Dear Millsaps Community:
With the support of the Millsaps College Board of Trustees, I requested the removal of the Civil War-era cannon located in front of the Gertrude C. Ford Academic Complex. This work has now been completed.
This cannon is not a Confederate war trophy—it was actually used by a Federal Division of New York during the Civil War. But, its origin doesn’t really matter. The cannon has no historical connection to the college, and it is a very physical and offensive reminder to many of a war initiated for the explicit purpose of continuing the enslavement of millions of Black men, women and children.
Millsaps’ mission statement claims our dedication to open inquiry and free expression, and our legacy includes striving for social justice, diversity and inclusion.
Removing the cannon symbolizes our commitment to an educational environment that is open and hospitable to all. It also symbolizes our understanding that it is time for change as we move toward a more just and equitable society.
Rob Pearigen, President
Attached above is the Aug 19 cannon release statement by President Pearigen. Below is a shortened version of the original interview conducted with President Pearigen. Topics discussed in this interview are diversity, the cannon’s removal, and racial healing among others.
Purple and White: When, why, and how did you decide to remove the cannon?
In the early weeks of the summer as Civil War statues and memorials became the objects of increased offense, pain and heightened social unrest around the country, it seemed to me that our Civil War-era cannon would cause similar hurt to individuals on our campus. My initial thought was simply to remove the cannon. Upon further reflection and conversation with some of my colleagues, I thought the cannon might help frame needed conversation and action at Millsaps on matters of race, racism and inequality. But, as the summer wore on and I began to make plans for dialogue on these vital issues of the day, I felt that removing the cannon was a simple act I could do as president to demonstrate my commitment, and the institution’s commitment, to helping move the college forward in its dedication to equality, inclusion and social justice. I’m grateful to the Board of Trustees for its support of my decision.
Purple and White: How did you weigh the pros and cons of removing the cannon, and how would you explain your decision to alumni who may argue that the cannon is a part of Millsaps’s history?
With the research help of others, I learned a lot about the cannon this summer. It was acquired in 1916 when hundreds of similar cannons were being distributed upon request throughout the country. At the time, we also received a couple dozen cannon balls (which have long since disappeared). The cannon was used by a Federal regiment in the Civil War and has no direct connection to Millsaps nor to our history. Over the years, it moved around campus several times and, one year, lay in the weeds beside its concrete plinth after being toppled by students from a local-area college. The cannon was occasionally the site of photo-ops that were included in the Bobashela but there’s little evidence of its significance in the life or traditions of the college. In my conversations with several alums from the 60s and 70s, most of them don’t even remember there being a cannon on campus.
We’re an institution of higher learning and a Civil War-era cannon in the center of campus that has no organic connection to Millsaps and no symbolic meaning to the college just seems out of place. And, as I said in my statement to the college community on August 19th, the cannon “…is a very physical and offensive reminder to many of a war initiated for the explicit purpose of continuing the enslavement of millions of Black men, women and children… Removing the cannon symbolizes our commitment to an educational environment that is open and hospitable to all. It also symbolizes our understanding that it is time for change as we move toward a more just and equitable society.”
We have not settled on the cannon’s future. I’ve been in touch with an individual who once owned a Civil War artillery museum. He is interested in purchasing the cannon, as are others, I’m told. I have asked that a plaque be created to acknowledge the person who acquired the cannon for the college and to commemorate the class of 1917 that made the cannon its class gift.
Purple and White: Even though Millsaps has a more diverse student body population than it has had in the past, do you believe there is still room for improvement? If so, what are some practices the College can employ to increase diversity amongst students, faculty, and staff?
Students of color comprise about 39 percent of our student body, up from 20 percent a decade ago. One of the things that attracted me to Millsaps in 2010 when I became president was the racial and ethnic diversity of our student body, and I’m pleased we’ve nearly doubled the percentage since then.
Increasing the diversity of the student body is one of the key goals of our current strategic plan. Providing enhanced support for our diverse community of students is also part of our strategic goals, and one of the primary means of doing this is expanding the diversity of our faculty and staff. Several years ago, I was pleased to create a cabinet-level position focused on diversity and inclusion and to hire Demi Brown for that role. While Dean Brown has now been elevated to the position of Dean of Students and serves on the Executive Staff, the senior leadership team of the college, he continues his role as our chief diversity officer and advocate.
It’s also important to encourage diversity in our student leadership positions and provide support for student organizations that represent our multicultural student body. Along those lines, I authorized funding last year to renovate space in Franklin Hall for Black student organizations, endorsed traditionally Black sororities and fraternities on campus, hosted events for Black student organizations at the President’s Home and encourage participation by college leaders in events sponsored by our multicultural student organizations.
Other current and future initiatives that will reinforce our efforts to support a more diverse student, faculty and staff population include our Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation campus center at Millsaps and a soon-to-be announced task force on race, equality and equity.
Ultimately, creating an open and hospitable campus environment for students, staff and faculty of all races, creeds, beliefs, ethnicities and socio-economic backgrounds is essential to addressing your question about a “more diverse student body population,” and we will continue planning and acting upon that very thing.