Mississippi universities are known for their crazy mascots, talented marching bands and school spirit, but they also make great places to host a meeting or event. Here are five of Mississippi’s favorite college towns that not only are chock full of history and art but also have many unique places to gather.
Hattiesburg is a young community. The University of Southern Mississippi (USM) and William Carey University both call Hattiesburg home, and many of their alumni fall in love with the community and decide to make it their home.
Although the universities are about five miles away from the city’s historic downtown, Hattiesburg has worked hard to make the community accessible to its students. Artists abound in the community, inspiring the HBurg Public Art Trail that showcases murals and sculptures by local and some national artists. The Freedom Summer Trail is a 16-stop driving tour that educates visitors about the largest civil rights voting initiative in the Southeast, which took place there in 1964.
The Lake Terrace Convention Center has more than 30,000 square feet of meeting space and is a full-service facility. Both universities have meeting spaces. At USM, the Thad Cochran Center has a grand ballroom and 10 breakout spaces, and the Trent Lott Center has 8,000 square feet of meeting space. Groups can hold team-building activities on campus, including special events in the president’s suite and the Touchdown Club overlooking the USM football field, or bringing Seymour the Golden Eagle mascot or the USM marching band to perform for and interact with visiting groups.
The zoo in Hattiesburg is a great venue for off-site events of any size, with a new event space that overlooks the giraffe exhibit. Many meeting groups like to use the historic Saenger Theater, built in 1929, as the location for their keynote speaker.
Starkville calls itself Mississippi’s college town because it is home to the main campus of Mississippi State University (MSU). Known for its Bulldogs sports programs and 117-year-old marching band, the university is a major destination in the area. Groups can tour the campus, including the Ulysses S. Grant Presidential Library and the Frank and Virginia Williams Collection of Lincolniana at the Mitchell Memorial Library, or the Charles H. Templeton Sr. Music Museum; all are free to visit and make wonderful event venues.
The Hunter Henry Center, with its modern glassed-in lobby, can host events of up to 400 people theater style or 250 seated in its ballroom. The lobby and upper lounge area are also great spots for cocktail receptions. The MSU football stadium can host private events overlooking the football field. Add a visit from the HailState Marching Band or the MSU cheerleaders to give an event more of a game day feel.
Dudy Noble Field at Polk-Dement Stadium, MSU’s baseball park, has three club areas that can be used for private events. Dudy Noble, with its 15,000 seats, is considered the Carnegie Hall of college baseball.
The Mill at MSU is a former 1902 cotton mill that was recently converted into a 12,000-square-foot meeting and event space. It is across the street from campus with an adjacent Courtyard by Marriott. Two other hotels are minutes away. The facility is historic but modern. Meeting groups can also close off the historic Cotton District, a walkable area that ties Main Street Starkville to the university campus, for opening events or receptions before allowing attendees to visit the local bars, restaurants and shops.
A jewel in the Mississippi Delta, Cleveland has deep musical roots and is home to the only four-year university in the southeast part of the state. Delta State University “is very much a part of our town,” said Cade Holder, director of community programs for the Cleveland-Bolivar County Chamber of Commerce. Meeting planners hosting events in the area can incorporte the campus either by using its meeting spaces, arranging campus tours or hosting campus ambassadors, like the famous campus mascot, the Fighting Okra, to be part of their events.
Cleveland also is home to GRAMMY Museum Mississippi, the only GRAMMY awards museum outside Los Angeles, which opened in 2016. It has several meeting venues, including the Sanders Soundstage, an intimate 130-seat theater, a lobby that can host 250 people for a reception and 130 for a banquet and a front porch that can hold groups of up to 350 people for a reception. Cotton House Cleveland is located on Cotton Row near the museum and the Mississippi Blues Trail. It has 95 guest rooms and four event rooms that can host groups of up to 180 people.
The Lyric Hotel West End District, which opened in 2020, has 63 rooms and three meeting venues: the Gin, which can hold groups of up to 450 people; the Statehouse, a classic two-story mansion with 13 guest suites and a double parlor that can host groups of up to 200 people; and the Clubhouse, which is wonderful for smaller groups.
Additional venues include the Delta Arts Alliance, a small theater, and the Bologna Performing Arts Center.
The Mississippi University for Women was founded in 1884 as the first state-supported college for women in the U.S. Now coed, the W, as it is called, is an integral part of Columbus that is located in the city’s historic Southside Historic District. The university is a great place to host an event, with several large halls available for rental, including the Thad and Rose Cochran Hall and Whitfield Hall. The Hogarth Student Union offers private dining in the Stella Pope Dining Hall, and the Puckett House hosts overnight guests in a bed-and-breakfast setting.
The W also manages the Plymouth Bluff Environmental Center, a 190-acre property set amongst the woods near Columbus. It has an 11,700-square-foot conference center, a 100-seat auditorium, an interpretive museum of cultural and natural history, a lakeside amphitheater for special events, 24 guest rooms and four miles of nature and fitness trails.
The city has more than 1,500 guest rooms, including those at the Courtyard by Marriott, which has three large meeting rooms, and six other brand-name properties that also have conference rooms.
The Burnt Oak Lodge and Conference Center, about 14 miles from Columbus, offers both inside and outside meeting venues in a natural setting. For the more adventurous, the property offers Mississippi quail hunting and prime fishing opportunities on Burnt Oak Lake.
The so-called Cultural Mecca of the South, Oxford is home to Ole Miss — the main campus of the University of Mississippi — and Rowan Oak, the former home of Nobel Prize-winning author William Faulkner. The Downtown Square is the heart of Oxford with its independent bookstores, boutique shops and restaurants. Meeting groups wanting to use Ole Miss can host an event at the Inn at Ole Miss Hotel and Conference Center, which features 146 guest rooms, a 5,600-square-foot ballroom and a 900-square-foot boardroom.
Groups hosting events there can organize a meal at McCormick’s Bar and Grill or take a stroll through the Grove, a 10-acre green space in the middle of campus best known for its tailgate parties during football season. The school’s sports stadiums are well worth touring, or attendees can visit the University of Mississippi Museum and Faulkner’s historic home, which are both on campus.
The Graduate Hotel Oxford at the north end of the Downtown Square is just a mile from campus and has a small meeting space, a boardroom and a fourth-floor terrace lounge that offers amazing views of downtown Oxford.
The largest conference space in Oxford is the 25,000-square-foot Oxford Conference Center. Three hotels are within walking distance of it, including the Hampton Inn, TownePlace Suites by Marriott and Tru by Hilton, and it is at the epicenter of restaurants, shops and entertainment.
In their free time, meeting groups can take private double-decker bus tours around town, enjoy a tour or tasting or host an event at Wonderbird Spirits gin distillery or visit Oxford’s famous independent bookstore, Square Books.