fly the flag.
“It’s a symbol of hate and oppression. The fact that it’s gone, it’s a relief we don’t have to have a reminder of what our people went through,” she told Mississippi Today.
After a June 2015 mass shooting in South Carolina, where a white man killed nine black churchgoers, Confederate symbols have come into renewed focus. This has included criticism of the Mississippi flag, which bears the Confederate battle emblem in the upper left corner. The University of Mississippi and the University of Southern Mississippi took down the flag last fall. Mississippi State University and Mississippi University for Women followed this summer. The state’s public historically black colleges have also declined to the display the flag as have several municipalities.
The Delta State Faculty Senate began discussing the flag issue in the fall of 2015. The Faculty Senate sponsored a flag survey sent to professors on campus last school year. In the spring of 2016, the Student Government Association sent its president, along with the seven other state universities’ student government leaders, to Jackson to meet with House Speaker Philip Gunn about the flag.
Several bills aimed at redesigning the state flag met defeat despite Gunn’s stated desire to have a new flag.
“I think the action by the person responsible is inappropriate, and it’s a violation of state law,” said Marc Allen, public affairs officer for the Mississippi Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, referring to his interpretation of state law that he believes requires publicly funded schools to fly the state flag.
“It’s a public university, owned and funded by the people of the state of Mississippi. The person who is in charge takes an oath to uphold the state law, and it was broken. The personal feelings of who’s in charge of a public university are not more important than the law. It’s just wrong.”
In his statement, LaForge said, “As a public institution of higher learning, Delta State continues to honor and respect its relationship with the people and state that support this university. That will not change merely because we choose to join our seven sister universities in solidarity in lowering a flag that contains an antiquated symbol that is offensive to so many, and that public universities are not required by law to fly.”
Of the symbol, LaForge said, “The objectionable portion of the state flag — the stars and bars — presents a polarizing symbol that is a barrier to progress and improved understanding of our state, our university, and our people. … We believe that continuing to fly the state flag — with its divisive symbol that sends a confusing message, at best, and that has increasingly become a distraction to our mission — is contrary to our core values and to an accurate understanding of who we are and what we stand for as a university.”
Winona native Mikel Sykes, who was president of the Student Government Association at Delta State for two years and is black, said he understands the complexity of the issue.
While he has worked with administrators, faculty and students in efforts to remove the flag from campus, he understands the other side’s perspective. He organized multiple meetings with students from both sides of the issue, but no consensus was reached.
“I’m very proud to see Delta State lower the state flag,” Sykes said Thursday evening. “I feel that this a step in the right direction for the campus as a whole.”