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University of Mississippi hate speech: All audience called to dialogue

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OXFORD, Miss. — The University of Mississippi says it has not been able to verify reports that athletes led the disruption of a campus play with gay slurs and inappropriate laughter. University officials said earlier that some freshman athletes participated.

Nobody gave names or accused specific students of misbehaving during "The Laramie Project," a play about the beating death of gay University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyo., the six-person Bias Incident Response Team reported Friday.

The report says the dark theater made it hard to identify specific people, and early reports differ about the frequency, volume and source of comments.

"Although initial reports indicate that student athletes led the action, it is important to note that this has not been verified, and they were not the only students present," it said. "Reports indicate that comments were made by student athletes and students, but no report has singled out a specific student or mentioned any names."

Every student in the Oct. 1 audience will have to attend an "educational dialogue session" led by faculty and Allies, a university organization that supports the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community.

"The cast and crew stressed that they did not want to see punitive action, but rather make this an educational opportunity," the committee said. Cast members also were invited to participate.

The audience of about 100 people included 25 freshmen football players and other athletes, The Clarion-Ledger reported. The Ole Miss athletics department is still gathering facts and any additional penalties would be based on new information, a spokesman told the newspaper.

Michael Barnett, the assistant theatre chair, said last week that a group of football players apologized after the play, but several actors seemed to feel that the athletes "didn't realize what it was that they were apologizing for."

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