The University of Missouri – a public university located in Columbia, Missouri – has recently been making national headlines. Earlier this September, the Missouri Students Association president, Payton Head, was called the “N-word” repeatedly while walking on campus. He went to Facebook to post about his first-hand experience with racism, which started a dialogue about the racial climate on campus. Not even a month later, members of the Legion of Black Collegians became the targets of racial slurs by a man on campus. The group shared a letter on social media describing their encounter with the man, as well as their feelings about racism on campus, and ultimately encouraged officials on campus to act against racism. These incidences of racism were later accompanied by a third episode in which a student drew a swastika in feces on the wall of a dorm bathroom.
The next incident, which seems to have been the straw that broke the camel’s back, occurred during the Mizzou Homecoming Parade on October 10th. While protesting, members of Concerned Student 1950, a group of Mizzou students that is attempting to fight discrimination and racial inequality on campus, blocked a car carrying UM System President Tim Wolfe for about fifteen minutes. One of the protestors then hit the car carrying President Wolfe – which can clearly be seen if one takes the time to watch the video of the incident – and then claimed that the car had hit him and drove off. Following this incident, Concerned Student 1950 was unhappy with the lack of response from Tim Wolfe. Subsequently, just ten days after the parade, they released a statement of eight demands that they believed the University and its administration should meet. The demands included a formal apology from President Wolfe and his removal from office. Concerned Student 1950 met with Tim Wolfe a few days later, but no issues were resolved. On November 2nd, MU grad student Jonathan Butler, unhappy with President Wolfe’s response, or lack thereof, announced that he would go on a hunger strike until Wolfe was removed from office. Butler made it clear that he would not consume food until he either died or Wolfe was removed from office. Once Butler announced his hunger strike, students began to camp on Carnahan quadrangle in support of Butler and the movement to remove Wolfe from office. Protests became more frequent and more intense and the University began to make national headlines as Butler’s hunger strike continued, lasting seven days total.
On November 7th, the black players on the MU football team announced that they would no longer participate in any football related activities “until President Tim Wolfe resigns or is removed due to his negligence toward marginalized students’ experiences”. The next day, Coach Gary Pinkel announced that he and the rest of the football program were standing behind the boycotting players. After this announcement, it became unclear what would happen to the team as they were/are scheduled to play Brigham Young University on Saturday the 14th in Kansas City. If the Mizzou Tigers were to fail to take the field Saturday at Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium, the team would have been forced to pay a cancellation fee of $1 million.
On the morning of November 9th, Tim Wolfe announced his resignation amid protests over his handling of the racially charged incidents that took place on campus. In his statement, Wolfe took full responsibility for his lack of action following incidents of racism and asked that the university stop intimidating each other and use his resignation to heal and start talking again. Butler and members of Concerned Student 1950 took to campus to celebrate the resignation, cheering, chanting, and embracing each other. What will come next, now that Butler and Concerned Student 1950 have achieved their first goal? It seems that they will continue to push their demands on the administration until all of their goals are achieved. The eight demands can be found here: http://www.columbiatribune.com/list-of-demands-from-concerned-student-group/pdf_345ad844-9f05-5479-9b64-e4b362b4e155.html.
So, as a University of Missouri student, what’s my take on all of this? Personally, I do admire those participating in the movement for standing up for what they believe in. I cannot imagine how it would feel to feel as if you have been silenced, marginalized, and oppressed. I cannot imagine how it would feel to be called racial slurs while simply walking across the campus that you call home. That being said, I do not support resorting to threatening suicide to bully someone out of his job. Tim Wolfe had nothing to do with the acts of racism that occurred on campus. He oversaw four universities and over 75,000 students. He had little to no influence on the campus social climate.
That aside, my main issue with the movement is that in its attempt to give a voice to minorities and other marginalized students, it is silencing others by refusing to allow any dissenting opinions. Butler himself said “either engage fully in this pursuit towards justice at Mizzou or don’t comment.” To me, that is absurd and hypocritical. If you are protesting because you feel that nobody is listening to you, that you have been silenced, that you do not feel at home at the university you attend – who are you to attempt to silence anyone who has a different opinion? I believe that students and faculty alike have been coerced into supporting a movement they do not fully agree with because nobody will dare to express an opinion that isn’t in full accord with the movement. I have seen it all over social media – the moment someone expresses a rational opinion that even dares to criticize an aspect of the movement, the vultures attack.
If this is one Mizzou, then we ALL get to have an opinion on this and we are all entitled to express said opinions without being attacked. However, students, faculty, and administrators have all been intimidated into compliance by social justice warriors who allow only certain views and opinions to be voiced. We are not creating a free and open dialogue; instead, we are creating a climate where certain students are afraid to express their opinions for fear of extreme retaliation. The current movement headed by Concerned Student 1950 has done much more to divide our campus than it has done to unite us. Seriously, everyone (except a select crappy few) wants to end racism. Nobody wants their fellow students to feel marginalized, oppressed, or unsafe. However, the methods currently being used to combat racism at Mizzou are only dividing students. If we want to eradicate racism at Mizzou, we need to truly listen to each other and be willing to listen to everyone’s opinion – not just the opinions that we want to hear. We need to stand united in order to combat racism and other issues facing students successfully. We cannot stand united when only certain viewpoints are allowed into the discussion and others are simply dismissed and ignored.
The final straw for me was today, when multiple faculty members actually cancelled class in order to allow their students and themselves to attend protests. Any professor cancelling class to participate in a protest is withholding education from paying students. I may not be a part of Concerned Student 1950, but I am a paying student at the University of Missouri and this is my campus, too. I have a right to the education that I pay for. I have a right to express my opinion without being called uneducated, racist, or insensitive. We are all students at Mizzou, and like it or not, we ALL have a voice.
Please consider reading and sharing Liberty Hangout’s followup piece: An Open Letter To Mizzou Protesters