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Report back on play disruption investigation

Reported by: Mel Carlock
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Updated: 10/04/2013 5:09 pm
OXFORD, Miss. (WTVA) -- Ole Miss officials have release the preliminary report of the Bias Incident Response Team regarding the disruption of a school play on Tuesday night.

BIRT committee members met with the cast and crew of "The Laramie Project" prior to a performance Wednesday night to discuss what happened the night before.

The theatre department production is the story of the death of a gay Wyoming student as the result of a hate crime.

Audience members, including some Ole Miss student athletes, began to yell homosexual slurs at the actors.

The release from the university says cast and crew didn't want punitive action taken against those involved, but wants the university to use it as an educational opportunity for those in attendance.

The committee says due to conflicting reports of what happened Tuesday and the meeting with the cast and crew, they will require all students who were in attendance to attend an education dialogue session to repair the harm.

BIRT members say they will also meet with the affected students, faculty and staff in the theatre department and the athletic departments on Monday.


Upon being notified of a reported incident at a recent performance of The Laramie Project, the Bias Incident Response Team (BIRT) swiftly met to discuss the night’s events. Co-Chair Valeria Beasley Ross stated that BIRT was established by the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs during the 2013 Spring Semester and seeks to support the university's efforts to establish and sustain the university's expectations around inclusivity and to provide an atmosphere that supports a healthy curricular and co-curricular experience.
The co-chairs of the BIRT, in addition to staff members from the University Athletic Department, met with the cast and crew before the following night’s performance to discuss the October 1st performance. Co-Chair Merrill Magruder of the Bias Incident Response Team stated that the cast and crew stressed that they did not want to see punitive action, but rather make this an educational opportunity for those who were in attendance. The recommendations below were developed by the BIRT to follow the students desire to provide educational outcomes.
The University of Mississippi is committed to celebrating the differences of our student body, valuing each member of our community, and fostering an atmosphere of civility and respect. With these goals in mind, the BIRT intervened immediately and will continue to respond in a prompt and efficient manner to address the reported inappropriate behavior that took place on October 1. The task of identifying specific individuals who were purported to have disrupted the performance is difficult because of the dark theatre, and initial reports vary in regard to the frequency, volume and source of the comments or disruption. Although initial reports indicate that student-athletes led the action, it is important to note that this has not been verified and they were not the only students present. Reports indicate that comments were made by student athletes and students but no report has singled out a specific student or mentioned any names. The BIRT encourages those in attendance who have specific accounts to contact them at, or Joseph Lawhorne, assistant Title IX Coordinator, at The BIRT will also follow university protocol by reporting any incidents of discrimination to the Title IX Office.
At this point and based upon the information that we have, BIRT recommends the following proactive steps:
Given the conflicting reports and the wishes of the actors and crew, BIRT wants to address and educate every student in attendance at Tuesday evening’s performance; therefore all students in attendance of The Laramie Project on October 1 are required to attend an educational dialogue session led by University faculty and Allies.  Cast members are invited to participate as well. The dialogue will seek to repair the harm that was done to the effected community.
The BIRT will support the continued efforts of The Department of Athletics to foster an environment of diversity and inclusion such as their partnership with the William Winter Institute in hosting racial reconciliation week, October 7-11 and their continued support of the LGBTQ Community.
The University Counseling Center, members of Allies, and the PRIDE Network will continue to provide counseling and support to students who may be in need of counseling after the public acknowledgement of the reported incident.
The University leadership encourages faculty, staff, students, and community members to fully support our LGBTQ community by attending and supporting PRIDE week activities.
The University Bias Incident Response Team is united in the belief that we are a university where the objectives are learning, growing, and becoming leaders. We achieve these goals only when we gather and work with facts and do not rush to judgment. Even when we make mistakes, we will address our mistakes and we will learn and grow. As a committee, the BIRT will approach this as an opportunity to educate our students and the greater community about the importance of respect, civility, and responsibility. Our committee will work to address individual behavior, group behavior, and bystander behavior. The Bias Incident Response Team plans to meet both today and Monday with faculty members in the Theater Department, staff members in the Department of Athletics and affected students. These meetings will better help us provide a support system for our students, faculty, and staff while allowing the BIRT to serve as an advocate for members of the LBGTQ community. These meetings will additionally allow us to make thoughtful long-term recommendations.
Support and resources are available to members of the University community. Email the BIRT ( for additional information.
Merrill Magruder, Co Chair of Bias Incident Response Team & Coordinator of Division Operations for the Division of Student Affairs
Valeria Beasley Ross, Co Chair of Bias Incident Response Team & Assistant Dean of Student for Multicultural Affairs & Volunteer Services
Camp Best, Staff Counselor
Derrick Dixon, Coordinator of Student Conduct
Judith Hopper, Assistant Director of Equal Opportunity and Regulatory Compliance
Jeff Kellum, Crime Prevention Coordinator

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