Pensacola, Florida
Sunday December 17th 2017

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Outtakes—Risking It All

By Rick Outzen

Good leaders often have to take stands that not everyone will like. Dion Kevin III, the student body president at the University of Mississippi, led the recent effort to change the school’s mascot from the Black Bear to the Landshark, named after a celebratory hand signal that Ole Miss athletes started using in 2008.

To persuade the university’s administration to adopt the new mascot, Kevin held an online vote on the change. The vote was only advisory and didn’t bind Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter. However, the student president hoped it would be a catalyst for change.

Moreover, he was willing to risk taking the chance on what could define his political legacy at Ole Miss.

Last Thursday, I had coffee with Kevin in the Starbucks inside the J.D. Williams Library on campus. John Davis Williams was the Chancellor of the University of Mississippi from 1946 to 1968. He presided over the university when James Meredith became the first African-American admitted into Ole Miss. The irony didn’t escape me.

During my time at the school, the mascot was Colonel Reb, a bearded white man reminiscent of a plantation owner. The Kappa Sigma fraternity had a member dressed in a Confederate uniform on the sidelines with the cheerleaders. Students waved Confederate battle flags at the football games.

In 1997, administrators banned sticks in the football stadium, which ended the battle flags being brought into games. In 2003, Colonel Reb was “retired.” Seven years ago, the students chose the Black Bear as its replacement, but few people were happy.

Kevin, a senior who has applied for medical school, shared with me that the fight for the new mascot was a tough one. Several factions, including powerful alumni, pushed for the return of Colonel Reb. Some in the administration became skittish and wanted the issue to go away quietly. He shared how he was confronted in bars by angry fans and the nasty emails and letters he received.

He and his team campaigned hard for the new mascot. When the votes were tallied, 81 percent of the students that cast votes opted to replace the current Black Bear with the Landshark. On Oct. 6, Chancellor Vitter announced that Landshark would be the new on-field mascot of Ole Miss.

“We are proud of our students and their leadership and active engagement as important members of our university community,” said Vitter.  “We recognize that their efforts stem from a desire to unify the Ole Miss family.”

Kevin risked it all for his belief that a new symbol was needed. He not only won the vote but earned praise for his effort to unify the students, faculty and alumni.

There is a lesson in there for City of Pensacola leaders.