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Ole Miss athletes under investigation

Reported by: Susan Parker
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Updated: 10/03/2013 8:36 pm
OXFORD, Miss. (WTVA) -- It was a risk, but it was one student actors were willing to take — a play based on the 1998 murder of Mathew Shepard, a gay student in Laramie County, Wyoming.

It's called the "Laramie Project."

"We were hoping it would open a dialogue. We didn't necessarily hope that it would go this way," Associate Professor of Theater Michael Barnett said.

The way it would go would be downhill as soon as a character took the stage and announced he was gay.

The character would use gay slurs as part of his dialogue.

"You heard people agreeing and people laughing and completely disregarding everything that was going on on stage," actor and student Jade Jenga said.

She says Ole Miss football players were among those in the audience whose bad behavior included talking on cell phones, taking pictures and loud conversations.

University officials are trying to determine exactly what happened. Their investigation includes a meeting with freshmen student-athletes from various sports, not just football players who were initially blamed by actors for the disruption.

"That's the whole purpose of this investigation is to look into the incident that occurred, determine the facts behind it and make a recommendation of what action needs to be taken," Director of Public Relations Danny Blanton said.

While the investigation continues, students are reacting to the story.

"It says something bad about our university about people in general here in Mississippi, and I really don't like it," Glen Beam said.

"It's disturbing that people do that but not surprising," April Steen said.

That opinion may or may not be shared by organizers of a seminar which focuses partly on the culture of racism.

It's called the Semantics and Ethics of Racial Language, and it happened on the Ole Miss campus with a keynote speaker who is gay.

"It's another example of why symposiums like this are needed and are important. It also says we have some more education to do for our young people," Ravi Perry said.

That's a feeling definitely shared by Professor Barnett.

"While the university has come a long way over the last 51 years, we still have issues of discrimination and equality on campus, both gender, race and sexuality," Barnett said.

Those subjects will likely be on the table as members of Student Affairs and the Bias Incident Response Team determine the facts and take what is described as the appropriate next steps.
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