By DAVID BRANDT
AP Sports Writer
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - A University of Mississippi professor says that a group of Ole Miss students, including football players, disrupted a production of a campus play with "hate speech" on Tuesday night.
Michael Barnett, the assistant theatre chair, says 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.
Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze confirmed to The Associated Press Thursday that football players were in the crowd. Barnett says a group of football players apologized after the play.
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.
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.
No. 24 Ole Miss travels to play at Auburn on Saturday.
Thursday afternoon, Dan Jones, University of Mississippi Chancellor, and Athletic Director Ross Bjork sent out a joint letter to the Ole Miss community in the wake of the football players' disruption during the play:
An Open Letter to Students, Faculty, and Alumni
While we work to determine with certainty who disrupted the Laramie Project play, we want everyone within our university community and beyond to know that we strongly condemn the behavior exhibited Tuesday night. 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. Our investigation will determine the degree to which any and all students were involved.
As a first step to addressing behavior at the performance Tuesday night, we will meet today with the freshman student-athletes (from various sports) who attended the play and have a dialogue about what happened, about our university-wide commitment to inclusivity and civility, and about the important role they play in representing the university. It is clear that some students badly misrepresented the culture of this university. From there, we will work with Student-Affairs and the Bias Incident Response Team to determine the facts and appropriate next steps.
Incidents like this remind all educators that our job is to prepare our students to be leaders in life during their years on campus and after they graduate from Ole Miss. This behavior by some students reflects poorly on all of us, and it reinforces our commitment to teaching inclusivity and civility to young people who still have much to learn. We will be engaging our student-athletes with leaders on the subject of individuality and tolerance, so we can further enforce life lessons and develop them to their fullest potential.
On behalf of our 22,000 students, our faculty, and our staff, we apologize.
Chancellor, University of Mississippi
Athletic Director, University of Mississippi