It’s a rainy day at the University of Mississippi. Students are stumbling through puddles late for class and dispirited. Fortunately, for the Ole Miss community, a crossing guard alleviates the mundane troubles of campus pedestrians.
Crossing guards at a major campus intersections defend students from the perils of careless drivers and tardiness.
Indianapolis native Stephen Wilkerson stands at his post on the Grove Loop five days a week from 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. During his shift, he braves conditions that fluctuate from the most inclement weather to a picturesque day in the Grove. He is happy to endure to protect the well-being of students on campus.
“I got to make sure the cars don’t hit the kids,” said Wilkerson with genuine concern.
The most critical issue threatening student safety during the most highly-concentrated traffic hours of the day is the use of mobile devices. Both pedestrians and drivers frequently use their cell phones while maneuvering the busy intersection. This modern nuisance poses a great risk to the safety of the UM campus.
“You got kids that are walking, on their phones with earbuds in,” he said. “They can’t see. They can’t hear you, and then you got people in their car that’s on their phone and not paying attention.”
Caroline Carrillo, a sophomore majoring in psychology, agrees that crossing guards are a campus necessity.
“Crossing guards are necessary to prevent accidents from happening because so many people text and drive or are on their phones while walking to class,” said Carrillo.
Although Wilkerson’s work is difficult, he finds joy in the students. He vehemently rejects the commonly held belief that young people are entitled and rude.
“You hear that they are snobby, they think they’re better than everybody else, but they’re not like that at all,” said Wilkerson.
Students have welcomed the crossing guard on campus with gestures of hospitality – from a simple greeting to physical tokens of gratitude. Wilkerson said some students have given him water, Gatorade, and chewing gum.
Wilkerson remembers one student fondly. Football player Chandler Tuitt walks through the crosswalk every day on his way to class. With each passing, Tuitt enthusiastically greets Wilkerson with a handshake or a fist bump.
Once, while Wilkerson’s wife was sitting under a tree in the Grove watching her husband work, Tuitt was on his way to class. As usual, the two pals greeted one another, but this time Wilkerson had a special request.
Since Wilkerson’s wife is a fervent Ole Miss Rebels Football fan, he asked Tuitt to introduce himself to her.
“They sat over there and talked for a good while,” said Wilkerson.
Wilkerson tells his wife about some of the students who go out of their way to perform acts of kindness. However, while most students are generous and appreciative of his service to the Ole Miss community, some blatantly disregard his authority.
Some pedestrians at the crosswalk ignore his request to halt foot-traffic to allow cars to pass. The same is true for drivers. Wilkerson blames it on impatience. However, his most important priority is the needs of the students on foot.
“They [the drivers] get impatient because they’re trying to get some place,” he said. “But you got kids going to class. That’s more important.”
Occasionally, Wilkerson even calls out into the crowd to ask if any student is late for class so he can halt vehicular traffic and let the students cross first.
“I heard him say ‘Just gotta get the late kids,’” remarked Victoria Mayer, a sophomore business major, when asked if she had ever witnessed such an event.
Thoughtfulness and generosity are important characteristics that the Ole Miss community embodies. This is an example of simple acts of hospitality that occur every day on campus at the Grove Loop crosswalk.
Wilkerson obtained his job at the crosswalk through Cobra Security a short time after retiring. He previously worked for Mississippi Parks and Recreation for 27 years. He and his wife live in West Union, and they have three children together—a son and twin daughters.
The family is very active in the Northern Mississippi region. His wife and daughter work at Lafayette High School as a teacher and basketball coach, respectively, while his son and daughter are a doctor and nurse in the Tupelo area. In his spare time, Wilkerson referees high school basketball, baseball and football.