Wrapped in any other context, violence directed at a specific group of people due to their race, gender or sexual orientation, would be treated as a punishable offense. Yet for minority students at the University of Missouri, a call for action against repeated incidences of racial strife have been met with both cheers and jeers; as some have written off their complaints as nothing more than a plea for sympathy. Despite the fact that these students pay tuition like anyone else on campus.
This was months, perhaps years, in the making. From a Swatiska drawn in charcoal on a dorm stairwell in April – an act committed by student Bradley Becker who was later given two years probation – to racial slurs being hurled during a play rehearsal held by members of the Legion of Black Collegians.
Following months of student led protests and demonstrations, the movement began gaining national attention after a hunger strike by grad student Johnathan Butler went viral. His message was clear, “We will not continue to be called n*ggers on this campus, believe that.”
Shortly after, the school’s football team joined in the fight, refusing to play until the university finally addressed growing safety concerns. As some have pointed out, sports is a big business in this nation, even a less than stellar record on the field outweighs the cons of not playing at all. If they weren’t listening before, they were definitely listening now.
As the public outcry for the removal of University President Tim Wolfe grew louder, students released their own set of demands stating, “He does not understand systems of oppression, yet claims to care about Black students. He did not intervene in the violence students faced during the peaceful parade demonstration on October 10, 2015 and has not apologized or recognized his negligence. We are asking for the immediate removal of Tim Wolfe.”
Wolfe would resign on November 9, explaining “The frustration and anger that I see is clear, real, and I don’t doubt it for a second,” he said. “I take full responsibility for this frustration. I take full responsibly for the inaction that has occurred. I’d ask everybody, from students and faculty and friends, to use my resignation to heal and start talking again, to make the changes necessary.”
On Tuesday night the university was under fire again, after conflicting reports began ringing out via Social Media. While the presence of the KKK was later disputed as a hoax, other threats were proven credible, including one from 19-year-old Hunter Park, who was arrested after declaring via the location-based messaging app YikYak to “shoot every black person I see.” Another post read, “Some of you are alright. Don’t go to campus tomorrow.”
At just 7% of the population on campus, for Black students it’s an ongoing battle for respect. Though the removal of Wolfe was perceived by some as a step in the right direction, for others it was merely confirmation that there is more work to be done.
Sharing his own thoughts about the situation, former Mizzou wide receiver L’Damian Washington explained his feelings about Wolfe, advising that he “took a lackadaisical approach to get things fixed…I think he just turned a blind eye to it.”