Last week, mainstream news outlets erupted with stories about student protests at the University of Missouri. The University was founded in 1839 but didn’t admit Black students until 1950 when the University was “fully integrated.” Today, the roughly 35,000 students have found themselves at the center of a major push for cultural and administrative change on campus following reports of racism toward Black students on the main, predominantly white Columbia campus. Here are some of th key facts you need to know.
1. This is not a new story.
Racial conditions on the University of Missouri’s main campus have long been of concern to students of color. For example, in 2010, Black students expressed concerns about what was deemed the “cotton ball incident” where two students spread cotton balls all over the lawn of the Gaines/Oldham Black Culture Center. This “prank” was meant to compare Black Mizzou students to Black slaves in the American South. These issues have been more concentrated since 2014 when students reported being called racial slurs and seeing swastikas made of human feces drawn on campus. However, it was the lack of meaningful response to these types of incidents that led predominantly Black students to begin organizing on a mass scale.
2. Students have made clear demands for change.
Following the University of Missouri’s 104th Homecoming Celebration on October 10th where eleven Black students engaged in formal protest during the homecoming parade, a group named Concerned Student 1950 drafted a list of eight core demands to the University to improve conditions on campus. During that protest, then UM System President Tim Wolfe’s driver got into a physical altercation with students which resulted in police authorities removing the students from the space.
According to the list of demands,
“It is important to note that, as students, it is not our job to ensure that the policies and practices of the University of Missouri work to maintain a safe, secure and unbiased campus climate for all of its students. We do understand, however, that change does not happen without a catalyst. Concerned Student 1950 has investd time, money, intellectual capital, and excessive energy to bring to the forefront these issues and to get administration on board so that we, as students, may turn our primary focus back to what we are on campus to do: obtain our degree.”
3. One student’s hunger strike was an under-reported catalyst for the changes happening today.
On November 2nd, a graduate student named Jonathan Butler penned a letter to the University alerting students, school officials and staff that he would “not consume any food or nutritional sustenance” until then President Tim Wolfe resigned. He risked his own health and life to make change happen.
4. Student protests got the UM System President fired.
On November 9th, then President Wolfe resigned in response to increasing protests from students and, in particular, the Mizzou football team. Recently, thirty-two football players declared that they would not participate in any football-related activities, including practices and games, until Wolfe resigned. The threat of this strike carried a potential $1 million fine since the team was scheduled to play against Brigham Young University the following Saturday.
Mizzou football coaches stood in solidarity with this action sending the signal that these efforts would not be abandoned without a fight.
— Coach Gary Pinkel (@GaryPinkel) November 8, 2015
5. The University of Missouri System lost another administrator.
Along with Tim Wolfe’s resignation announcement, the University of Missouri System announced that Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin would only be in his current role through the end of the year. He is slated to fill a new role as director of research facility development. Loftin’s resignation followed claims that he, too, had struggled with addressing issues of racism on Mizzou campuses.
6. Now, Black Mizzou students are receiving threats
News reports have noted that Black Mizzou students are facing hostility and threats of murder and violence following their efforts to oust high-ranking officials in the UM System. Several suspects have been arrested in connection with these threats. This, too, has been under-reported by mainstream news media.
7. The UM System has identified a new interim president.
Today, Michael Middleton, former law professor who was working on issues of diversity and inclusion on UM’s main campus, was tapped as the interim system president. A Black 1968 graduate of the UM law school, Middleton has been lauded as a quality replacement for Wolfe.
Members of Concerned Student 1950 tweeted their support.
We are excited for the new leadership under Interim President Middleton!
— ConcernedStudent1950 (@CS_1950) November 12, 2015
Since the beginning of this push for change and equity on UM System campuses, Black students at schools like Yale, Stanford, and USC have stood in solidarity with the Black students at Mizzou. These actions are beautiful and timely displays of solidarity but they are also indications that large-scale political action among Black millennials and youth makes a major difference in how institutions are run and organized. Only time will tell the magnitude of these changes for University of Missouri students.
We whole-heartedly support these efforts toward social and political change at the academic institutions meant to serve young Black and brown students in the United States.
**This article will be updated as news continues to emerge regarding the protests and political action at the University of Missouri**
Photo credit: Twitter/@CS_1950