I am writing today to clarify misperceptions about the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on History and Context and its work. I refer everyone to my June 10, 2016 letter, which explains in detail the importance of the work, the progress made, and the committee’s remaining work. Feedback on the letter was very positive. We have since been doing exactly what the letter laid out, and we will continue to do so.
I would first like to provide clarification on what contextualization is and what it is not. When we say that we are contextualizing a building, it means that we will provide historical and well-documented facts about the site that explain the environment in which it was created or named. Contextualization does not mean that a building is being renamed. In our case, the only renaming being sought is for Vardaman Hall.
The work of the CACHC is limited to physical sites that need contextualization. The June 10 letter provides important background on this entire process, as well as related issues. For example, the letter explained the process behind the contextualization of the Confederate statue and gave the revised wording of the plaque, which was installed in October. The letter also made it very clear that we will continue to use the terms “Ole Miss” and “Rebels” as positive and endearing nicknames for the University of Mississippi.
As detailed in the June 10 letter, the committee’s charge is twofold:
- to recommend which Oxford campus physical sites should be contextualized, and
- to design the content and format to contextualize the recommended sites.
In December 2016, the CACHC completed the first part of its two-part charge and forwarded me a recommended list of sites for contextualization. On Feb. 22, 2017, after reviewing with the university leadership team, I gave the committee the finalized list of sites to contextualize:
- Lamar Hall
- Barnard Observatory
- Longstreet Hall
- George Hall
- Barnard Observatory, Croft Hall, the Lyceum, and Hilgard Cut — plaque to be placed just west of Croft, within sight of the three buildings, noting that these four projects were constructed with slave labor
Two other actions will be taken: We will seek to rename Vardaman Hall through university processes, subject to IHL approval. Vardaman Hall was already approved for renovation by the IHL board last spring. And we will make a sign clarification at Paul B. Johnson Commons by adding “Sr.” to clarify that it is named after Paul B. Johnson Sr.
The second and final part of the committee’s work, which consists of recommending wording for the contextualization of items 1-5 listed above, will be completed as a single unit and submitted to me by May 31, 2017.
The CACHC members were chosen from nominations based upon clearly enunciated criteria around essential areas of expertise. We specifically avoided basing representation upon constituency groups.
I also charged the CACHC to ensure wide community input and engagement. Last fall, during the first phase of its work, the committee used an online form to solicit wide community input about suggested sites to contextualize. As the committee turns to the second part of its charge, it is again seeking community input via an online form, this time to collect thoughts and suggestions about contextualization for the items listed above. I encourage you to use the form by March 31 to provide your input.
Additionally, the committee announced two live listening sessions, the first of which occurred March 6 on campus. The second is scheduled for 6:30-8:30 p.m. March 23 at Burns-Belfry Museum. Please consider attending to lend your voice to the conversation.
I would like to close by recognizing the dedicated work of the CACHC as an invaluable contribution to our university community. We must embrace the responsibility of understanding our past so that we can focus upon our important mission as a flagship university: to create a bright and vibrant future for our state, nation, and world. I appreciate your continued support.
Jeffrey S. Vitter