Racial tensions have been high at the University of Missouri. It has been the sight of ongoing racism long before protests began last year in nearby Ferguson, Missouri over the murder of Michael Brown. Over the last month and a half, student activists took to the flagship Mizzou campus, beginning with a blockade that formed in front of then-President Tim Wolfe’s car. Concerned Student 1950, the organization responsible for the protests that finally garnered national attention, was formed in order to address bigotry experienced by black, gay, and trans students at the campus. “We disrupted the parade specifically in front of Tim Wolfe because we need him to get our message. We’ve sent emails, we’ve sent tweets, we’ve messaged, but we’ve gotten no response back from the upper officials at Mizzou to really make change on this campus. And so we directed it to him personally,” said graduate student Jonathan Butler.
Wolfe’s reaction was to stay in his car and continue to ignore student concerns. Over the last year, Wolfe has often handled hate speech and bigoted vandalism in a similar way, and many students at Mizzou had enough. Wolfe resigned nearly a month after the blockade, appealing to demands made by Concerned Student 1950, a hunger strike, boycott threats made by the football team, and statements delivered by two state of Missouri politicians. Wolfe’s resignation, while a victory, doesn’t mark the end of the struggle against bigotry at Mizzou–or any other U.S. college.
In fact, threats of violence against black students at Mizzou were disseminated via social media after Wolfe resigned, and one student has been arrested as a suspect. In addition, two other threats to commit mass shootings targeting black students at Mizzou have been investigated. Yesterday, reports spoke of Mizzou as if it were deserted. Many black students chose to stay home rather than attend classes. Their reactions were completely warranted. Black students often experience hate speech and bigotry at Mizzou, so why wouldn’t they take these threats of violence seriously?
This isn’t the last time hate speech and bigotry will rear its disgusting head on U.S. college campuses, and it certainly isn’t the first. You might be thinking, “Isn’t this the 21st century?” Sadly, students in the 21st century attending U.S. colleges have already been witness to racism. Actually, colleges have a long history of segregation, bigotry, and upholding racial hierarchies. At Mizzou, the first black student was admitted in 1950. Concerned Student 1950 was named to commemorate the often-forgotten history of segregation on college campuses.
Less than 75 years ago, most colleges in the U.S. wouldn’t admit black students, and this legacy of racism is felt by many black students currently attending universities. Just because most white Americans have forgotten about segregation doesn’t mean its repercussions aren’t felt by black students. Although college is supposed to create access to social mobility, access doesn’t erase lack of curriculum and staff diversity. It doesn’t prevent white students from hurling racial slurs and threats of violence at black students and teachers. It doesn’t prevent university presidents like Tim Wolfe from denying the existence of systemic racism, even though sociologists conduct and reference study after study that say it does.
For instance, back students at Mizzou had continually asked for curriculum to include a diverse body of individuals, and their requests fell on deaf ears. The lack of diversity in curriculum and staff is in part responsible for poisoning the well on college campuses. Students by and large learn about white men, many of whom were racists. Most colleges don’t ask faculty to diversify their curriculum to include women or people of color. How can students embrace diversity–especially white students–if it isn’t even important enough to be added to curriculum? This lack of diverse curriculum and staff could be telling white students that diversity isn’t important at all.
Thankfully, the protests at Mizzou have ignited protests from student activists on college campuses across the U.S. Student activists are taking a stand and demanding that bigotry and diversity be addressed on their campuses. These voices aren’t going to be quelled, and it’s damn time that the powers that be start listening and take heed. Honestly, it’s long overdue.