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Ole Miss students vote to remove state flag with Confederate emblem

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Bruce Newman/The Oxford Eagle via AP

(Read caption) University of Mississippi students hold signs during a rally calling on the university to remove the Mississippi state flag from university grounds, Friday, Oct. 16, 2015, in Oxford, Miss.

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The University of Mississippi's Associated Student Body has passed a resolution to take down the state flag, which bears the Confederate battle emblem, from university grounds.

The resolution states that the flag divides the campus, undermines the school's efforts to promote diversity, and violates the university's creed, which calls for respect for the dignity of each person.

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“It’s just overwhelming to know that the voices of students that are affected by this image, that feel excluded by this image, that are hurt by the symbol, that their voices were heard," the resolution’s sponsor, student Allen Coon, told The Jackson Clarion-Ledger. "It means that we truly are taking steps toward progress, that we care about change, that we care about students and that we respect difference.”

The measure was passed on a 33 to 15 vote, with one abstaining voter.

Following the June 17 mass shooting at a landmark black church in Charleston, S.C., by Dylann Roof, Confederate symbols have come under increased public scrutiny. The 21-year-old shooter confessed that he was attempting to start a race war and photos quickly emerged of him displaying a variety of flags associated with white supremacy, including the Confederate battle flag. A nationwide movement erupted to rid public places of the flag.

Earlier this week, commissioners in Greene County, Tennessee, resoundingly voted down one commissioner’s proposal to fly the Confederate battle flag above the courthouse as a sign of the region’s “heritage and loyalties.” The Christian Science Monitor reported 20 commissioners voted “no,” leaving local sheriff’s deputy James "Buddy" Randolph, who wrote the proposal, the only commissioner in favor.

On Monday, the Florida Senate removed the Confederate battle flag from the chamber's official seal. 

The Christian Science Monitor recently reported that Mississippi, a complex and frequently misunderstood Southern state, is also experiencing a shift in thinking on the flag and its modern legacy.

Many top state officials seeking reelection are largely steering clear of the topic, with incumbent Gov. Phil Bryant saying the question should go to a referendum. But by state law, that couldn’t occur until 2018. Legally, the legislature could furl the flag as soon as it meets early next year.

Mississippians more broadly are reconsidering a long-held belief that the flag represents a rich history, not bigotry. Republican House Speaker Philip Gunn said recently that “the flag has become a point of offense” for many people.

On Friday, Ole Miss students held a rally to support removing the flag, carrying signs that read "This is our University too," "#whataboutus?," "I am more than a flag," and "Straight Outta Patience, " according to the Ole Miss student newspaper. A group of pro-Confederate battle flag supporters from the Ku Klux Klan also attended the rally.

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The issue now goes to the university senior officials to decide whether or not to implement the Associated Student Body’s decision. If the university leadership agrees with the student body, Ole Miss will be the fourth Mississippi college to remove the flag from campus, alongside Jackson State University, Mississippi Valley State University, and Alcorn State University.