The 9:01 is a daily column on all things Memphis.
Good morning in Memphis, where TedX has announced some talkers, but first …
What Kind of School?: Amid Mike Norvell’s new coaching contract with the University of Memphis and the basketball team’s struggle to dispatch lower-level opponents in a mostly empty FedExForum, a conversation topic on local radio and social media yesterday was this: Is the University of Memphis a “football school” or a “basketball school”? Recently it’s the former, historically it’s the latter, and it has the potential to be both, I suppose.
But there are plenty of other answers to the question of what kind of school it is, even if those potential answers come in fields that don’t have multiple radio stations dedicated to their discussion: It’s a major research university “school” that awards more than 4,300 bachelor, masters, doctoral, and professional degrees each year, an increase of 15% from a decade ago.
The University of Memphis is a music school, recently breaking ground on a $40 million Scheidt Family Music Center and the only institution in the state offering doctoral degrees in the field. It’s a nursing school, with its Loewenberg College of Nursing recently getting a national honor for “excellence in diversity.”
It’s a law school, its downtown facility recently named the country’s best by Pre-Law Magazine. It’s a technology school, with the university’s National Institute of Health Center of Excellence doing groundbreaking work in developing ways to gather and interpret health data using mobile sensors.
It’s a get-off-to-a-good-start school, its academic internship program ranked in the top 10 nationally by U.S. News & World Report. Most of all, perhaps, it’s a changing lives school, with 37 percent of undergraduates first-generation college students, 12 percent higher than the national average for four-year universities. This last doesn’t help it much in the magazine rankings, but it makes it an indispensable part of instrument in combating inequality and generational poverty in the Memphis region.
I’ve got biases here. Full disclosure: My wife works at the university and has a graduate degree from there. Both of my kids have gone (or do go) to elementary school on campus. I’ve never been a U of M student or employee myself, though I’ve engaged in competitions, attended events, or just written this column on campus. But don’t most of us in the 901 have biases toward the University of Memphis to one degree or another? That’s kind of the point. It’s one of the most important assets in the city, and contrary to how it often seems, most of that value does not manifest itself on the field or court.
That said: Go Tigers Go. At the Liberty Bowl. At FedExForum. But also in the classroom, in the lab, and in the community.
Is This Still Happening?: At the beginning of the week, this little nugget of major regional news popped up:
I left it alone on the assumption that it wouldn’t actually happen, but here we are on Thursday…and it seems like maybe it will?
Presidential visits are typically a cause for excitement, not dread. In Memphis, most have happy memories of Barack Obama at Booker T. Washington High School and George W. Bush taking the Japanese Prime Minister to Graceland. The last time a U.S. President visiting the opening of a civil rights museum would have been a source of contention would have been a time before there were civil rights museums.
These are not normal times.
This is a president who rose to political prominence via a racially motivated attack on the legitimacy of his predecessor. Who sought moral equivalence between white supremacists in Charlottesville and those who protested them. This is a president whose named has been invoked in racial/ethnic school bullying incidents. It’s been an inflammatory presidency that’s presided over a spike in racist incidents nationwide, with recent examples in West Tennessee and at SMU. He was praised as recently as last week by former Klan leader David Duke for sharing anti-Muslim propaganda.
Unsurprisingly, then, news that President Trump may attend Saturday’s opening of the Museum of Mississippi History and the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum in Jackson, at the invitation of Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant, has provoked a strong reaction. The NAACP has called for Trump to stay away from the event and has called for a boycott if he does come. Civil rights leaders who had planned to attend, including the iconic John Lewis, have reportedly reconsidered.
To some who see the museum’s opening as the fulfillment of a hard-fought dream, the president’s visit is seen as a tolerable distraction or even welcomed as an honor. To others, who see the president as racially divisive and hostile to many things they care about, the announced visit was, said Jacqueline Amos, the chairwoman of the Hinds County Democratic Executive Committee, “a slap in the face.”
A number of young activists are busily putting together protests — a silent kneel-in, possibly, or a street demonstration — in a parallel of the history chronicled in the museum itself.
“This is still a free country, and attending this event is open to anyone who wishes to come,” said Ms. Evers-Williams, whose donation of her late husband’s papers to the Mississippi state archives gave credibility to the museum project within the civil rights community. “I hope in his coming there will be an opportunity for him to learn something.”
The Mississippi blog Deep South Voice contends that the president’s presence would do a disservice to the state’s civil rights heroes. Other older activists in the Times piece note, with some resignation, that the president’s presence shouldn’t keep them from celebrating something they’ve worked so hard to create. Stay tuned. You can learn more about the museum, a down-the-road sister to our own National Civil Rights Museum, here. I look forward to visiting it…after the commotion.
Speaking of Trump …: This is a pretty good catch:
Quick-and-Pop: The Grizzlies were handed a scare last night and then were handed a loss. They had a five-point lead late in the second quarter when Marc Gasol came down on his right foot and headed straight to the locker room. Many expected the worst, but Gasol was back in the lineup to start the second half. It seemed to throw the team off though. The five point lead evaporated by halftime and the Knicks opened the third on a 19-2 run. The Grizzlies got back to within six in the fourth quarter, but couldn’t make it to the top of the hill. The loss brings the team to 8-16 and in serious danger of slipping out of the playoff race — they’re still only 4.5 games back — before they can get Mike Conley back.
The Fadeout: New York rock band Vampire Weekend formed at Columbia University, which is surely a different world culturally from the University of Memphis, but some realities of campus life, for those who live on campus, is pretty universal, and this song feels like college, like free time between class and the complexities of close-quarters courtship.
Reach Chris Herrington at [email protected] or on Twitter at @chrisherrington and @herringtonNBA.
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