What college students can learn from the race protests that happened at University of Missouri
Since University of Missouri’s situation has blown up across the U.S. and has the potential to change the way we as college students view our universities, I believe the most important thing to do in the midst of all the excitement and buzz is to take a step back and review the facts of the ongoing crisis at Mizzou.
The University of Missouri is located in Columbia, Mo., a medium-sized college town just west of the Mississippi River. The university was founded in 1839 while Missouri was still very much a slave state; it accepted its first black students in 1950. Now, in 2015, black students make up 7 percent of the university, with several of these students reportedly feeling unwelcome and unwanted.
An incident in 2010 saw two white males littering the courtyard of the Black Culture Center with cotton during Black History Month. In 2014, students led protests on and off campus when the Ferguson shooting occurred just two hours away.
It’s fair to connect these incidents, some others and the general race dialogue that has taken place at the university to the breaking point just reached after a new series of heavily publicized incidents took place in the last two months.
Starting in mid-September, student body president Payton Head, who is black, reported having been called the n-word by white passersby in a pickup truck. Head took his story to social media, saying, “I really just want to know why my simple existence is such a threat to society,” and received huge support from the community.
Following this, other black students reported being called slurs on campus, and a swastika was drawn in a residence hall bathroom. Although some of the white students who harassed their black peers were caught and removed from the university, the student body cited a general sense of apathy and inaction by the administration, namely president Tim Wolfe, as the cause of these incidents’ continuation.
In response to the incidents, black graduate student Jonathan Butler went on an indefinite hunger strike, which he said would only stop once Wolfe left the university. Students and community members combined to form “Concerned Student 1950,” an activist group devoted to Butler’s cause and the empowerment of marginalized students.
The football team also voiced their support of Butler, refusing to play until the situation was resolved. Wolfe released a public statement detailing how important it was to him that all students could feel safe on campus and offered to meet and speak with Butler, who declined.
On Nov. 9, Tim Wolfe resigned and was replaced by black interim president Michael Middleton. The administration has promised to work with Concerned Student 1950, whose demands include 400 new black staff and faculty members.
What’s going right?
Although these racial incidents were led by individuals, they can be said to show a greater issue with racism still prevalent in Missouri, even on its university’s campus. The amount of people involved in protests shows that acceptance of this now by the student body is lower than ever. While it’s difficult to say what exactly Wolfe and the administration should have been doing, too many race-related incidents were allowed to occur without being actively addressed, and the students did something about it. That much is admirable.
What’s going wrong?
The protests and demands of Concerned Student 1950 show a lack of grounded argument and perpetuate a poorly constructed “us vs. them” mentality.
Mass media professor Melissa Click resigned after a video surfaced of her and protesters of Concerned Student 1950 pushing and berating Tim Tai, a Mizzou student and photographer on assignment from ESPN, who was there just to report the story. Protesters told him, “You don’t have the right to take our photos,” and cited distrust of the media as the reason.
In another strange twist, Payton Head admitted to making false, fear-mongering claims of the KKK spotted on campus and has been asked to step down as student body president.
What should we do about it?
As college students, it’s our job to stay informed on what is going on in other universities around the U.S.
Above all, it is important that we never stifle free speech at Pacific and allow for critical and open conversation between all students, faculty, and administration to best avoid creating campus divisions, racial or otherwise.
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