Alumnus and media entrepreneur Ed Meek and his wife donated $5.3 million in 2009 in support of the journalism school, which was renamed the Meek School of Journalism and New Media. After Meek suggested in a Facebook post in September that African-American students in party dresses were responsible for declining enrollment and deteriorating property values around the university's Oxford campus, however, university and journalism school leaders quickly denounced the post, with journalism faculty holding an emergency meeting the following morning and two public forums scheduled for later that evening. A letter also was sent to the entire university community explaining the process of removing Meek's name from the building, while a subsequent note explained that university chancellor Jeffrey Vitter planned to expedite the process.
The university's swift response to the post — which Meek removed shortly after it went viral — is in striking contrast to recent racial-related controversies on the Ole Miss campus — including one in 2012 when student protestors chanted racial epithets directed at then-President Barack Obama, and another in 2014 when a noose was placed around a statue of James Meredith, who, in 1962, became the first black student to enroll at the university, a development that led to deadly rioting. The steps taken after the latest incident follow recent actions to replace the school's mascot, Colonel Reb; rename Confederate Drive, which runs through campus; and remove the name of a white supremacist from a campus building.
"They were literally looking us in the eyes and just listening to us," said Alexis Rhoden, an African-American journalism student who attended one of the forums. "So I thought, 'This is actually different, this could mean something.'"
"Any time there's anything that touches on a racial incident, we want to be sure that we can deal with it, or put our best face possible on it," said Curtis Wilkie, a professor at the journalism school. Whether Meek's name will be removed from the school remains unclear, however. A state board will make the final decision, and Wilkie observed that Meek is "close to the power brokers in this state, who are all Republicans and all very conservative."