Opinion: Mizzou protests send mixed message

Students and faculty walk into a building after a pep talk.

Tyler Tousley | Opinions Editor
Nov. 11, 2015; 7:00 pm

There is a revolution happening in America; a revolution that started with Michael Brown’s death in late 2014. Across the country we are seeing minority groups fighting for equality and a feeling of safety. One of the most recent installments is happening close to home for many of us. The University of Missouri (Mizzou), in Columbia, MO has exploded with racial tensions recently, and to be honest, there is so much to cover I am not entirely sure where to start. For those interested in seeing all that led up to the recent student protests, the university’s student news publication, The Maneater, has put together an interactive timeline of the semester’s events.

Students and faculty walk into a building after a pep talk.
Photo by Viktoria Muench

I have heard speculation that these protesters are blowing a few negative comments out of proportion. This is an interesting theory—everybody will say offensive things and everybody will be victims of offensive statements. This is just part of life right? There are, however, several things that make me question this. First, Concerned Student 1950 started at the end of last year. The group is not a reaction to the recent events, but all of the racially charged events at Mizzou and surrounding areas. Second, there are faculty and staff—coaches, professors, etc.—joining these protests. This leads me to believe that this is not a new problem, and that members of the faculty have recognized this alleged racism.

There still, however, seems to be little support for such an outcry. This is most likely because much of the racial inequality is systematic, i.e. if one black student doesn’t do well in a class, maybe they just don’t know the material. Now if every black student that takes that class fails then there is a bigger issue. This kind of information can be hard to collect, however, because the only people who would notice would be those students who aren’t doing well, but students don’t have access to past class records to really see if there is a racial issue. The people with access to do this research don’t have the motivation. The people with the motivation, don’t have access to the information. It is somewhat of a catch 22.

I would also like to address the group of students from Concerned Student 1950 who interrupted the school’s homecoming parade to block President Wolfe’s car. The group’s intentions were to wait until he got out of the vehicle to talk to him. The president stayed in his car until the students were removed.

Honestly, if a large group of people—especially a group I already knew was unhappy with me—interrupted an entire parade and blocked my vehicle, I would probably stay inside too. That is a scary situation regardless of the race of anybody involved. Should he have addressed the students? Most definitely. Is the middle of a parade with an angry group of people the place to talk about these business matters? Definitely not. If these students really want the issues to be resolved, then making a huge public display of hostility is not the way to do that. Also this public display does not coincide with the anti-media ideals the group has been sticking to until recently—more on that further down though.

Students and faculty sit together for a pep talk by a Mizzou student.
Photo by Viktoria Muench

The list of demands given by these students also seemed a tad wonky to me. Requiring more black students and faculty can be a difficult thing to accomplish. Is the school supposed to get rid of white professors to make room for black ones? Are they supposed to cut the pay of professors so they can hire more? And the president?

Bullying him to resign seems a bit odd. He has acknowledged all of these instances—though some of them later than he probably should have. He has put new policies into place to hopefully prevent these events in the future. What exactly should he have done?

Should he have gotten on his hands and knees to scrub the feces off of the bathroom floor himself? I do not go to Mizzou so I do not know about the influence Wolfe had and exactly how he reacted, but I am also not entirely sure he should have bullied out of his job as a result of these situations.

My biggest issue, however, is the way the press has been treated. Now I may have a bias due to the fact that I am part of the press myself, but I think there have been some mistakes made. You cannot say you don’t want media attention when holding a protest in a public space. Protest are held for change and to start conversations. Those conversations are hard to start when the information can’t get out. A professor of Mass Media was pushing reporters out of a public space. Protesters—who are exercising their first amendment rights—were telling these reporters that they could not exercise theirs. That is what I like to call hypocrisy.

To me what this says is that they are not striving for equality, but superiority. They want to be able to have their free speech but they don’t want people with differing views than their own to exercise theirs. This kind of reasoning does not help the situation in any way at all, if anything it just makes the protesters look worse than they might if they let the media in to spin it however that particular outlet does.

One of the signs prohibiting media personnel to stay off the grass.
Photo by Viktoria Muench

The protesters have since realized their mistake in pushing away the media. They passed out leaflets to the protesters saying that it was a “teachable moment.” They were taught that without the help of the national news media their message can’t get out and change is less likely to happen.

In conclusion, this situation is not black and white. There are clearly systematic racial issues that are occurring at the school, but how the protesters are handling the situation is not anywhere close to the most effective way to achieve their goal. I am white and I can’t pretend I know what it is like to experience racism. I also do not attend Mizzou. This is simply an analysis to show the flaws of the entire uproar on both sides. Whatever the outcome, I truly hope the racial hostility is resolved soon and safely.

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