A group of Ole Miss students, including football players, reportedly hurled derogatory insults and hate speech at their fellow classmates during a University of Mississippi campus production Tuesday night.
Michael Barnett, the assistant theater chair, said several students in the play told him that audience members were disruptive and used "derogatory terms" for homosexuals during a production of "The Laramie Project" on campus.
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Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze confirmed to The Associated Press on Thursday that football players were in the crowd. Barnett says a group of football players apologized after the play.
"Several of the students said they did not feel the apology was genuine," Barnett said. "They seemed to feel that [the football players] didn't realize what it was that they were apologizing for."
Ole Miss President Dan Jones and athletic director Ross Bjork released a joint statement on Thursday afternoon saying "we strongly condemn the behavior exhibited Tuesday night."
The statement says that the incident included freshman athletes from several different sports and it was "clear that some students badly misrepresented the culture of this university."
"As a member of the Ole Miss family, each of us has a responsibility to be accountable for our actions, and these individuals will be held accountable," the statement said. "Our investigation will determine the degree to which any and all students were involved."
Freeze tweeted on Thursday morning, "We certainly do not condone any actions that offend or hurt people in any way. We are working with all departments involved to find the facts."
The Daily Mississippian first reported the disruption.
Barnett said that members of the audience grew more disruptive — taking pictures on their phone and laughing — as the play progressed. "The Laramie Project" is about reaction in the city following the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard, a gay man in Wyoming.
"As the subject matter became more uncomfortable, some, but not all, of the students were acting in an inappropriate manner," Barnett said.
Bjork said the department was still gathering information and did not immediately have comment.
Barnett said he "appreciated" that the athletic department was taking the matter seriously.
"The most concerning part was the hate speech that was used," Barnett said. "We've come a long way at the university. But there is still a ways to go."
Ole Miss Dean of Students Sparky Reardon said a bias incident response team, which is made up of faculty and staff, would investigate the incident and make any discipline recommendations to the university.
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