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Mizzou Students Divided Over President’s Resignation

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 10/11/2015 Mariah Stewart
ATHENA IMAGE © Kansas City Star via Getty Images ATHENA IMAGE

COLUMBIA, Missouri -- Reactions of students at the University of Missouri are divided after a week of demonstrations culminated in the resignation of president Tim Wolfe.

Wolfe’s failure to address racial issues on campus over the past few months prompted students, faculty and lawmakers to call for his ouster. Monday morning, Wolfe acquiesced, saying he was resigning “out of love” for the Mizzou students.

The atmosphere across the campus on Monday was split between those who supported the activists who pushed for acknowledgement of -- and remedies to -- racial tension on campus, and those who disagreed with why the Wolfe had to resign in the first place.

Brandon Weston, a 21-year-old a nursing major who has been at Mizzou since 2013, says some students don't understand why their peers are protesting.

“They are saying racism happens to everybody and people are still going to be racists,” Weston told The Huffington Post. “But it’s a step in the right direction. At least it’s being brought up."

Hundreds of students gathered at the center of Mizzou’s campus Monday afternoon to listen to the student activist organization, #ConcernedStudent1950, discuss its demands for Mizzou’s campus. Its eight-part list of demands details steps the University of Missouri system must take to create a more tolerant, inclusive and diverse community, activists said.

“I’m just wondering what is the next step now that the president has stepped down,” said 24-year-old student Jovan Russell. Russell was a Mizzou freshman in 2009 when two students defaced the Black Culture Center with cotton balls. Russell said he can’t recall school officials doing anything in response to the 2009 incident. 

“It’s always been the same. Which is why I agree with what’s going on: Something needs to be done, but nothing was done that year and nothing has been done in all the years since,” Russell said. “That’s why I’m glad justice is coming to a boil and justice is being served.”

Last week, #ConcernedStudent1950 began its occupation of the Carnahan quad on the university's campus to draw attention to the administration’s inaction to racist incidents. The group’s effort gained momentum when graduate student Jonathan Butler declared he would go on hunger strike until Wolfe resigned.

The protests drew national attention on Sunday, when the school's football team refused to participate in team activities out of solidarity with Butler and other activists.

Several hours after Wolfe’s resignation, Chancellor R. Bowin Loftin announced he would step down by year’s end. Shortly after, the university’s board of curators announced a new diversity initiative that included appointing a first-ever chief diversity, inclusion and equity officer.

Above, a racial slur posted Monday on an anonymous app about a student demonstration at Mizzou. 

As student protests gained traction, minority Mizzou students spoke out about their experiences with racism in the community that ranged from subtle to overt.

“It’s not always a big issue of someone calling you the n-word,” Russell said. “It’s small things too like someone crossing the street before they get to you because they don’t feel safe. Or when you get on the shuttle and it’s all white people in the front and the black people go to the back.”

Mickell Miller, 18, an undeclared freshman, says she doesn’t feel welcome at Mizzou.

“I was just in math class and there were people saying that this is pointless, that nothing is going to change,” Miller said. “I just want to come and feel welcome and I really don’t.”

“The university is going through a lot of changes,” said Jacqueline Kelly, who retired in 2013 as Mizzou’s director of minority business development after 14 years with the school system. “There was a lot of apathy: students, faculty, staff. This is the first time I've seen such determined students. Times are very, very different.”

Kelley praised the student demonstrators for “trying to change this climate” and chided administrators for not doing the same.

“These are things the administrators should have been doing,” Kelley said. “The students are here to get an education. They’ve made lots of sacrifices."

Kelley noted that leaders like Loftin hesitated to speak out after racist incidents on campus due to ongoing investigations. She said she hopes new leadership will be more proactive. "How long does one wait? Because silence sends a message of its own; silence often gives the impression that it’s OK.”

Miller said the next step for activists is to hold the school's board of curators responsible.

“They need to go to the curators, the people that hire the president and make sure that he or she is able to do what they them to do,” Miller said. “Because just firing the guy is like firing Obama. He’s not the one, it’s still the government. That was a step but they need to be proactive and go further.”

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