The ole miss pendulum

Something feels different on campus.

Our chancellor resigned, protesters marched, basketball players knelt and students led an initiative to relocate the Confederate monument. It all came after our journalism school’s name changed.

The momentum has been building.

The Ole Miss Pendulum: The momentum has been building

by Devna Bose

It is an undeniable fact of the universe and all of the forces and principles that stitch it together that Newton’s cradle would keep passing energy back and forth, oscillating until the end of the time, if it weren’t for external forces acting upon the steel balls, friction slowing its swaying.

It’s just its nature.

Our campus is no different — in the midst of its daily seas, the flagship university’s tides are forever cresting toward opposite extremes, and this year, its waves have rolled toward change — deeply real, tangible, student-led change.

That’s not to say this change hasn’t been bubbling under the surface for years — it has — but the waves have crested this year, the energy has crescendoed, and this came after a notoriously offensive Facebook post from September that received national attention.

A look at how the Ed Meek controversy developed

Ed Meek's lasting ties to the University of Mississippi

by Hadley Hitson and Taylor Vance

Last semester, the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning approved the University of Mississippi’s request to remove prominent university donor Ed Meek’s name from the School of Journalism and New Media, but Meek still maintains indirect connections to the university through HottyToddy.com and the Center for Graphene Research and Innovation.

Meek founded the news website HottyToddy.com in 2012 with the intention of eventually gifting it to the university and making it a platform for journalism students at Ole Miss to publish their work. The website currently operates under the School of Journalism and New Media, and many journalism professors submit students’ classwork to the website.

On September 9, 2018, HottyToddy.com and related assets were placed “into a trust for the benefit of what was then the Meek School of Journalism and New Media to fulfill Dr. Meek’s vision,’” according to the website.

Thus, just 10 days before Meek’s infamous Facebook post, Hotty Toddy News, LLC entered into an agreement with the university and created a revocable trust granting the website and related assets to the university for exclusive use by “the Meek School.”

However, Ed Meek’s company Hotty Toddy News maintains the power to revoke the trust if the university fails to follow the standards set forth in the agreement and in the trust document.

These standards require the university to, among other things, “acknowledge publicly” that HottyToddy.com and its assets were made available to the school by Ed and Becky Meek, to reinvest any revenue generated from the website into “Meek School instructional activities and programs” and to utilize the services of existing Hotty Toddy employees.

Additionally, the university can decide, for any reason, upon 60 days notice, to return HottyToddy.com and the other trust assets to Hotty Toddy News, which would effectively return control of the website to Meek.

Will Norton, the dean of the School of Journalism and New Media, and Rachel West, the website’s publisher, both said they are unsure of the nature of this trust and directed all questions to the university’s chief legal counsel Erica McKinley, who declined to comment.

Anna Grace Usery, the editor-in-chief of HottyToddy.com, said she has never seen the full contract between the university and Hotty Toddy News. West also said Meek is no longer directly involved in the operations of HottyToddy.com and has no editorial control over content or profits.

However, Meek does have monetary influence over the National Graphene Association, which often partners with the Center for Graphene Research and Innovation at the university.

Meek is the founder and president of the NGA, an organization based in Oxford that advocates for and promotes the commercialization of graphene, a form of flexible carbon used in a variety of technologies.

While Meek does not have a direct connection to graphene research on campus, the NGA does, working closely with the university’s Center for Graphene Research and Innovation by hosting conferences and helping the center monetize its research.

Josh Gladden, the vice chancellor for research and sponsored programs, serves on the advisory board for the NGA. He said the graphene research center has subcontracted the NGA for consulting services on an economic development grant.

In an email obtained through a public records request, Meek wrote Norton on Sept. 22, 2018, three days after his Facebook post, saying he was planning to take a step back from the organization but would continue to fund it.

“I hope the university can look past the current environment, continue to partner with the NGA and take personal advantage of this opportunity to provide leadership so vital to our nation,” Meek wrote.

Ahmed Al-Ostaz, the director for the Center for Graphene Research and Innovation, said Meek was involved in the research center a lot in the early stages of the organization's founding and continues to work with the organization occasionally, but not “on a daily basis.”

Gladden said he did not often work with Meek directly but that dealing with Meek’s Facebook post was a “challenge.”

“Basically, my approach on it has been that’s just a separate issue and (Meek and I) will have to agree to disagree on certain things,” Gladden said. “But you know, this is a business relationship, and we’re moving forward on graphene — with the (National) Graphene Association or not.”

Norton was, at one time, a member of the NGA advisory board, but he said he was removed from the board without being informed of the reason.

Norton also said the journalism school does not have any current ties to the NGA after his removal from the board, but, in an email obtained through a public records request, Scott Fiene, the assistant dean of curriculum and assessment, said Leslie Westbrook, an adjunct professor for integrated marketing communications for the journalism school, was on the NGA board as well.

In the same email, Fiene said he hoped Westbrook could be a representative and connection for the school.

“She can keep us apprised of aspects that might be of interest to us,” Fiene wrote.

Westbrook still serves on the advisory board, according to NGA’s website, but she did not respond to requests for an interview.

While Meek’s name has been physically removed from the Ole Miss campus, his influence, personal projects and financial involvement remain, albeit thinly veiled.

Lost in the fallout: The UM Race Diary Project's buried meaning

by Slade Rand

In the wake of Ed Meek’s viral post, a faculty-led attempt to move Ole Miss forward was lost in the tumult. The fallout that came to define the fall semester buried a social study of racism, sexism and exclusion on the Ole Miss campus — 77 pages of evidence that Meek’s post was not an isolated incident.

More than pictures: The tenacity of Mahoghany Jordan and Ki'yona Crawford

by Devna Bose

When Mahoghany Jordan opened the door to Ki’yona Crawford’s apartment a few weeks ago, she was greeted with a shriek of approval.

“You look fine!” Ki’yona exclaimed, praising Mahoghany’s outfit, and Mahoghany responded, “You look fine!”

Mahoghany was in a zip up jean dress under a red flannel shirt with black booties on. Ki’yona was in a black lace bodysuit, high-waisted jeans, black leather jacket and bright red pumps.

“I bet your lil' sister wanna look like me,” the City Girls rapped through the speakers as Mahoghany, Ki’yona and their friends mixed drinks and chatted before their night out. “Act up, you can get snatched up.”

Lashes on, hair curled, lipstick on — the women headed to the Square.

“It was a beautiful night,” Mahoghany said. “We had a great time. We really did.”

That night in March was the first time the women had gone out together on the Square since they were photographed leaving the Cellar in September. Former journalism school namesake Ed Meek published the photographs to his personal Facebook page and posted a message along with them, as if the two Ole Miss students blemished Meek’s perception of his Oxford.

In reality, Mahoghany and Ki’yona were enjoying a rare night out together, having what Mahoghany said was “the time of their lives” after a week chock-full of classes and work.

“I never knew that I was being photographed,” Mahoghany said. “Like, I would’ve never thought that in a million years.”

A few days following, Mahoghany woke up from a nap after her Wednesday morning class to a “bunch of text messages.”

Her first reaction after seeing the post, she said, was disbelief — she thought she was being pranked. When it settled in that the post was real, Mahoghany said, her emotions turned into sadness, and then anger.

“This was something the whole world was seeing,” she said. “I have to defend myself, yet again, which I feel I’ve done my whole life.”

Mahoghany said men started looking at her body differently when she was 12.

“I was very curvy growing up, so I got a lot of male attention from kids my age and from older men, as sick as that is,” she said. “That was the reality of it.”

Growing up, men often commented on her body, and at some point, she said she became immune to it.

“Especially being young, I didn’t know how to react to the things being said to me,” she said.

When Mahoghany started college, it “just amplified.” Already a self-described “recluse” in high school, Mahoghany anxiety heightened on campus.

Mahoghany Jordan, whose face was shown in a photo posted by Ed Meek in September, feels proud to be a part of why Meek’s name was removed from the journalism school. She believes though this is a strong statement from the university, there is still more work to be done.

“I always felt like people were looking at me,” she said. “When I came to college, I tried to be more relaxed, but that didn’t work because men were still focused on my body.”

The first time Mahoghany felt over-sexualized on campus was when she was harassed at a fraternity party. When she reacted, she was told to calm down.

“It was really frustrating,” she said. “How can you come at someone for the reaction they give to some who violated them? How dare you come at me instead of the guy who’s sexually assaulting me and crossing that boundary?”

So when she saw Meek’s post, Mahoghany was frustrated, yes, but she was mostly tired.

“I knew what was about to come. I knew the wave of messages that were about to happen. The friend requests, from people who were, of course, supporting me, but also the people who agreed with (Meek),” she said. “I have to defend my choices on what I wear. I have to defend my physical body to people. And that was, that is, frustrating.”

In the days that followed, Mahoghany received over 1,500 friend requests on Facebook. Many of the messages she received were inappropriately lewd, referring to how beautiful her body was.

“Being a dark-skinned black woman, I feel as if people see me only as an object who is void of emotions, and they can do and say whatever,” she said. “It’s unfair because, yes, I'm very passionate, but in the same token, I'm very delicate. I'm extremely soft. This whole situation has hurt my feelings on levels that I wasn't aware of in myself.”

Though Mahoghany’s entire family was supportive of her during this time, she said her grandmother was especially understanding.

“You’ve got to defend your honor as a black woman and let the whole world know that this is not okay,” Edith told Mahoghany, when the news broke. “Wear whatever you want, and demand respect when you do it.”

Edith Jordan, Mahoghany’s 69-year-old grandmother, told her granddaughter as a high school senior to go to Ole Miss, though she told Mahoghany that she would probably encounter racism here.

“I felt if she could make it there, she could make it anywhere,” Edith said.

When Edith, who calls herself a “product of the civil rights movement,” found out about the post, she was furious.

“He portrayed her as being someone she totally is not. It was devious to say the least,” she said. “I am proud of her — I thought she particularly articulated her feelings well … but I’m sure she suffers from some anxiety regarding the incident. There should be some restorative justice.”

When she heard about Meek’s post, Edith thought back to her college days at Rust College.

“I believe Mahoghany was destined to be where she was at that particular time for this incident to occur so it can shine a light on the work that needs to be done,” Edith said. “We have made progress, yes, but there are more things that need to be addressed.”

Following the incident, Ki’yona and Mahoghany both met with members of university administration and the Center for Inclusion and Cross Cultural Engagement.

A public records request revealed that former Associated Student Body president Nic Lott reached out to university officials to schedule a meeting between the women and Meek after his post. This email was forwarded to Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Community Engagement Katrina Caldwell, but in an interview, she said her office did not coordinate a meeting and she was not aware of any intention or plan to do so.

Mahoghany said she was never encouraged by university officials to meet Meek, but she and Ki’yona were encouraged seek counseling at the university. Mahoghany tried and failed to do so — work and class made it difficult for her to find time for an appointment.

“I tried three times and couldn’t make it,” Mahoghany said. “It was also important for me to have a black counselor … but I didn’t know how to ask that question. It was kind of off-putting, so I didn’t try to reschedule.”

The public attention Ki’yona Crawford received from Ed Meek’s viral post added stress to an already difficult time in the Ole Miss senior’s daily life. In the days following, she missed a test in a class due to anxiety.

Katie Harrison, staff counselor and outreach coordinator at the university’s counseling center, declined to comment on a specific case on account of HIPAA laws.

“I was depressed when (Meek’s post) happened, and I was depressed after. It just added on,” Ki’yona said.

Ki’yona chose not to seek counseling at the university after hearing about Mahoghany’s experience.

Though only Mahoghany’s face was shown in the photo, Ki’yona was impacted by the post as well, which Mahoghany feels many people diminished.

“We were both objectified. People were telling Ki’yona that it was ‘really Mahoghany’s face,’ and to me, that’s unfair because she was still posted. That was still Ki’yona,” Mahoghany said. “So she was just as important, and it was just as important for her voice to be heard.”

Though Ki’yona and Mahoghany were close before this incident, Ki’yona, who Mahoghany describes as a “star, a golden spirit,” acknowledged that it brought them closer together.

“She doesn’t know this, but she really inspires me. I love her and her voice. I’m obviously not happy about the experience, but I’m very, very glad it was with Mahoghany. She motivates me, and I feel like I needed that. Mahoghany is very courageous,” Ki’yona said, before adding, “I would consider us both courageous.”

The duo wasn’t surprised when they learned Meek was, at the time, the namesake of the journalism school, but they felt empowered to be a part of the change when his name was removed.

“I didn't think anything was going to come from it, but that the fact that it did shows when you voice your opinion, you can make a change,” Ki’yona said.

Though Mahoghany agreed that it felt like she had made her mark on the university, she thinks much of the university’s response felt like “damage control.”

“From my experience, I don't feel like the University of Mississippi really cared about my emotions,” she said. “I feel like they just cared about the image.”

Mahoghany would like for this experience to continue dialogue on campus that results in women here realizing that they “don’t have to accept disrespect.”

“You have complete agency over your own body … and you have every right to call someone out. You have every right to defend yourself,” she said. “I feel like it's a trope that's tied with black women, that once we say something, once we stand up, we’re being ‘too much.’ You're an angry black woman, and you have every right to be angry, and you have every right to cry.”

Mahoghany still hasn’t accepted her 1,500 Facebook friend requests, and Meek has blocked her on the social media platform. But before they graduate in May, she and Ki’yona are planning to go out together once more.

The cost of Meek: What the removal of Meek's name signified for the school

by Mckenzie Richmond

While changing the name of the journalism school did not have many immediate financial consequences, it did have a large impact on the school’s students and future donations.

Journalism school still seeks common ground

by David Ballowe

The Common Ground Committee, which was formed in the journalism school after Ed Meek’s viral Facebook post, has yet to release official recommendations on how to move forward.

What was he thinking?

by Griffin Neal

Four aging men sit around a booth at the Beacon. It’s late afternoon, and the steady drip of a slow Oxford rainstorm is tapping on the tinted windows of the oldest restaurant in town. The rain isn’t louder than the hum of the conversation, which drifts from who’s really running City Hall to socialism and the conservative movement.

These four men don’t need menus. They're only interested in the usual.

The Beacon — with its tattered leather booths and greasy linoleum floor — is the quintessential Southern diner. Frozen in time, the Beacon offers a reprieve from the daily minutia of Oxford. These men come to the Beacon because the coffee’s always hot, the kitchen’s never empty and the staff knows their names.

But their names don't matter. They could be Dickie Scruggs or Samuel L. Jackson or Johnny Cash. For all of the Beacon’s congeniality, it’s anonymous as well. It’s where the power brokers of northeast Mississippi, framed by the bars and stars of Confederate flags on the dining room wallpaper, flesh out Oxford’s problems over black coffee and ketchup-smothered bites of country fried steak.

Ed Meek sits in one of these booths. Not on this day, but on many days before.

Overby Fellow Curtis Wilkie, a journalist and longtime friend of Meek’s, jokes that conversations Meek regularly has at the Beacon were the influence behind the controversial Facebook post Meek shared in September that caused his name to be removed from the journalism school and his life’s work to be tarnished.

“The problem is you spend too much damn time at the Beacon,” Wilkie said. “I said to Ed, ‘Part of the problem is you spend too much of your time listening to a bunch of malcontents who think Ole Miss and Oxford are going to hell in a handbasket.”

He noted that the Beacon is a sacred Oxford institution, and in no way does he mean to defame the restaurant or its patrons. But his point is salient.

Meek is motivated by commerce. He’s a businessman in a journalist’s world. Clicks are commerce for Meek, and no story is above reproach — not even a listicle ranking cities by the attractiveness of the women who reside there: a story Meek pushed for.

Wilkie’s half-hearted assertion that Ed Meek is impressionable holds true among his acquaintances. Callie Bryant, a former employee of Meek’s and one of his loudest detractors last fall, confirms this.

“He is a reactionary, first and foremost, and perhaps the very definition of him,” Bryant said. “He liked to be the first to say something. Perhaps he saw that extreme stories got extreme reactions. A click is a click — no matter what.”

Following Meek’s response to the removal of his name from the journalism school’s edifice, Bryant tweeted, “This is right out of his playbook. Every time Ed kicked the hornet’s nest he’d play the martyr/victim/unwitting fool after.”

However, Bryant declined to say that Meek is a racist. She worked as an editor at HottyToddy.com, a news website Meek created, for more than two years and spoke with him nearly every day. Despite his erratic behavior, both publicly and privately, Bryant contended that Meek was a generous boss.

Several of Bryant’s co-workers and Meek’s former employees declined to comment in fear of legal retribution.

Meek says he’s not a racist, despite the content of his post. His friends agree, and so do his former employees — though they acknowledge his complicity in sharing racist tropes on Facebook. Wilkie, who has known Meek since they were both freshmen at the university in 1958, does as well.

“In all of the years I’ve known him, I’ve never heard him use a racial epithet or say anything derogatory or anything at all that went into the Facebook post,” Wilkie said. “I think that was kind of an aberration.”

Wilkie’s an old-school progressive. Hanging in his office are framed covers of the Boston Globe — where he worked for nearly 30 years — a “Hunter S. Thompson for Sheriff” poster and biographies of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson: mementos of a foregone time as well as a window into his psyche. His politics are diametrically opposed to those of Ed Meek, but that’s never driven a wedge into their friendship. He said that Meek, as a conservative in Mississippi, is not some “old-school segregationist.”

“That does not apply to Ed,” Wilkie said. “Ed wouldn't be my friend if he were like that.”

Nic Lott was one of the first people to voice public support for Ed Meek during the fallout from his Facebook post.

Lott, elected in 2000 as the first black Associated Student Body president in the history of the university, counts Meek as a dear friend. He also doesn't believe Meek is racist.

“I know that he was very disappointed and hurt that he had been labeled that and that his name was removed from the school. It really hurt him,” Lott said. “If somebody is really racist, they're not going to be hurt by being labeled a racist. Ed was really hurt by that.”

Lott and Meek first met when Lott was a student at the university. Meek helped raise funds for the College Republicans and supported Lott in his campaign for the student body presidency. Lott has since worked as a political commentator on Fox and CNN and is running as a Republican for the office of commissioner of Mississippi Public Service.

Lott is a political ally to Ed Meek. Dickie Scruggs, Oxford’s billionaire attorney and the only other living person to have their name removed from a university building, is not. Scruggs is a liberal Democrat who was set to have a campaign fundraiser for the Hillary Clinton’s presidential candidacy in 2007 before he was indicted on federal bribery charges. Like Lott, Scruggs supported Meek and disagreed with the removal of his name from the journalism school.

“It was more of a generational mistake than a racial mistake,” Scruggs said. “I think Ed would have put the same picture if it would have been two white girls dressed like that. But somebody sent him those pictures, he didn’t take them. So, he just acted on what he saw, and it pressed a nerve.”

However, the narrative that Meek was simply reacting to pictures a friend sent him doesn't line up with the facts.

As revealed by a public records request, 72 hours prior to his Facebook post, Meek repeatedly pressured HottyToddy.com CEO Rachel West to run with a story that women were engaging in prostitution on the Square and that fights were ruining Oxford. West demurred, and Meek’s idea ended up in a Facebook post instead of the front page of a university-controlled publication.

Aside from an apology shortly after the post and a Facebook post expressing sadness that his name was removed from the journalism school, Meek has been silent for over six months. He’s declined all requests for interviews and has kept a low profile in the town where he was once lionized.

In private conversations, according to friends and colleagues, Meek conveyed astonishment that his Facebook post was perceived as racist.

Those same friends tell stories of Meek requesting funding for a primarily black church in Oxford. They tell stories of Meek assisting young black women in journalism land jobs after graduation. They tell stories of Meek convincing James Meredith to return to campus 30 years after the deadly riots that took place on campus when he tried to enter. They tell stories of an Ed Meek that is seemingly incapable of producing racist tropes in that fallacious 145-word Facebook post. But the words weren’t the problem, the images were. And they are inextricably linked.

In a 2016 interview with Marshall Ramsey broadcast on PBS, Meek discussed the mindset he possessed as a teenager from Charleston, Mississippi, walking onto campus in 1958.

“I brought with me the same prejudices that we all had at that time. For many years, I denied that. It wasn't politically smart to do so, but I admit it now. It was a different era,” Meek said. “I spent the rest of my career at Ole Miss dealing with these issues trying to reshape the image of the University of Mississippi.”

As a photographer and assistant vice chancellor for public relations at the university for most of his adult life, photographs and image defined Ed Meek. Sixty years and a Facebook post later, images continue to define him.

Students weigh staying or leaving journalism school following Meek’s post

by Daniel Payne

After Meek’s post and the school’s response, many students weighed the decision to stay in or leave the school of journalism and new media.

Opinion:The Suburb of Oxford: how language, race and property values shape our city

by Jacob Gambrell

In Opinion: Columnist Jacob Gambrell writes, “Meek and other power brokers of Oxford are influenced by the racist fear of Oxford becoming ‘ghetto,’ and until that changes, we will live in a place where students of color are the ‘other.’”

Opinion: HYPERSEXUALIZATION of black bodies

by Ethel Mwedziwendira

In Opinion: Opinion Editor Ethel Mwedziwendira writes, “There is also the double standard of hypersexualization, and history is littered with it. Black women aren’t given the same freedom to express themselves as other groups of women are.”

opinion: Is this a turning point?

by Megan Swartzfager

Just over six months ago, Ed Meek made a racist, sexist Facebook post that implied a relationship between the images of two young black women, both Ole Miss students, and a threat to “the values we hold dear that have made Oxford and Ole Miss known nationally.” Hours later, then-Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter condemned the “unjustified racial overtone” of the post. Three days later, amidst public outcry that included forums for students in the School of Journalism and New Media, Meek asked that his name be removed from the school. The decision was approved by the state college board, and the name was removed from the building in December.

The proceedings from the time of the post to the time of tangible action advanced with a speed that far outpaced what then seemed to be the usual plod of social progress at the University of Mississippi.

Consider the fact that our university needed three other Mississippi universities to remove the state flag from their campuses before our administration followed suit in 2015. Consider that the 2014 Action Plan, which urged no greater change in our university’s veneration of Civil War and Jim Crow-era white supremacists than to “offer more history, putting the past into context,” took four years to produce a milquetoast set of contextualization plaques.

Like the removal of Meek’s name from Farley Hall, these are real, physical changes in the way the university presents its values, and while the changes can feel underwhelming, their tangibility is something to be proud of. However, it is undeniable that, compared to the speed with which the university handled the Meek controversy, those changes occurred at a snail’s pace.

In the months since the letters of Meek’s name were pried off the Grove-facing wall of Farley, the university community has participated in a similarly rapid chain of events. This chain began with February’s protests and has already resulted in the university administration notifying the Mississippi Department of Archives and History of its intent to relocate the Confederate monument at the heart of our campus to the “more suitable location” of the campus’s Confederate cemetery.

Before Meek, the common argument against the relocation of the monument or the changing of names of buildings that honor white supremacists like James K. Vardaman, L.Q.C. Lamar, James Longstreet and James Zachariah George was that these things are part of history and that history can only be harmful when it is hidden from view.

We, as a community, learned from Meek’s Facebook post that there is a difference between acknowledging history and honoring it. We learned that symbolism can be harmful even when it is not maliciously deployed. We learned from a contemporary expression of racism that monuments to racist ideology validate and sustain that ideology, and this newly widespread sentiment is driving a change in rhetoric that corresponds to a shift toward progressive values.

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