Ole Miss students disrupt play with anti-gay slurs

Matthew Shepard was a gay University of Wyoming college student who was beaten and left for dead in a Wyoming pasture near Laramie, Wyo., on Oct. 7, 1998. AP Photo

JACKSON, Miss. 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 theater chair, said that 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. The play is based on the murder of Matthew Shepard, University of Wyoming college student who was beated and killed.

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.

"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."

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.

Matthew Shepard was a gay University of Wyoming college student who was beaten and left for dead in a Wyoming pasture near Laramie, Wyo., on Oct. 7, 1998.
AP Photo

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.

Ole Miss athletic director Ross 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.

No. 24 Ole Miss travels to play at Auburn on Saturday.

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