JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Witnesses say dozens of black and white students occupied the University of Mississippi's main administrative building in Oxford on Friday to protest what they called the chancellor's weak response to a Facebook comment about lynching.
The comment was from an account listed as belonging to a white student. However, The Associated Press was not immediately able to confirm that the post was made by the student himself. The comment responded to another student's post that criticized people protesting the police killing of a black man in Charlotte, North Carolina.
The sit-in at the white-columned Lyceum began Friday after Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter issued a statement criticizing social media comments that "suggest or condone actions" inconsistent with the university's core values.
"The University of Mississippi condemns the use of language that might encourage or condone violence," Vitter said in the statement. "Instead, let's be respectful and civil in our discourse."
Student protesters said Vitter's response fell short, and they demanded that he label the lynching comment as a "racist threat of domestic terrorism."
The student newspaper, The Daily Mississippian, posted video online of conversations on the Lyceum steps between black protesters and Andrew Soper, a student government senator who is white. Soper acknowledged he wrote a Facebook post criticizing the North Carolina protesters but said he was unaware for several hours that a comment about lynching had been made in response to it. He said he deleted the lynching post.
Video from The Daily Mississippian showed protesters asking Soper whether he had watched videos of black men killed by police officers. He said he had not.
Vitter became chancellor in January, weeks after other Ole Miss administrators stopped flying the Mississippi state flag on campus because the banner prominently features the Confederate battle emblem that critics see as a divisive reminder of segregation and slavery. Soper has sharply criticized university officials for removing the flag.
At Ole Miss' home football game last weekend, protesters unfurled an oversized state flag in the stadium and university police officers confiscated it, citing a longstanding policy that bans items that obstruct the view of other spectators.
Vitter's predecessor as chancellor, Dr. Dan Jones, launched an effort in 2014 to provide historical context for some symbols and buildings on a campus that dates back to 1848 and is home to a Confederate cemetery. Earlier this year, the university put a plaque by a Confederate soldier statue near the Lyceum.
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