Students Force Change at University of Missouri

Posted by on Nov 20, 2015 in Education, Top Stories, United States

It’s been more than a year since the shooting death of Michael Brown flared racial tensions in Ferguson, Missouri and led to massive protests. Earlier this month, protestors nearly 120 miles away at the the University of Missouri banded together to raise awareness of many ongoing incidents of racism at the school, as well as growing dissatisfaction at the administration’s lack of action. Student protests ultimately led to the resignation of the school’s president, Tim Wolfe.

What Happened?

While there has been a precedent of complaints filed by African American students, it was a Facebook post by Payton Head, who leads the Missouri Students Association, that sparked an organized demonstration in support of African American students. The protesters accused university officials of ignoring repeated requests to investigate multiple incidents of racism at the university. During homecoming weekend, protesters interrupted the parade, physically blocking the car carrying President Wolfe. In the following weeks, academics threatened to walk out of classes if the issues continued to be ignored. Protesters interrupted campus tours of prospective students, reciting past racial incidents that occurred on the campus. Finally, 30 members of the football team threatened not to play, an action that would have cost the university millions of dollars.

Activist and graduate student Jonathan Butler gestures to invite bystanders to join a "We Are Not Afraid" march including local and regional Concerned Student 1950 supporters Friday, Nov. 13, 2015 while in Greek town on Richmond Avenue on the University of Missouri campus in Columbia, Mo. (Daniel Brenner/Columbia Daily Tribune via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT. Daniel Brenner/Columbia Daily Tribune/AP Images. http://www.apimages.com/metadata/Index/University-Of-Missouri-Turmoil/6d659b410779467fa45a66c88ae04a19/1/0.

Activist and graduate student Jonathan Butler invites bystanders to join a “We Are Not Afraid” march on Richmond Avenue on the University of Missouri campus in Columbia; Credit: Daniel Brenner/Columbia Daily Tribune/AP Images.

Student Demands

The group of students, who call themselves Concerned Student 1950 (the name comes from the first year the University of Missouri admitted African American students), drafted a list of eight demands to be addressed by the administration. These included a public apology by Wolfe, his removal as president, the implementation of racial awareness curriculum throughout the campus, an increase of African American faculty and staff to 10 percent and increased funding for mental health professionals on campus.

Reaction

On November 9, Wolfe announced his resignation. When the media arrived on the campus to cover the event, there were initial disputes between journalists and the protesters. After a video of confrontation involving journalism faculty member Melissa Click went viral, she resigned. Later, Concerned Student 1950 encouraged students to welcome the media as a way to tell their stories. Some confusion and chaos ensued in the following days, including alleged threats and an unfounded rumor of the presence of the white supremacist group Ku Klux Klan on campus.

After a closed-door meeting, the governing board of the University of Missouri announced that they had appointed Michael Middleton, the school’s recently retired deputy chancellor and graduate of the school, as interim president. Student response to this news has been positive. In a statement, Middleton said that this was the University’s time to address the challenges ahead and continue focusing on the University’s mission of spreading and improving knowledge.

Dig Deeper A member of Concerned Student 1950 made a statement saying, “This is just the beginning in dismantling systems of oppression in higher education.” Do some research to see what influence the group’s action is having on other student groups in universities across the country.