Change Can Happen: University of Missouri Steps Up

by Laura Wetherbee

via Yahoo News

Students at the University of Missouri have made news headlines regarding racial bias and hostility that has been occurring on their school’s campus in Columbia, Mo. and the changes students and faculty were able to make through their actions.

Yahoo! News posted an article titled “Missouri Student President: School Has Racism, Also Unity” by Summer Ballentine, which said recent racist incidents and the perceived lack of response by school administrators, led to protests, a hunger strike, and a threatened boycott by the University of Missouri’s football team.

The article discussed how student president, Payton Head, was motivated to push for change and social justice through student government.  He faced a turning point his sophomore year when he said men in a pickup truck yelled racial slurs at him repeatedly as he was walking to a party.

“ Student’s want change and students want an inclusive campus,” Head told reporters on Nov. 8 where he joined members in calling for the University of Missouri System President, Tim Wolfe, to step down from his title.  Wolfe stepped down from his position the next day.

Head said he has received hate mail and death threats recently, mostly in response to his criticism of the administration.  Head added that he has also received “amazing” support from students, with some thanking him when they see him on campus.

The New York Times posted an article by John Eligon and Richard Perez-Pena titled, “University of Missouri Protests Spur a Day of Change.” In this article, Gov. Jay Nixon said “Tim Wolfe’s resignation was a necessary step toward healing and reconciliation on the University of Missouri campus.” The article stated that the school’s chancellor, R. Bowen Loftin, said he would step down to a less prominent role at the end of the year as well.

This article also discussed how many of the students and faculty members who took part in demonstrations had also been inspired by the protest movement last year in Ferguson, after a white police officer there killed Michael Brown, an unarmed black man.

The students and faculty were skilled in using social media in organizing and saw themselves as part of a continuum of activism linking Ferguson, other death at the hands of police, protests on campuses around the country, and the Black Lives Matter movement.

The Huffington Post posted an article titled “Campus Racism Protests Didn’t Come Out Of Nowhere, And They Aren’t Going Away Quickly.” This article discusses a movement that is taking place.

“What we are seeing is the beginning of a movement where students and student groups across campuses are finding the courage to speak up about what they have been experiencing,” said Yolanda Sealey-Ruiz, who is a scholar of Latino and black male students at Columbia University.

“Students can’t give up the power they have to voice opinions about what’s okay and what’s not okay,” said Deborah Bial, who is the founder of the Posse Foundation, which partners with colleges to place minority students.

The University of Missouri did voice their opinion and was able to make changes in their school administration, however the movement is not over.  It will be curious to follow this story and see if the changes students and faculty are looking for at the University of Missouri happen.