The University of Mississippi student government voted unanimously to remove a statue of a Confederate soldier from the center of their campus Tuesday, fewer than two weeks after a pro-Confederate rally unfolded at the school.
The latest flashpoint in a nationwide examination of Confederate iconography, the 47-0 vote was met with a loud applause in the room.
Students at this university, which has endured the national gaze multiple times in recent years for troubling symbols and racist incidents, described the energy at the meeting as electric: some hugged, while others wiped away tears.
“I started crying when I knew we had the majority vote," said Leah Davis, a black junior psychology major from Tupelo, Mississippi, who helped write the resolution. "It was really powerful to me the fact that the senate voted unanimously.”
The resolution that passed was signed Tuesday night by student body president Elam Miller. It proposes that the statue be moved from its place at the center of the campus to a nearby cemetery on school grounds, where hundreds of Confederate soldiers are buried.
“We’re setting up meetings right now with university leaders to understand the next steps from here,” Miller, a senior public policy major, said. “The way it’s outlined is sort of gray.”
The unanimous vote also comes during a time of unclear leadership for the university, as Jeff Vitter, the school's chancellor since 2015, stepped down in November. The state college board is now searching for his replacement.
Student organizers said that they saw the lack of permanent leadership as an opening to move the statue. During the last search for a chancellor in 2015, students were able to remove the state flag, which incorporates the Confederate emblem in its design.
"The events that are happening now aren’t spontaneous," said Jarrius Adams, a black student senator and senior from Hattiesburg, Mississippi, who helped organize a counterprotest to the pro-Confederate rally last month. "The only thing we did not plan this year were the Confederate visitors, but student leaders have gotten together to speak about the right time."
A small group of black and white students have spent months researching and planning the language of the bill, consulting with historians and lawyers and working to gain the trust and support of numerous student organizations, including Greek clubs.
The resolution was also cosponsored by Dalton Hull, the chairman of the Ole Miss College Republicans, who said that the campus GOP was fairly split on the issue but that many viewed it as an evenhanded compromise.
“It was a multicultural, bipartisan resolution that I think really supersedes all political issues," Hull, a senior political science major from Florida, said. "To me, this is not a political issue: this is about what’s morally right and wrong.”
University spokesman Rod Guajardo said in a statement that the school commended the student body for using the democratic process to engage in debate, and added that the resolution is now being circulated among the school's administrators.
Interim Chancellor Larry Sparks applauded the students as well, but warned in a statement on Thursday that the process would be a long one.
The move would have to be approved by the Mississippi State Institutions of Higher Learning, a 12-member body appointed by Republican Gov. Phil Bryant — who received a heritage award from the Mississippi Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans last year, according to Mississippi Today.
The university would also have to provide justification that the cemetery is the best location for the move "and consult with the Mississippi Department of Archives and History due to the landmark status of the monument," Sparks said.
The statue was donated by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1906, and has stood during numerous racially difficult and violent moments in American history, including the school’s integration in 1962 that led to riots, tear gas and two murders.
“It really has no ties to this campus and these students, and I think that the burden was placed on students to really contextualize it," Davis said. "I think the university and this community need to hear from students that this is not something we stand for, not something we want to glorify."
A matching resolution was passed by the graduate student government Monday. The faculty senate plans to take up legislation that mirrors their plan this week.
Students who worked on the bill hope that it clears with college administrators, as they believe it will help undermine a national narrative that Mississippi and Ole Miss are stuck in the past.
"This says that we are not to be written off,” said Jarvis Benson, one of the resolution's authors and a black junior international studies major from Grenada, Mississippi. “This shows that Mississippi has the potential to move forward in a really smart and sustainable way that crosses a lot of political divisions and partisanship."