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Mississippi (9)

Sun's out, Guns out

One of the things that I was most apprehensive about when I came to Mississippi was guns. Firearms. As a Canadian, the only guns I am familiar with (and I say familiar, not comfortable) are the ones that law enforcement have, and the hunting guns that my uncle keeps locked in his basement. I have personally never fired a gun. I had no idea what to expect, as I’ve been to the US many times, but never this far south, and never to an open carry state. I’m going to tell you some background information, some of the misconceptions that I had about guns and gun owners, and the reality of living in an open carry state.

The oft-discussed Second Amendment of the United States Constitution is the right to bear arms. Gun laws vary from state to state, and Mississippi is an open carry state. That means that pretty much anyone can buy a firearm and openly carry it with them. Applicants for a concealed or open carry permit must undergo a background check. It is especially important for concealed carriers to have proper documentation. As I understand it, the reasoning behind this is that if you were to come into contact with a police officer and you had a gun on your belt, they would be able to see that you had a gun right away, and that you weren't trying to hide it or get it past them. I suppose a concealed carry permit is a way of attempting to distinguish responsible gun owners from those who are hiding a gun for unsavoury purposes. Another interesting fact that I found out is that in Mississippi, your vehicle is considered an extension of your home, meaning that it is perfectly legal to carry a gun in your vehicle. A fellow university student described to me how he keeps a handgun in his vehicle, but is sure to keep both hands on the steering wheel if he gets pulled over. When the officer comes to his window, he immediately informs them that he has a gun, and of its location in the vehicle.

I asked around about how easy it would be to buy a gun. I have no intention of buying one, but I was curious. In line with laws surrounding alcohol, you have to be 21 years of age to legally purchase a gun and register it in your name. Guns are available for purchase at sporting good stores, similar to how they are in Alberta at Bass Pro. There is also a gun department at Walmart, which was a bit of a shock for me the first time I saw it, casually nestled in-between the DVDs and the pillows. I think the biggest difference in terms of availability is that as far as I know, as a regular citizen in Alberta, you can only really purchase a rifle for hunting, whereas here in Mississippi you can buy a handgun as well as shotguns from anywhere, including Walmart. To purchase a gun, all you have to do is show state issued ID such as a driver’s license. A background check is run against that identification. There are apparently certain guns such as an automatic rifle, or a sawed off shotgun that you can’t buy and take with you the same day. Those guns have a 24 hour or so waiting period, which I would assume is due to the increased amount of damage they could do in the wrong hands. There are also gun shows, where background checks have been known to be more lax, and transactions are often made in cash, and are therefore untraceable. As well, a private sale of a firearm does not require that the buyer provide a clean background check.

Coming to Mississippi, I had several misconceptions about guns.

Misconception: Open carry is going to be more scary and dangerous than concealed carry.

Reality: You have less to worry about with open carry than concealed carry. It seems counterintuitive. My friend Jonathan is 24 years old, studies law at Ole Miss, grew up in Alabama (Mississippi’s neighbour to the east), grew up around guns, and is a registered gun owner. He pointed out that if you see a person’s gun, they aren’t trying to hide anything. If a person is openly carrying a firearm, you can bet that they obtained it legally, took the proper steps to register it, and know how to use it safely. With concealed carry (the gun is in a purse, pocket, etc) comes a potential increase in the chance that someone is carrying an illegal firearm, may not know how to properly use it, or has something to hide (although this is certainly not always the case, and many concealed carry owners are very responsible). While I am certainly not going to feel comfortable walking into a Walmart and seeing a pistol on a fellow shopper’s hip in the deli section, after talking to Jonathan, I definitely feel better about seeing a gun.

Misconception: I will see guns everywhere.

Reality: I have seen two guns in the month that I have been in Oxford. One was a police officer’s, and the other was Jonathan’s that I asked to see (it was unloaded). I have seen zero guns in the deli section at Walmart.

Misconception: It is bad to raise children with a familiarity with guns.

Reality: A teaching colleague I spoke to said that he and his wife would likely introduce their son to guns around age 7 or 8. Many people will take their children out to go hunting and allow them to shoot guns. It’s something that I initially shied away from, but now I understand it. Guns are such a commonplace part of life here that parents would much rather their children understand gun safety and proper handling, and that they learn early to respect the danger that a gun can pose if improperly handled. We all teach kids not to talk to strangers and not to eat unwrapped Halloween candy…why wouldn’t we teach them how to be safe with something that they encounter on a daily basis?

To conclude, there is a lot of distorted information about guns and gun ownership. I thought I was walking into a version of the Wild West, but this has absolutely not been the case. I know that living in Canadian society where guns are not commonplace and widely socially accepted has influenced how I view gun ownership, and this has been a big learning curve for me. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to experience the reality of living in an open carry state, and to have been able to talk openly with gun owners that I like and respect about their experiences. I don’t think that I will ever own my own gun, but I am starting to understand the culture around guns that exists here.

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Tupelo Career Fair

Hello !

Today, we took all of the grade 8s to Tupelo (an hour east of Oxford) for a career fair. It was quite the site to see 7 yellow school buses making their way down the highway! 

At the career fair, there was an extensive range of interactive centers for the students to engage with. The centers included occupations from health, visual arts, engineering, the trades, and much more. There were also many centers that were related to the military. Professionals from each industry provided activities for students to gain a glimpse into each profession. As well, each center had a chart that outlined what level of education is needed and the corresponding salaries. 

Throughout the middle school, there is a strong focus on preparing for college and future career opportunities. Each classroom’s door is decorated to showcase a different university. In the commons, there are dozens of university pamphlets spread out on the tables. Students have the opportunity to enroll in AVID (Advancement via Individual Determination), which helps them develop skills to be successful in college and the work force. I have been surprised by the level of emphasis that is placed on preparation for the future, especially for such a young group of students. I think there is many benefits; it makes students aware of their options, helps motivate them, and gives them the opportunity to develop important life skills. However, I think it places a lot of stress on students. I also think it is damaging to advertise higher education as the only door to success, and that in order to be successful, youn  I do think that the career fair was a good way to mitigate this stress. Students were in fun activities that inspired them and helped increases their excitement for the future. 

Hotty Toddy! 

Victoria 

 

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The Mississippi State Flag

A current controversial issue in Mississippi is the state flag. Throughout my time here, I have engaged in many conversations with friends, visited several monuments, and participated in university discussions regarding the topic.

The controversy stems from the inclusion of the flag of the 14th Louisiana Infantry from the Confederate army in the civil war (the red square with the blue cross and stars). The flag served to represent the goals of the Confederate Rebels, which were primarily to maintain the institution of slavery in the Deep South. However, the flag of the 14th Louisiana Infantry, and the Mississippi state flag, has also been taken up by the Ku-Klux Klan. For these reasons, many people believe that Mississippi should change the state flag. However, many people also argue that the state flag represents southern heritage and includes a crucial part of Mississippi’s history. Some argue that the Southern States were fighting to preserve state rights, and that Confederate soldiers that lost their lives need to be memorialized. We visited a Confederate memorial in New Orleans, and a huge emphasis was placed on the significance of the different flags that represented the Confederacy in the Civil War.

The University of Mississippi has addressed this issue in several ways. The University does not fly the state flag on campus. There is also a statue of a Confederate soldier on campus to memorializes students of Ole Miss that fought and died in the War. However, the plaque was recently changed to better contextualize the statue. The new plaque no longer associates the Confederate’s battle with a ‘right and just cause’ but recognizes the significance of the event to the school community.

The recontextualization of the plaque shows the importance of social consciousness. I personally see the value of this as a teacher, as the flag of the 14th Infantry, and thus the state flag of Mississippi, have become associated with hate that impacts my students. Similarly to the movement of Reconciliation in Canada, and the recent renaming of the Reconciliation Bridge in Calgary, it is crucial to come to terms with difficult events in the past that have left enduring legacies in our countries.  

Victoria

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The Deep South

  Please bear with me as I stretch a metaphor to its breaking point.

  As you may or may not be aware, a human eyeball has 3 types of photoreceptor cells designed to help you see all of the many wondrous colours we have come to adore. And that’s lovely, thank you, photoreceptors for your hard work. However, the eyes of a Mantis Shrimp have 16 different types of photoreceptor cells, allowing them to perceive the multitudes of colour that our inferior human ocular systems couldn’t begin to imagine.

  Now, pretend if you will, that human scientists harnessed the power of a Mantis Shrimp’s eye, manufactured and affixed this power to sunglasses, and then sat those glasses across the bridge of your nose. Voila mi amigos, Hyperbolic Vision.

  Coming to America is a bit like wearing Shrimp Sunglasses.

  No, not like “I can finally see in colour” – nothing so dramatic. More like “Toto, we aren’t in Canada anymore.” Everything here is intensified. The heat is hotter. The trees are taller. The cars are louder. The people are friendlier. Generosity is more generous. Patriotism is more patriotic. Football is Footballier. Tailgating, tailgatier. Walmart is more Walmarty. Sorority house? Sorority Mansion! Everything really is “bigger and better” in the South.

   It is easy to love it all. It is easy to feel almost overwhelmed by how exciting everything is. And it’s easy to be so distracted by your eyes that you almost don’t hear: “so many people are closet racist,” “you still occasionally get someone burning a cross on a front lawn… but it’s highly frowned upon,” “I won’t call people sir or ma’am – my grandma says we stopped needing to in 1863”

  The South, in our experience, has been nothing but welcoming and warm. As we meet more people and make more friends, we are becoming aware that this is not the experience on all days or for all people. There is still a legacy of racism stemming from pre-emancipatory and civil-war days. Ole Miss does a lot of work in making their campus a safe and welcoming place for all people – they have revisited the statues of confederate soldiers and added addendums which acknowledge confederate ideologies; on campus, they have taken down the Mississippi State flag which includes the confederate flag in its top left corner; the faculty actively encourages and engages a diverse campus, and do positive work to welcome more African American learners every year.

 

 

 

 

  Forward motion, and the slow process of reconciliation, is felt throughout the community here in Oxford, and it doesn’t take Shrimp Sunglasses to see that.

Steph

 

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My day at school

Schools are structured a lot differently in Mississippi (or at least in Oxford). Elementary schools generally house two grades, with multiple classes of each grade. For example, there will be a grade 5-6 school, with about 6 classes of each grade. I was talking to a teacher who is also a parent of a grade 1 student, and she said that she appreciates the separation of grades, as it prevents younger kids from being exposed to more mature topics and language by older kids before they should be. Another benefit of this system is that since there is only one school to send your child for their grade, segregation according to race, socioeconomic status, or what neighbourhood you live in is much less likely. Schools are structured this way up until high school, which is grades 9-12.

My day starts at the high school (grades 9-12) around 8am. We have one period of marching band rehearsal outside (weather permitting), and then a prep, during which I travel with one of the teachers to the middle school (grade 7 and 8). After grade 7 and 8 band classes, we stop at a gas station to pick up lunch, and eat it at the intermediate school (grade 5 and 6). We teach two classes of grade 6 beginner band and then dismiss the students to go home. Although there are five or six grade six classes, only the equivalent of two classes are allowed to take band as an option, and admittance to band is based on an “audition” at the beginning of the year to test basic aptitude. Tuesdays and Thursdays the high school band has marching band rehearsal outside from 4:30-7pm. Yesterday we during rehearsal it was 35 degrees Celsius, plus 80-90% humidity...embrace the sweat!

I’m in the slightly unusual situation of working with a team of music teachers. Between the four of them, they share the teaching load for grades 6-12 band, plus instruction of the colourguard (the flags and dancers in the marching band). Each of them has a subspecialty (brass, woodwind, percussion, and colourguard), although they all work together and can teach any of the areas. It’s been really valuable for me to be able to work with teachers with totally different teaching styles and philosophies, and then also see how they bring those differences together to present a cohesive curriculum.

My gas station lunch (gas stations in Oxford actually have cooks and serve hot food!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunset over the field at the end of marching band rehearsal

  

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Southern Hospitality

As I have been in Oxford for over a week now, one thing has particularly stood out to me - the overwhelming kindness of people and their eagerness to help out. I think Americans are typically stereotyped as being rude and self centred. And although I have heard of southern hospitality and the general friendliness of southerners, I definitely did not expect it to this extent. For example, upon our arrival home from our first trip to Walmart, our Uber driver quickly hopped out of the car and helped us unpack our extensive pile of groceries and supplies, which I have never experienced before and was not expecting. Since we do not have a car, several people we have met (including our RA at the apartments and a grad student associated with Ole Miss), have offered to pick us up any time we need even though it would be going above and beyond expectations. The other day, I took the bus home after getting my groceries. It was raining a little but I only had a 5 minute walk home. However, on the way a lady pulled over to ask if I needed a ride home or to the university. It was just another example of how people are so willing to help out everyone they meet! When we met with the Dean of Education and the support staff, we were met with such excitement. I have never received so much free swag! We were also graciously offered football tickets in the nicest part of the stadium. Additionally, the University staff were willing to reach out to anyone they knew to help ensure our experience is the best it can be. It was encouraging to hear the professors speak of the networks of people they knew - between a few of them it sounded like they had contact with the whole town! 

In the schools, I have continued to experience the exceptional warmth and kindness of others. Each morning, the social studies teachers meet in professional learning commons (PLCs) to review their plans and reassess how their classes are doing. It was wonderful to be welcomed into such a supportive community within the school. 

As Stephanie mentioned in her last post, Southern Hospitality is truly something you need to experience to reach a full understanding. I am unsure if it’s because Oxford is a small town, or that the community is so connected by the University of Mississippi, but I have never experienced such a strong sense of community that eagerly welcomes others in. I feel incredibly safe and welcomed, which surprises me since I have only been here for several days. I look forward to becoming a closer part of this community and to build on the warm sense of welcoming that I have already received.

Hotty Toddy,
Victoria 

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Friday Night Lights

Coming to y'all live from Oxford, Mississippi, I am here to inform you that everything in the movies is true. 

Whatever I could possibly mean by this is difficult to describe with brevity, but I'll give you three points to begin: 

1. Southern Hospitality 

  I arrived in Memphis Tennessee last Sunday. With Victoria and August and the generous offer of a ride from our Ole Miss liaison, Hannah, we arrived to our townhouse in Oxford safe and sound. Ole Miss, pictured here with flowers, is the colloquial name for the University of Mississippi. After the initial shock of heat and humidity on our poor cold Canadian bodies, we set off (slowly, with many waterbottles) to explore campus, meet our partner teachers, meet seemingly everyone in town, make new friends, and accept invitations to every event nameable. Truly every person has been nothing but generous and kind to us since we arrived.

  For example: The Dean of Education here gave us his tickets to his family's capital-F-Fancy football seats for yesterday's home game; given us every piece of "faculty of education" swag he could grab; introduced us to his whole family at a high school football game; and personally driven us home in his minivan. While this may seem odd - if not over-the-top - by Canadian standards of what it means to be welcoming; here in Mississippi it has been our everyday experience from whoever we chance upon. 

I think I can speak honestly for all of us in saying that we love it here.

2. Student Life

   As a University student: it is just like the movies. No, really.

  There's the usual stuff you'd expect: fancy libraries, stately buildings, neatly manicured lawns, various sport-team references all over campus, professors neatly dressed in suits, and students wearing Ole Miss gear (possibly all that anyone owns in Oxford? Yet to be determined). 

  And then there's the "movie" stuff: an entire street within the gates of the university (WITHIN THE GATES OF THE UNIVERSITY) called "Fraternity Row" and a second called "Sorority Row". Lined, up and down, with "greek houses". I've put two pictures of Fraternity houses so that you can see what precisely that means. These houses have cooking and cleaning staff, gardeners, pools, and outdoor concerts (yes, with stages, bands, spotlights) every week. 

3. Football

  As a sub-category of Student Life, but also as a very real piece of Southern American life, Football is a huge part of culture. Maybe the hugest part. I have yet to walk into a store that doesn't sell some kind of merchandise of the "Ole Miss Rebels". 

  Every Friday there are High School football games that roughly 1000-1300 people attend. In the full silver-seated-stadium seating you expect of Friday Night Lights, the Dean of Education (who we bumped into there) told us "you're lucky to have found somewhere to sit!" 

  Then on Saturdays, it is College Football day. People fly and drive from all over the South to attend football games. They "tailgate" in a park on campus called "The Grove". In one of my pictures you can see a sea of people - those tents are the tents that people "tailgate" in. I keep putting that word in quotiations becasue it is so different that the "tailgate of your Ford F150" type celebration we have with the CFL. The tents have flatscreen TVs, chandeliers, mountains of food and drink, and everything - even the people - are decked out in Ole Miss Rebels colours / logos / slogans. There were around 500 tents, probably more, and literally thousands of people out to celebrate Football for the majority of the day.

I could go on

  As the heavy-hitters of American Culture, I will leave this post with only these three topics. However, I am looking very forward to updating you all on more cool things in further posts. Believe me, there is more!

Stay tuned for: school lunches, school security, and bedazzled pepper spray!! 

Hope y'all are having a wonderful time in all of the other corners of our world. We are truly and deeply enjoying ours.

Steph

 

 

 

 

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My Mississippi experience began the minute I boarded the plane from Houston to Memphis. I came through the cabin door, and looked up, realizing that nearly everyone on the plane was decked out from head to toe in Ole Miss gear. I immediately felt very out of place in my floral sweatpants! What I found out later was that there had been an away game in Houston; Texas Tech vs. Ole Miss. People down here are so crazy about football that it is not uncommon for them to travel several hours by plane or car to attend away games to support their team. Apparently there were about 4000 Ole Miss fans at the game in Houston. At this point I was beginning to suspect that football was an even bigger deal down here than I had expected.

I was fortunate to sit beside a very nice man named Hal on the plane. Hal is an Ole Miss alumni, and an avid football fan. He doesn’t even live in Oxford anymore, but he still has season tickets to Ole Miss football. We talked for the entire two hour flight, and I experienced Southern hospitality for the first time. After having known me for only an hour, Hal had invited me to join him and his family and friends at their tailgate tent before the upcoming home game, and he even offered the use of his season tickets to Ole Miss games whenever him and his family weren’t going to use them. Hal also told me about a current controversy concerning the Landshark, which is Ole Miss’ new mascot.

Traditionally, the Ole Miss Rebel’s mascot was Colonel Reb. The Colonel bears a striking resemblance to a Confederate Army soldier, which given the history of the Civil War in the South, is a pretty easy connection to make. Being a university town, Oxford is generally more liberal than other places in Mississippi, which I did not expect. In 2003, the university decided to rescind Colonel Reb as the official Ole Miss mascot. My understanding is that this decision reflected a growing desire to have the school mascot represent all students, and more importantly, for the mascot (and by extension the University) not to perpetuate the systemic racism that is so embedded in the South. I can only imagine how it might feel to be an African American student, attending a school where the mascot is a direct reminder of the Confederate Army, and all of the people who fought to maintain the institution of slavery.

In 2010, the mascot was changed via a student vote to be Rebel the Black Bear. The Black Bear never really caught on though, prompting another student vote in 2017 where voters chose between the Black Bear and the Landshark. The Landshark originated with an Ole Miss student named Tony Fein who played for the defensive line on the football team. Tony had served in Iraq as a member of the US army prior to attending Ole Miss. Following a successful play on the field, Tony would throw up his hand on top of his head in a “shark fin”. This was a symbol that he had brought back from his time in the army, where his patrol had nicknamed themselves the Landsharks. This “Fins Up” symbol was adopted by Ole Miss fans, and is widely used today, making Tony the Landshark a logical choice for a mascot.

The controversy lies in the fact that not everyone agrees with the change from Colonel Reb to Tony the Landshark. I listened to Hal and some other men behind us on the plane discussing the new mascot; saying how much they didn’t like it, and how it was not representative of Ole Miss fans. I chalked this up to a difference in age and culture. After all, Colonel Reb had been the mascot when Hal attended Ole Miss many years ago, and no doubt held personal significance for him. One woman we met at the university said that she fully supported the move to the Landshark, and the accompanying move towards inclusion. Imagine my surprise when I talked to another girl in her early twenties, who, when I brought up the land shark debate, declared that “Colonel Reb will always be my mascot”. It is interesting to note that Colonel Reb had been removed as the official mascot about fifteen years before this student had even come to Ole Miss. I had assumed that people my age here would be more informed, and more likely to support the change in mascots. I wonder if this girl simply didn’t know or understand the historical ramifications of Colonel Reb, or if she understood and didn’t care to think about the ramifications of that support. I still see Colonel Reb around campus on the odd banner or tshirt, but it’s clear that he is not a part of official branding any more. I am very curious to continue to meet new people here, and try to get a wider and more accurate idea of how many people still see Colonel Reb as their true mascot, and why.

 

 

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Arrival In Mississippi

Hotty Toddy, Gosh Almighty!! I have now been in Oxford for 4 days and it has already been a whirlwind of wonderful experiences. 

As I begin this journey, I would like to reflect on my expectations and aspirations. I expect the culture of “the Deep South” to be substantially different from Calgary. Firstly, I have never lived in a smaller town before. Oxfords population is approximately 20,000. I expect there to be both positive and negative aspects. Hopefully it will provide convenience and enhance the sense of community. Additionally, Oxford is a university town. I hope to experience the excitement of school pride and attend as many school events as possible. In contrast, I have only attended several school events at the U of C and would say my enthusiasm was lacking. Secondly, I am curious to see how the current political climate will impact my experience. I consider Calgary to be a diverse and accepting place. Since Mississippi is a traditionally “red state”, I predict it will be less embracing of diversity and much more conservative. 

I hope that the political climate will push me to consider different perspectives. Particularly, I think that the divisive past of Mississippi will make me consider different ways on how to engage all types of students in the classroom. Controversial issues are often the hardest to bring into the classroom, but I think they are also some of the most important topics to discuss. I believe that I will meet people from many different walks of life and this will help prepare me to engage diverse classrooms in Calgary. I hope that these different conditions will help push me out of my comfort zone and broaden my learning experience.

Particularly pertaining to schools, I am interested to see how the Common Core has been embraced or adapted and wether this differs much between states. I also expect there to be a strong emphasis on standardized assessment. As well, Oxford has an interesting socio-economic dynamic. The University attracts many people into Oxford and makes it a more diverse place than most of Mississippi. However, since it is a smaller town, there is only one public school for all grade 8s and 9s. Therefore, different socioeconomic groups are not seperated into different schools as they may be in Calgary (due to living in different communities). I am curious to see how this plays out in the schools and if it brings any specific challenges. 

Overall I am very excited to see all of what Mississippi has to offer. As they say in Oxford, Hotty toddy!

Victoria

On the University of Mississippi Campus. 

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