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Protests at the University of Missouri spark action upon pressing racial issues

By Karlton Tate and Brooke Bauman

On Nov. 7, several University of Missouri football players announced they would boycott all football-related activities, including practices and games, until University president Timothy Wolfe was removed or stepped down.

In the announcement, posted to social media by The Legion of Black Collegians (LBC), a black student government group at the University, players cited recent racially charged acts of discrimination toward the black community on the campus and the lack of action or meaningful change from administrators on campus as reasons for the boycott.

The announcement supported protesters who had been calling for Wolfe’s resignation this past October for his failure to rectify issues of diversity and discrimination at the University. In the announcement, the athletes quoted Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, writing that, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

The players received the blessings of faculty and coaches, including head coach Gary Pinkel. A forfeit to Brigham Young University, the opposing team scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 14, would have cost the university over $1 million according to a contract published between the two schools. Additionally, a lengthy boycott could have been costly to many players who depend upon athletic scholarships to attend the school.

Of the 28,000 members of the University of Missouri undergraduate student body, about eight percent are black, while over 80 percent are white, according to 2014 enrollment figures for the school. Only three percent of the University’s faculty members are black.

Tensions at the school prompted the formation of the Concerned Student 1950 activist group, which led and organized protests and derives its name from the year the university began accepting black students.

The university was urged by many public officials to take action following the threat of boycott by many football players.

“[We must] ensure that the University of Missouri is a place where all students can pursue their dreams in an environment of respect, tolerance, and inclusion,” said Gov. Jay Nixon (D-MO).

On Nov. 9, bowing to pressures from public officials, student activists, and the football team’s threat of boycott, Wolfe resigned and University of Missouri Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin pledged to step down to a less prominent university position by the end of the year. Jonathan Butler, a black graduate student at the university who underwent a widely publicized hunger strike in protest of the administrators’ lack of action, ate for the first time in almost a week in light of the news.

Students at the University of Missouri, led by Jonathan Butler, speak out against racial discrimination.
Students at the University of Missouri, led by Jonathan Butler, speak out against racial discrimination.

The resignations were met with both jubilation and disapproval by students, university officials, and Mizzou alumni. Many members of the Mizzou community felt that Wolfe was backed into a corner by protesters and was manufactured into a scapegoat for larger problems at the university. Those who have supported the protesters are satisfied with the resignation of Wolfe, but acknowledge that there is still more work to be done. Others support the message of the protests, but disapprove of the manner in which they were conducted.

“[The protests were] too dramatic and too emotional,” said an anonymous former professor at the university. “It wasn’t violent but it was not the university approach to a problem, which would be more of a grassroots campaign. Talking to students, perhaps bringing in a speaker, having petitions among the students, and bringing more student groups together might have been more effective.”

The response to these events on social media has been profound. Protesters at Mizzou have been backed by several schools around the country and a few colleges, including Yale University and UC Berkeley, who were inspired to host their own demonstrations. Popular hashtags such as #InSolidarityWithMizzou and #BlackOnCampus have been shared by many to express support for the protests in Missouri.

For residents in Columbia, Missouri, where the university is located, this sudden surge of attention from the media has had a questionable effect on their town. Many of the townspeople are connected with the university and have been able to observe the implications of these demonstrations around Columbia.

“I was affected because my grandson is a student at Mizzou this year,” said an anonymous resident. “He said that the students were upset about what was happening and it distracted them from their studies. All of the publicity, the administrators resigning, the football team not practicing, they thought it was destructive for the school.”

Students who wish to stand up for their rights have had to make a tough choice between pushing for progressive measures or sacrificing some of their school’s integrity. The fact remains that racism is still present in today’s world, and upcoming generations are searching for an effective way to combat this pressing issue.

 

Photo courtesy of abcnews.com

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