The University of Missouri has a troubled history of racism on campus, and this fall, tensions began to rise even more. Earlier this month, it finally reached its boiling point.
On September 12th, the African-American president of the Missouri Students Association, Payton Head, made a post on Facebook detailing a racist incident in which he was targeted. He writes:
"Some guys riding on the back of a pickup truck decided that it would be okay to continuously scream [the N-word] at me. I really just want to know why my simple existence is such a threat to society... I've experienced moments like this multiple times at THIS university, making me not feel included here... Is it weird that I think that I have the right to feel safe here too? If you see violence like this and don't say anything, you, yes YOU, are a part of the problem. It's time to wake up Mizzou."
Head's post went viral across social media, gaining the attention of major news outlets and students across the nation. Back at Mizzou, rallies were formed to spread awareness of on-campus racism.
On October 5th, a white man who was presumed to be under the influence disrupted the "Legion of Black Collegians 2015 Homecoming Royalty Court" rehearsal. He did not leave when asked, according to the official student news source of the University of Missouri, The Maneater, and proceeded to call the LBC Royalty Court racial slurs as he was being removed by the Missouri University Police Department. The President of the Legion of Black Collegians, Warren Davis, issued a statement in response to the incident that was tweeted by the Mizzou LBC Twitter account.
In response, more rallies and protests were organized, and Payton Head released a statement from the entire Executive Cabinet of the Missouri Students Association, discussing their plan of action to make "the University of Missouri a safe, tolerable place for all students." The statement ends powerfully: "Racism lives at [Mizzou] and we cannot allow it any further."
On October 10th, 11 African-American students belonging to the LBC protested during the Mizzou Homecoming parade. They block the path of the car that Mizzou President Tim Wolfe rides in during the parade in order to emphasize that this demonstration is the only way they can get his attention. As they protest, white students attending the parade chant the university's name in an attempt to drown out the protestors' words. Multiple white police officers break up the demonstration, forcefully, while "threatening to arrest them and rattling cans of pepper spray in their faces." No one was harmed, although one student tweeted that he was hit by the car as the parade procession attempted to drive through the protestors.
There is video footage of the entire ordeal. (Warning: Explicit language is used.)
The protestors then became known as "Concerned Student 1950."
On October 20th, Concerned Student 1950 issued a list of demands that would provide students of color an inclusive, safe, and racially aware environment on Mizzou's campus. The resignation of Mizzou President Tim Wolfe was among their demands.
On October 24th, a swastika was found on a residence hall floor and wall, drawn with smeared human feces. This was the second incident of anti-Semitic vandalism that had occurred in the past year, according to The Maneater. A symbol of hate appearing during such a racially tense time at Mizzou was far from a coincidence.
On November 2nd, graduate student Jonathan Butler, the same student that was hit by President Tim Wolfe's car during the Homecoming parade, announced that he would be going on a hunger strike until Tim Wolfe stepped down from his position as University of Missouri president.
He says in his letter to the University of Missouri Curators, "During this hunger strike, I will not consume any food or nutritional sustenance at the expense of my health until either Tim Wolfe is removed from office or my internal organs fail and my life is lost.”
On November 8th, a few days after Butler's strike began, black members of the Mizzou football team threatened to boycott the remaining games of the season.
On November 9th, Tim Wolfe officially resigned as President of the University of Missouri after weeks of protests. The resignation of Wolfe as president was deemed necessary by Concerned Student 1950 because of his negligence towards the issues of racism on campus and his refusal to acknowledge the importance of the lives of Mizzou students of color.
After Wolfe's resignation, the racial climate on Mizzou's campus did not cool down.
On November 10th, black students' lives were being threatened on the social media app Yik Yak, where users can post anonymous messages.
One black student turned to their professor for support, voicing their fear to attend class. His response lacked empathy and sympathy, reducing the death threats to the work of "bullies." Once the email correspondence went viral on social media, the professor, Dale E. Brigham, resigned from his position.
Concerned Student 1950 inspired many other students of color and allies to fight back. Students from all over the country are standing up and speaking out about racial discrimination and injustices on their own campuses, and are standing in solidarity with the students of color at Mizzou.
1. Ithaca College.
Ithaca students also demand the resignation of their president for reasons similar to Tim Wolfe - failure to acknowledge racist incidents. Students participated in a walk-out and a "die-in," where they lay in silence on the Quad for 25 minutes.
2. Emory University.
Students stood on a busy campus street in protest, blocking traffic while chanting "black lives matter." SOC of Emory also issued a list of demands for their administration.
3. Virginia Commonwealth University.
Around 30 black VCU student activists marched into the school president’s office Thursday morning to demand the university increase the number of black professors and offer more cultural training on campus, according to The Richmond Times-Dispatch.
4. New York University.
The NYU Black Students Union hosted a blackout, a walk-out protest, and a rally on the steps of their center for university life. They also compiled a list of demands for administration and influenced a "university-wide conversation about diversity and inclusion."
*Lead image is also of New York University's Blackout.
5. Monmouth University.
Students held a protest on campus that garnered enough attention to be featured on their local 5 o'clock news.
6. Columbia University.
Columbia students held a rally and vigil to honor the students of color at Mizzou and also discuss the racial tensions on their own campus.
7. Rutgers University.
Students at Rutgers held a blackout and a rally to show their support for Mizzou.
8. University of Albany.
University of Albany held a march and a blackout protest in solidarity with Mizzou's SOC.
9. University of California, Los Angeles.
The African Students Association at UCLA, also known as "Black Bruins," hosted a protest to make their voices heard.
10. Stanford University.
Students held a massive rally to show their support for Mizzou, and were recognized by the official Stanford Twitter account:
As the incidents that catalyzed a nationwide conversation about racial inclusion in academia appear smaller and smaller in our rearview mirrors, it is important to remember that movements such as these are capable of more power than they seem. Movements such as these can change the environments we live in and improve our way of life, but only if the people who care about the cause continue to push back - hard. The responses from college students nationwide have been incredible, and students of color have been given platforms to make their voices heard in environments they are usually silenced.
Your voices have been heard.
Now, continue to make noise.
Lead Image Credit: Bakary Diarrassouba / Instagram: @B.Diarrassouba