August 18, 2018 | ° F

Students, faculty weigh in on Mizzou protest

Photo by Elizabeth Loutfi |

Students listen at a press conference at Traditions Plaza at Carnahan Quad, on the University of Missouri campus in Columbia, Missouri, November 9, 2015. REUTERS/The Maneater/Elizabeth Loutfi

A swastika drawn with human feces was found in a residence hall at the University of Missouri in October.

But this incident was not the only thing that drew Mizzou students’ attention on racial issues. 

In September, Payton Head, president of the Missouri Students Association and a black student, experienced racial abuse on campus while walking home. After Head, several black students experienced similar abuse.

The tension has been brewing for months, all leading up to protests led by "Concerned Student 1950," a group of black students at the university, speaking out against the racial issues on campus. On Nov. 2, Jonathan Butler, a 25-year-old black graduate student at Mizzou, started a hunger strike protesting against University of Missouri President Tim Wolfe remaining in his position.

In response, the administration decided to do “a tremendous amount of reflection.”

Last week, following Butler’s strike, about 30 black football players at the University of Missouri refused to attend practices and all upcoming games, demanding Wolfe's removal. After days of protest, Wolfe and Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin resigned from their positions on Nov. 9. 

Rutgers professors and students have commented on the racial issues over college campuses.

The racial issues at University of Missouri are extremely disheartening and not exclusive to Mizzou, said Dionne Higginbotham, president of the Black Student Union and a School of Arts and Science junior.

Racial tension, lack of black faculty, retention of black students and lack of funding and support for the Department of Africana Studies are issues faced at a majority of Predominantly White Institutions (PWIs), including Rutgers, she said.

The worst of all is that Mizzou's administration did not take action until members of the money-generating football team stepped in, Higginbotham said.

“That illustrates that Mizzou’s concerns for their minority students lie exclusively in their wallets," Higginbotham said. “I hope the occurrences at Mizzou encourage other university administrations to take a proactive approach in combating racial concerns before they escalate as they did there."

The protests in Ferguson and the growing Black Lives Matter movement have provided a backdrop for bringing to light the day-to-day experience of black Americans that many white Americas do not want to address, said Lisa Miller, an associate professor in the Department of Political Science.

“It is easier to believe that we are in a ‘post-racial’ society than to accept that non-whites, especially African-Americans, are still subjected to harassment, exclusion, humiliating and even violent treatment,” she said.

When white Americans in positions of authority deny these experiences, such as police officers, politicians and even University administrators, it exacerbates the marginalization rather than "feelings" of marginalization, she said.

“(It does not) exacerbate ‘feelings’ of marginalization on the part of black Americans," she said. "Such phrases suggest that black Americans are simply imagining being treated like second-class citizens, rather than actually being treated as such.”

One of the problems with race in America today is that we talk only about improving race “relations” or having more productive “dialogue,” Miller said.

“But such claims believe the fact that a very, very long history of racial hierarchy has led to white privilege and black disadvantage which is perpetuated today through both overt and inadvertent white actions. Dialogue suggests that we have a misunderstanding when, in fact, we have an ongoing problem of racial hierarchy,” she said.

Roy Licklider, a professor in the Department of Political Science, also expressed his opinion on the issue of racism on college campuses.

Opposition to the racism on college campuses raises the issue of free speech, Licklider said. People are entitled to express their beliefs as long as their actions do not directly damage others.

“But what does damage mean?” he said. “Threats of physical assault are clearly outside the pale. But opinions which make others unhappy are not normally proscribed. Indeed, that’s a lot of what we do deliberately in universities.”

The University of Missouri’s administration did not take strong enough steps against activities which clearly should have been heavily penalized, Licklider said.

The protests, hunger strikes and football boycott were extremely courageous actions by the minority students of the University of Missouri, Higginbotham said. These students' actions drew the nation’s attention to a systemic problem.

“While I am grateful for Rutgers’ recent steps to improving issues of race, such as the formation of the Committee on Enslaved and Disenfranchised Populations in Rutgers History, there is a lot more work to be done,” Higginbotham said.

Christine Lee

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