A powerful movement of protests and walkouts by students and faculty at the University of Missouri — and a boycott by the school’s revenue-generating Division I football team — in response to inaction by the administration surrounding increased racial tensions on campus accomplished its mission to topple the university’s ineffective leadership.
Now that both President Tim Wolfe and Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin (who will be entering a new role at the university on Jan. 1, “advancing research,” he told reporters) have resigned, protestors are not giving up. Concerned Student 1950, the student group of activists behind the protests (named as such because the university first began admitting Black students in 1950), issued new demands following Wolfe’s resignation.
“Moving forward, Concerned Student 1950 demands an immediate meeting with the UM System Faculty Council, Board of Curators and the governor of the state of Missouri to discuss shared governance and create a system of holistic inclusion for all constituents,” said Marshall Allen, one of Concerned Student 1950’s original members.
Student activists have been working hard to effect change. They have made their voices heard with not only protests and walkouts but also with the use of social media. Payton Head, the president of the university’s student government, wrote a lengthy Facebook post in September, detailing his personal experiences with racism — including having racial slurs yelled at him on campus — as well as details of incidents of homophobia and racism experienced by his friends. This type of action connects what was initially considered a localized problem to similar incidents all across the nation, such as the racist cartoon that covered the SUNY Plattsburgh student newspaper, a “white girls only” party thrown by a Yale fraternity and a mockery of African culture by Princeton University’s swim and diving teams.
The football team even used the power of money to demand change. Black members of the team refused to participate in any football-related activities until Wolfe’s resignation; white teammates joined the boycott, too. The players planned not to take part in the team’s upcoming weekend game — a decision that would have cost the university an estimated $1 million as the school would continue to lose advertising from one of its biggest moneymakers. Incidentally, Wolfe’s resignation did not come until after the team declared its boycott.
While in his resignation Monday Wolfe said he took “full responsibility for this frustration and … inaction,” his departure is merely the first step in a long battle ahead. “This is just a beginning in dismantling systems of oppression in higher education, specifically the UM system,” Allen explained.
How Did We Get Here?
According to Wolfe, “It is my belief we stopped listening to each other.”
However, “stopped listening” implies that there ever was a time Wolfe did listen. And given the university’s history of racist incidents, Wolfe had many opportunities to listen. He took his position of president in 2012 and, despite the university’s clear history of racial tensions, Wolfe did little to address the issues.
The problems began before Wolfe was even in the picture. In 2010, two students littered cotton balls outside the Gaines/Oldham Black Culture Center on campus. And despite a statement in 2010 by then-Chancellor Brady Deaton that the school “remain[s] committed to promoting and reinforcing diversity at MU,” there had been no substantial efforts to that effect until last month, when another racial incident in October prompted just-resigned Chancellor Loftin to order students and faculty to participate in diversity training in 2016.
But despite the seemingly deep concerns of the two former chancellors regarding the 2010 incident, the commitment appears to have fallen through the cracks. In 2010, 82.1 percent of the university’s undergraduate students were white, while just 7.2 percent were Black, according to the university’s website. In 2014, the numbers hardly changed, falling to 79 percent white students and moving to 8 percent for Black students — a less than 1 percentage point increase.
Faculty demographics do not fare much better. In 2010, 78.7 percent of full-time faculty members were white, with just 2.61 percent being Black. In 2014, the number of whites went to 75 percent, while Blacks represented 3 percent — an increase of less than half of a percentage point.
And racially charged incidents continued. The inaction following Head’s Facebook post prompted protests from students. At a rally last month, one frustrated student said, “We are one bad decision away from a killing on this campus because it is segregated.”
But even statements like that were not enough to create a dialogue. Concerned Student 1950 then created a list of demands for the university, which included increasing the number of Black staff and faculty members to 10 percent as well as the creation of a long-term plan to retain a more diverse student population.
After the demands were drafted, a swastika made of feces appeared on a dormitory bathroom, and protests continued. Only after this incident did Wolfe agree to meet with Concerned Student 1950, where Wolfe allegedly did not agree to any of the changes the group proposed.
On Nov. 8, the football team announced its participation in the boycott. The following day, Wolfe resigned.
According to the university, one of its next courses of action is to hire its first chief diversity, inclusion, and equity officer. While this sounds like a good initiative, it emphasizes the fact that the university didn’t have someone in charge of diversity prior to these recent events.
And as seen in other incidents of racism on college campuses, simply having the position is not always enough. At the University of Louisville, President James Ramsey hosted a very offensive costume party, where he and his staff members dressed in stereotypical Mexican attire, wearing sombreros, ponchos and fake mustaches. The university has a person who serves as Director of the Office of Hispanic and Latino Initiatives, yet such an incident still occurred.
The university has also said it will now offer diversity training to new students, as well as faculty and staff members. However, only time will tell how effective the training is, since the university has a proven history of not following through with its alleged diversity initiatives.