University of Missouri President Tim Wolfe resigned this week following unrest and protests from black students on campus.
Prior to this week, the university’s black students had spent months drawing attention to the oppression, fear for safety and discomfort they felt on their own college campus.
Unfortunately, they received little, if any, recognition or action from administration before this week.
Protests began, and remain ongoing, in response to Wolfe’ s laissez-faire attitude following several racist incidents on campus, including a Swastika painted on a residence hall wall, a black assembly interrupted with racial slurs, cotton balls spread in front of a black cultural center, as well as yet another swastika smeared out of feces on the floor and wall of the bathroom in a residence hall.
The tradition at “Mizzou” of black students being referred to as the “N-word” is also alive and well, as confirmed by black Missouri Student Association President Payton Head, which sparked national attention and disapproval.
Head, along with other black students and allied student groups on campus, fought the injustices and oblivion of administration at MU along with “Racism Lives Here,” a student movement, and Concerned Student 1950, a student group which created its name in reference to the first year a black student was accepted to MU.
Concerned Student 1950 went through all efforts to peacefully gain the attention of the administration of their university, with little positive result.
Frustration arose after Wolfe had police remove Concerned Student 1950 protestors from the path of his shiny convertible at a Homecoming parade. This prompted the student group to address Wolfe with eight specific demands, including an official apology, acknowledgment of Wolfe’s “white male privilege” and immediate resignation.
While Wolfe did agree to meet with students, their demands were barely acknowledged initially, according to the Washington Post.
Graduate student Jonathan Butler publicly joined the fight less than a week later, announcing a hunger strike that would not end until Wolfe resigned. He expressed that a cause of such injustice was worth giving his life for.
Butler told the Columbia Missourian: “If you look at the past two years, and all that students have done, black students, brown students, students of color and marginalized students have been fighting and protesting and writing letters and doing all these things over several years.”
This is where the “important black people” came in, in this case.
I call them the “important black people” because that’s how President Wolfe deemed them relevant when it came to making his decision. Wolfe probably imagined he could get by with ignoring the seven percent of “regular” black students on campus, however the nearly 50 percent on the football team was another story.
On Nov. 7, the Missouri football team announced that they would be boycotting all practices and games until Wolfe resigned.
Coach Gary Pinkel’s decision to stand behind his team is what ultimately led to Wolfe’s resignation, considering that MU would lose approximately $1 Million just from canceling their upcoming game this Saturday, which accounts for more than twice of Wolfe’s salary, which is $495,000.
What We Can Learn
This entire series of demonstrations is history in the making and it’s important that we take note of the power that athletes have on campus and in America.
We continuously see disproportionate rates of African American representation in higher education, politics, the business world and so on. However, this ratio tends to be the opposite in the sports industry, specifically in the NFL and the NBA.
While we work on reaching higher levels of racial and gender transparency across all occupations, it’s crucial that we take advantage of what leverage the black community does have now. Universities slave “student athletes” so much so that many collegiate athletes are thought of as athletes before students.
In this case, athletes must acknowledge the monetary and elite popularity advantages they hold on campus and in the real world. It is time for black athletes speak up on racial injustices, rather than allowing a system of oppressors to monopolize their talents and authority.
Imagine the possibility for impact and change. Talented athletes never go unnoticed by any race, and neither does money.
The First Amendment and Distractions
In this case, justice has reached its appropriate verdict. However, the fight is not over.
In this continuing fight for transparency and equality, it’s imperative that we keep the spotlight on the positive aspects of such movements and remain aware of our rights to fight for such causes in a public forum.
Controversy recently arose after student freelance reporter for ESPN, Tim Tai, was harassed by a Missouri faculty member and fellow students for taking pictures at a public camp out demonstration held by students in support of striker Jonathan Butler.
Tai kept a calm composure and responded that he was recording history.
The protesting students concerns and opposition to Tai sprouted from their feelings of the media’s tendency to report such protests with a negative bias or twist. While this is obviously the case in many situations, and an inevitable result of yellow journalism, it’s completely inappropriate and distracting from the real issue, for protesters to assume their feelings of distrust toward the media allow them to disregard the first amendment.
The media’s publicity and spread of content is what leads to national and local conversations about these issues. It’s incredibly foolish to oppose the press: for the sake of your own credibility in regard to understanding the jurisdiction of the first amendment, and for the sake of your cause.
The opposition of the first amendment by a party, despite feelings of unfairness, sheds a dim light of ignorance on whoever’s trying to get their point across, rather than highlighting the positive goals that were the initial focus of the message. Ultimately, it’s a distraction.
All of this incremental change toward equality for all is great, nevertheless those who fight for social justice and equality should remember this simple math: power + publicity + education – distractions = success.
Featured Photo Credit: (Right to left) Junior public health sciences major Alesia Robinson, junior African American studies major Erica Puentes Martinez, senior sociology major Rhys Hall address the crowd that gathered on Hornbake Plaza. Before taking a group photo, they each spoke on the subject of solidarity in diversity amid the events that have taken place at Missouri and Yale. (Ryan Eskalis/Bloc Reporter)
Racquel Royer is a freshman journalism major and may be reached at Royer.firstname.lastname@example.org.