Cure Discrimination with Education

Jhesset Enano Graceland 3This past February, the University of Mississippi was once again in the national news. On February 17, the James Meredith statue, a civil rights marker of the first African American student at Ole Miss, was found defaced with a noose around its neck and draped with an old Georgia state flag, which has the Confederate symbol. Investigations soon began. The media followed the events closely, prompting discussions about racism at Ole Miss,  and in Mississippi and the American South.

When I first knew that I was going to Ole Miss, I was taken aback by the picture of Mississippi that was presented to me by online searches. In websites and online discussion boards there were talks about the race issue within the state. In fact, if you type “is Mississippi…” in the Google search box, among three other suggestions, it will finish it with “racist.”

Ole Miss, from its history, can never possibly escape the discussion of racism. Amid riots and staunch opposition in 1962, Meredith bravely faced the challenge and fought for his right to an education. Today, his statue has the words: courage, perseverance, opportunity and knowledge – words that personally ring true to me, coming as an international student to the United States.

Due to its history, Ole Miss continues to be a powerful venue to discuss the issue of race, not only in the state, but in the United States as a whole. It is important to remember that racism does not merely concern the South, where it has a strong historical background. Racism can happen anywhere.

At present, however, there are 93 countries represented at Ole Miss. There are a reported 911 international students here in total – myself included – and I proudly represent the Philippines, a country that is unheard of for some American students. This number shows a great leap forward from the step that Meredith took more than 50 years ago. Now, the university has truly opened its doors to diversity and acceptance for everyone.

I have had the opportunity to be here for one academic year and experience the university life as a “Rebel.” Totally different from the perception created by online buzz, Ole Miss is a great and diverse community, and it is sad to see setbacks such as the recent incident that try to hinder or ruin the image that the university has been trying to improve. It does not mean that Ole Miss is a utopia, but it offers a unique opportunity for multicultural education.

Ignorance is the root of discrimination. Education is the cure. The opportunity to be in such a diverse community here in Oxford is a treasure to behold. As an international student, I have experienced how welcoming the South is. Despite a lot of flak about Mississippi, it does its best to hold up to being the “hospitality state.” Mississippi is not perfect – it continues to rank badly in terms of poverty and literacy – but it, too, has been a victim of a poor stereotype of prejudice and ignorance.

Racism is not one way. It does not involve a particular race. It does not happen in just one pocket of the country. It can happen to anyone, anywhere. However, we are now in the 21st century. We are living in a diverse and multicultural society and labels should be a thing of the past. No matter what race, gender or sexual orientation, love and respect should be placed above all. Incidents like this should be an opportunity to learn, and as one human race, encourage us to pick ourselves up and not let such ignorance stop us.

– Jhesset Thrina Enano, Philippines, University of Mississippi


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