Each year, the city of Oxford prepares itself to become home to several thousand new students. After a short break each summer, the University of Mississippi’s 20,000 students reunite in Oxford. In response to this reunion, many of the city’s well-known qualities return — Jackson Avenue traffic, long restaurant waits, and rowdy nightlife on the Square. These are all too familiar to permanent Oxford residents.
Oxford locals observe and recognize student life, and students do the same for locals. Two co-existing bubbles seem to form, one around university life and one around community life, and rarely do these bubbles ever touch.
The students in their own bubble slowly stretch their influence over every part of Oxford. However, Oxford still graciously provides its students with resources, opportunities, and experiences, but it is important that students not take advantage of Oxford. It is crucial to pause and realize all Oxford has done, give thanks, give back, and burst the bubble. This is why I chose The Ole Miss Big Event.
According to the University of Mississippi, “The purpose of The Ole Miss Big Event is to dedicate a day of service to the community while building relationships between students and community members. Through positive interaction, students will say thank you to the Oxford and Lafayette areas for the support the students are given throughout their tenure at the University.”
The Big Event is the largest day of service in Mississippi and led by UM students. For one day in March, students gather early in the morning at the Pavilion to serve the Oxford-Lafayette community.
Annually, around 1,000 students disperse around Lafayette County to complete various acts of service. A wide variety of projects are completed each year, including cleaning up schools and homes, repainting walls, planting flowerbeds, and picking up garbage around schools and buildings.
Giving UM students the opportunity to immerse ourselves in the community is important because we get wrapped up in college life and forget to see things from a different perspective. We forget to think about how community members feel and how they accommodate us.
One night during the first semester of my freshman year, I was walking to dinner with friends. In front of us, were two groups of people – a group of Ole Miss students and a family of four. This family had two young children, who both appeared to be under 10. The students were being loud and obnoxious. A few words of profanity were even present in their excited chatter. I watched as the children became fixed on the boisterous group of students, while the parents quickly gave each other an alarming look of concern.
I am not inferring that all students are roaming around Oxford shouting profanity. I am simply saying that there are ramifications when thousands of students gather together without adult supervision. However, many Oxford and Lafayette locals, the majority comprised of elders or families, probably do not wish to stumble upon the wild activity of the students.
I only use this example of locals observing college chaos because it clearly portrays the influence Ole Miss students can have on this city and its residents. Our behavior determines exactly what the community thinks of the university and its students. However, this influence does not have to be a negative one, and I have seen The Ole Miss Big Event shape it directly.
Serving as an executive member of The Ole Miss Big Event allows me to examine the positives and negatives from past years, while maintaining a vision for our years to come. As an executive team, we are responsible for creating and facilitating the event every year. This includes encouraging students to volunteer, setting up transportation, gathering projects for the day, communicating with the project owners, determining how many volunteers are needed, planning the morning ceremony, developing emergency plans, and much more. While this may seem difficult, the interactions made through these duties have allowed me to realize the importance of The Ole Miss Big Event.
During my first year working with The Ole Miss Big Event, the project I attended was to clean an elderly woman’s storage shed. She lived about 10 minutes out of the city and said she didn’t get out very much. Repeatedly, she expressed her thanks for us coming out and assisting her. She told us she easily could’ve made her grandson come clean, but that it made such a difference to see students. After cleaning, she asked us to come inside, where she had desserts for us. She craved company and was delighted in our hour-long visit.
She is a perfect example of the attitude of many locals. They know, as Ole Miss students, we come in large numbers and often get entangled in college life. However, they still care for each of us, and they want positive interactions with us, breaking the walls and the bubble that confine us to only the university.
The relationship between the university and the community is what makes this place so special. The students add energy and spunk to the community, and the locals add compassion and generosity. We contribute to each other in a positive way.
The Ole Miss Big Event is doing far greater things than cleaning out storage sheds or planting flowers; it is building relationships between Ole Miss students and residents of the Oxford-Lafayette community. The Ole Miss Big Event allows students to express gratitude to the city we love and to the people that make it what it is. The human impact made on those involved continues on forever, which makes the one-day Big Event truly last a lifetime.
If you or someone you know are interested in getting involved with The Ole Miss Big Event, you can find information about volunteering and registering projects on The Ole Miss Big Event Facebook page, or you can contact the office at (662) 915-3870.