Change often comes slowly at the University of Mississippi in Oxford, where tradition is revered.
But student leaders could challenge the status quo this week when they vote whether to remove the state flag from campus. The design features the Confederate Battle Flag.
“We are forever tied to the horrors of our past,” said Allen Coon, a sophomore leading the effort to take the flag down.
“We’ve flown this symbol of oppression. We’ve defended it. We fought for it, and it’s time to recognize that that was a mistake,” he said.
Confederate symbols and tributes have fallen under increased scrutiny in the South since the killings of nine African-Americans Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, in June.
There have been calls in the past for Mississippi to change its flag — a call that was echoed in a statement from Ole Miss.
“As a state institution, we fly the flags representing our state and nation. However, as a university committed to fostering a welcoming and inclusive campus for all students, we continue to join other leaders in Mississippi to encourage our government to change the state flag,” the school said.
At least three of the state’s public universities already do not fly the flag.
Tuesday’s vote is on a nonbinding resolution. It faces some opposition.
In an online petition that had garnered 199 signatures by Sunday, student Andrew Soper wrote that “removing symbols, flags and monuments will do nothing to change the way people feel in their hearts.”
“Ole Miss Students and my fellow Mississippians, rise up and push back on political correctness and support the state flag,” he implored.
But Coon insists the vote doesn’t have to be divisive.
“Why can’t we get behind this? Why can’t we understand that this is something that affects people every day that they go to class,” he said. “If it doesn’t pass, we’ll find a way.”
Nick Valencia reported this story from Oxford. Dana Ford reported and wrote this story from Atlanta. CNN’s Devon Sayers also contributed to this report.