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Ole Miss chancellor: Gay slurs at student play a ‘learning opportunity’

Wednesday, October 9, 2013
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GREENWOOD, Miss. — The chancellor of the University of Mississippi says the disruptions at a campus play with gay slurs and inappropriate laughter from the audience is an opportunity to educate students about tolerance.

Chancellor Dan Jones met Monday with the editorial board of the Greenwood Commonwealth. Jones was asked about the play at the meeting.

Dan Jones

Dan Jones

The disturbances occurred Oct. 1 during a university theater department production of “The Laramie Project,” based on the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard, an openly gay University of Wyoming student.

Ole Miss officials say the dark theater made it hard to identify specific people, and early reports differ about the frequency, volume and source of comments.

Jones said those in the audience were almost exclusively freshmen, who were attending the three-hour play as a course requirement.

Jones said because of Ole Miss’ history, including the resistance to admitting black students years ago, the university gets more attention for episodes than it might otherwise.

The incident, he said, “creates large opportunities for us to be part of the learning process — to work in a state and a country and a world that’s still struggling with intolerance.”

He said many Ole Miss students come from “more sheltered backgrounds without exposure to social issues” and the university can help make them better people and better citizens.

He said he supports the university’s Theater Department for wanting to “raise the dialogue” about how people deal with homosexuality.

“They probably didn’t know they would create this much dialogue,” he said.

“The investigation so far has revealed a number of different accounts, (including) from actors on the stage who heard specific taunts, some on the issue of the play itself,” Jones said.

He said some people in the audience became restless or talked on cellphones during the performance.

“So far, there have not been reliable reports to assign individual responsibility,” Jones said. “That’s disappointing to a lot of people.”

The students are scheduled to meet with the cast of the play, and training on sensitivity and how to behave in a theater also will be held, he said.

“If students can be identified who had inappropriate behavior, they’ll be referred to our student judicial process,” he said.

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