By Tom Charlier

Like scores of other Ole Miss students, Barrett Teller couldn't help glancing up at the flagpole in Lyceum Circle as he walked to class Monday morning.

"I guess it's gone," said the 20-year sophomore from Vicksburg, Mississippi.

Teller was among those who had to see for themselves the effects of a historic step by the university early Monday.

At 7 a.m., campus police, acting in a "very conservative and reserved fashion," took down the Mississippi state flag, Interim Chancellor Morris Stocks said. The flag was folded and taken the University Archives.

The action followed votes by the Associated Student Body, the Faculty Senate, the Staff Council and Graduate Student Body in the past week requesting the removal of the flag because it incorporates the Confederate battle flag.

In a brief news conference, Stocks said school officials notified Gov. Phil Bryant and other state leaders of the removal and that the officials were "gracious" in their response.

"We do not view this as any form of disrespect to our state," Stocks said. "We love our state, and we're proud to be part of the state of Mississippi."

The flag's removal is in keeping with the school's continuing efforts to promote inclusivity and diversity, he said. "Our goal is simply to create a welcoming place for all."

The university has no plans, however, to remove the tall statue on the Lyceum Circle memorializing Confederate dead, Stocks said.

Since 1894, the Mississippi flag has had the Confederate battle emblem in the upper left corner -- a blue X with 13 white stars, over a field of red. Residents chose to keep the flag during a 2001 statewide vote.

However, the public display of Confederate symbols has been subject to heated debates since the June massacre of nine black worshippers at a church in Charleston, South Carolina. Police said the attack was racially motivated. The white man charged in the slayings had posed with a Confederate battle flag in photos posted online before the massacre.

Despite the votes calling for the flag's removal at Ole Miss, many students -- even those favoring it -- said they were surprised by the swiftness of the action.

"I would've loved to be out here to see it come down," said Buka Okoye, a 20-year-old junior who is president of the university chapter of the NAACP.

He called the flag a symbol that "oppresses some of our students and faculty."

The University of Mississippi has struggled with Old South symbolism for decades. In 1962, deadly riots broke out when James Meredith was enrolled as the first black student, under court order.

Its administrators have tried to distance the school from Confederate symbols. Sports teams are still called the Rebels, but the university several years ago retired the Colonel Rebel mascot -- a white-haired old man some thought resembled a plantation owner.

The university also banned sticks in the football stadium nearly 20 years ago, which eliminated most Confederate battle flags that fans carried.

Allen Coon, the 20-year-old sophomore who drafted the student resolution urging the removal of the state flag, said the flag divided students and violated the university's creed.

Seneca Crump, 21, a junior from Jackson, Mississippi, called the removal "a sign that we're moving forward."

But many others expressed indifference or opposition to the action.

"I think it's stupid," said Shayna Ruth, a 22-year-old senior from Oklahoma. "It's the state flag. It should be up"

Teller, for his part, said he never even noticed the flag until the rancor around it began.

"You really had to look hard to see it," he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

(c)2015 The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, Tenn.)