EDUCATION

Student activist flags down inequality with help from the NAACP

Rachel E. Anderson
The Oxford Eagle

Most people are hesitant to challenge tradition. Tysianna “Ty” Marino is not one of those people.

Marino, a public policy leadership student from Pascagoula, Mississippi, has always considered herself an activist. From sporting her “I Can’t Breathe” sweatshirt (a reference to the final words Eric Garner said before he died from a chokehold applied by an arresting police officer) on campus to supporting Black Lives Matter online, Marino devotes herself to social justice issues.

“I’ve always had very strong opinions about social justice,” said Marino. “At the University of Mississippi I didn’t feel like I could do anything about it until I found the NAACP.”

Marino now holds the title of vice president of University of Mississippi Youth and College Division of the NAACP and is helping lead the organization’s current initiative, the removal of the Mississippi state flag from campus.

Marino and other members of the NAACP have begun calling upon the Associated Student Body and the chancellor’s office to take down the state flag and replace it with one that represents all people.

The University of Mississippi flies the state flag in the Circle.

The University of Mississippi flies the state flag in the Circle.

“I believe the flag should be removed because it is a divisive symbol that is representative of the choices of a foreign nation whose views conflicted so much so with the current nation I live in,” said Buka Okoye, president of the University of Mississippi’s NAACP. “’Til this day, tensions have not been reconciled, and fragmentation along political and racial lines persists 150 years after the war…”

Marino shares a similar opinion about the current state flag.

“A lot of people try to argue that it reminds us of our history, but the reminder is that some people did not want to be inclusive,” Marino said. “The people that pledged allegiance to that flag were segregationists. They didn’t want people of different races to be included together. I think that the (current) flag represents that idea.”

In order to raise awareness and support for their initiative to remove the flag, the NAACP will hold a rally in the Circle Friday, Oct. 16. The group also plans meet with the vice chancellor and ASB to continue discussions. If the flag is still not removed after these efforts, the NAACP will organize a march in the Grove during a home football game.

“In a school where you have one of the top priorities of inclusion, I think that it defeats the purpose to have a flag that represents segregation,” said Marino.

Many other University of Mississippi organizations agree with her. The William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation and the Ole Miss College Democrats have announced that they stand in solidarity with the NAACP. Other groups, such as the Black Student Union, the National Pan-Hellenic Council fraternities and sororities, and leaders of UM Pride Network have also shown support.

One statue memorializing a Confederate soldier also stands in the Circle.

A statue memorializing a Confederate soldier stands in the Circle.

In September, the NAACP held a forum on Confederate symbols, where they discussed the state flag and talked about other offensive iconography. The group hopes to see a removal of all symbols that invoke inequality more so than history.

For example, Marino believes that the two Confederate soldier statues, found on the Circle and on the Oxford Square, do not appropriately memorialize the Civil War, but shine a more positive light on it.

The NAACP’s push to remove the Mississippi state flag and other Confederate symbols arose from conversations about South Carolina’s decision to lower the Confederate flag from capitol grounds. After this decision, many people began to question the Mississippi flag and its impression today.

“People think of Mississippi as being this still racist place, and I think that (the current) flag only further condones that type of thinking and the way that people will think about us,” said Marino.

Marino, Okoye, and the rest of the NAACP hope people realize the need to include everybody’s perspectives and heritages, not just one group’s.

“This issue is important today because there is so much more that needs to be done within minority communities across the board in our nation and in our state, and the flag buttresses my argument,” said Okoye.

The NAACP and its efforts to create a more inclusive environment have provided Marino with a platform to carry on her passion of fighting for social justice.

“We (the NAACP) are a team of heroes, and I like to be a part of that team,” said Marino.

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