I graduated from OVS last year, and I am now a lowly freshman at the University of Missouri. I wrote for this blog frequently during my three years as a writer for On the Hill, and thought it would be a good outlet for me to share my firsthand experience of the recent protests at the University of Missouri. Alvarez — I better get a 10/10 on this!
Before I start, I should give you a little background about me. I’ve grown up in what I guess are fairly liberal communities mostly around California and Colorado, where racism was an idea and never something I actually witnessed. I think a part of me didn’t even believe it existed until I came to school here. I’m white, and have never had any personal experience as a target of racism, and it is unlikely that I ever will. And while I was not at the center of the recent protests here at Mizzou, I have witnessed some of the events leading up to and surrounding the protests. I recognize that there are countless opinions about everything that has transpired, and my opinion is just one of those.
First, let me say that racism does exist at Mizzou. I have friends who have been called the N-word, and who track every pickup truck that drives by them at night. People have driven around campus with the confederate flag proudly displayed in the bed of their truck, and the N-word isn’t a rarity. I think racism is embedded here at the university, it has been since the very beginning – though that it just my personal opinion. Missouri was a slave state, and there are buildings on this campus that were built by slaves. The majority of the buildings are named after white males, with very few exceptions. And though our recently resigned Chancellor, R. Bowen Loftin, declared that racism has no place here, I agree with Payton Head that it does, and that it is quite comfortable.
The Mizzou Hunger Strike arose from years of experiencing the divide between students, and from the administration failing to address the issues. Personally, I think it culminated during the homecoming parade in October when the president of the UM System, Tim Wolfe, was in a car where his driver revved the engine and nudged some of the protestors that had blocked the road. Wolfe, rather than issuing an apology for the incident, chose to ignore it and didn’t apologize until earlier this month as the protests really began in earnest. But as they started, Concerned Student 1950 made it clear that the reasons they were going to these lengths and demanding change is because they love Mizzou and want it to be the best place it can be.
To accomplish that, Jonathan Butler, a graduate student here at Mizzou, went on a Hunger Strike about two weeks ago, declaring that he would not eat until Tim Wolfe resigned from his position. What shocked me was that this went on for EIGHT days, and that although Wolfe stated he was concerned for Butler’s health, he did absolutely nothing to ensure the health and safety of one of his students. In fact, it wasn’t until members of the football team declared they wouldn’t play until Wolfe stepped down, which resulted in the entire team following suit, that Wolfe resigned. That was almost a week after the Hunger Strike began. An article by the New York Times summed it up perfectly: “The Missouri athletes showed that the color that matters most is green.” But as an educator, I would have expected Wolfe to be more concerned about the wellbeing of one of his students than his position.
I went to Carnahan Quad a little after Tim Wolfe announced his resignation, and I was blown away by the movement. The emotions that were present that day were overwhelming, and everyone who cared even a little bit about equality on this campus was swept up in it. I was choked up, and I wasn’t even in the middle of it. It was truly a beautiful thing to witness, this first step on a long road to making Mizzou a racism-free campus. The fact that students were able to make such a huge impact and evoke so much change is incredible. And I got to witness that history being made.
That Tuesday night, death threats were made to blacks on campus, and someone posted on Yik Yak the same thing the Oregon shooter posted before the shooting. It was scary, especially as rumors began to take over social media about the KKK being on campus and bricks being thrown through dorm windows. I think a lot of those rumors were born out of a lack of information – for hours, the students got absolutely no information about what was going, whether the threats were being investigated and if they were real or not.The only statements we got from the university were that security had been increased and there were no credible threats. But then the next morning the man who posted the threats was arrested. Pretty much no one went to class on Wednesday – that is if their classes hadn’t been cancelled.
It’s been just over a week since then, and now we’re just about to leave for Thanksgiving break. But the movement hasn’t ended, and Tim Wolfe stepping down was just the first step. The protests have continued, and not just at Mizzou. Over 100 schools have shown their support for the movement, joining in on the chants, stating that “we have nothing to lose but our chains.” And other schools, including Yale, Ithaca, and Chapman University have begun demanding change at their own universities.
Mr. Alvarez asked me that if I had known this was going to happen, or if it had happened a year ago while I was still choosing where to go to school, if I still would have chosen to attend Mizzou. I honestly don’t know the answer to that question. I definitely didn’t realize when I chose this school how prevalent racism was. But in the end, I chose my school because of the journalism program, which is one of the best in the world. I’m glad I did choose to come here though, because I do love this school, and everything that has happened hasn’t taken away from that.
I’m proud to have been a part of something that I believe in and that has sparked a nationwide movement. I had the opportunity to witness something beautiful and empowering; to witness students fighting for what is right. Change needed to happen, and so students took the initiative to make sure that it did. I couldn’t be prouder of my school.