Ole Miss students vote for new mascot

University of Mississippi students voted Tuesday to start looking for a mascot to fill the void left by Colonel Reb.

The old Southern gent with a cane and floppy hat was booted as the on-field mascot in 2003 as the school continued its move away from Old South symbols. Since then, the teams have been without an on-field mascot.

"This wasn’t about Colonel Reb at all. This is a new body of students. This vote is about deciding that we need a new personification of what a Rebel is," said John Kaiser, the Associated Student Body’s deputy attorney general of elections.

In Tuesday’s vote, students had to decide whether the university should begin looking for a successor to the colonel. Some of his die-hard fans had been campaigning against the move.

Ole Miss senior Hannah Loy says she’s disappointed with the vote. She says Colonel Reb’s image has been misconstrued by an older generation.

"We’re tired of having nothing to represent us," said junior Josh Hinton, a member of the Associated Student Body, which approved a resolution calling for the vote. "We’ve gotten our song taken away. We want to have some kind of tradition back."

Ole Miss, with its pristine lawns and white-columned buildings, has struggled for more than a decade with how to retain that tradition while shedding symbols of the Old South. It’s all part of an effort to remove past racial tensions that date back to 1962, when a deadly riot followed James Meredith’s attempt to become the university’s first black student.

In 1997, the school ended the waving of Confederate flags at sporting events. Then Colonel Reb was booted off the field. Last year, the band stopped playing the fight song, "From Dixie with Love," to discourage the fan chant, "The South will rise again."

Koriann Porter, a black sophomore who collected more than 1,700 student signatures in support of a new mascot, said much has changed on campus since the civil rights era. The school has clubs devoted to embracing its diversity, and 15 percent of the 18,344 students are black. The state’s black population is a 37.2 percent.

"When it comes to racial reconciliation, we embody the utopian society," she said.

Maybe not altogether utopian: Richard McKay, vice president of the Associated Student Body, said he had received some hate e-mail about the vote.

"We’ve gotten a lot of input whether it was asked for or not," said McKay, who is white. "A lot of students are afraid that as soon as we have a new mascot, everyone will forget about Colonel Reb."

Still, Colonel Reb hasn’t disappeared altogether from the university. Ole Miss holds the license to the image so it’s still on bumper stickers, lapel pins and other merchandise on display at Rebel games.

Other vestiges of the Old South can also be found on campus. The Mississippi state flag, with its Confederate battle emblem, is still flown and the team nickname remains the Rebels, adopted in 1936 after a group of sportswriters voted to replace the Flood. That won’t change even if the mascot does.

Collins Tuohy, a recent graduate interviewed a few days before the vote, said her parents recognized the need for the change when they attended the school.

"My dad was an athlete and my mom was a cheerleader. They saw firsthand that the flag and Colonel Reb were having an effect on people," she said of Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy, who are depicted in the Oscar-nominated film, "The Blind Side."

Tuohy said when she was involved with the Student Alumni Council, there was more of a move by older alums to push for a new mascot.

Associated Student Body President Artair Rogers said a student mascot committee will be selected to develop and propose a new mascot. He said he would present a plan to the Associated Student Body Senate and Ole Miss Chancellor Dan Jones next week.