As University of Mississippi students hurry to class, an individual sits in front of the James Meredith statue, dedicated to the first African-American student admitted to Ole Miss, with a smile and a sign. The sign reads, “No matter how small it may seem, you have a choice and a voice.”
In the early hours of Feb. 16, 2014, university police found a noose and pre-2003 Georgia flag on the statue. One year later, an Ole Miss student, Correl Hoyle, uses the experience as a platform to raise awareness for the acceptance of minority groups on campus.
Hoyle, 23, is a senior psychology major from Walnut, Miss. While Hoyle speaks against discrimination today, he wasn’t always aware of discrimination as a child.
“I was more or less oblivious to racism growing up… My first instance of racism was learning about the N-word,” Hoyle said. “I used my context clues as a child, and I thought it meant friend.”
Hoyle wrote the word on a classroom assignment and was reprimanded by his African-American teacher. He didn’t understand his punishment until the teacher explained the context of the word.
When Hoyle moved from his hometown to East Central Community College, he made his first gay friend. Hoyle said he then realized some attitudes about lifestyle choices come from misunderstanding and fear, not a person’s nature.
“Everyone has a reason for their lifestyle…Racism is either taught or experienced… because media shows portrayals of cookie cutter lifestyles,” Hoyle said. “No matter what race, sexual orientation or how rich your parents are…we all came here for education. I don’t see helpfulness in discriminating against someone when you have other things to worry about.”
Hoyle transferred to The University of Mississippi and quickly saw self-segregation in the Student Union. After students interrupted the production of “The Laramie Project” and the James Meredith incident, Hoyle began sitting by the James Meredith statue each day from 11 a.m. until noon.
“People thought I was angry when I started,” Hoyle said. “I was disappointed that hatred was still relevant, and people were blunt enough to still do it.”
Hoyle believes a large part of discrimination stems from people ignoring the issue. Some of Hoyle’s peers support his cause for raising awareness, but the majority of spectators ignore him. Hoyle considered stopping his promotion of acceptance, but his supporters urged him to continue.
“I know I’m not going to change the world,” Hoyle said. “I don’t have the lifespan to do that, but I do hope I will change the opinions of some people in this town…Hatred is a deep-rooted tree. It’s not going to die overnight, but we can try our best. Change starts with us.”