Tensions Intensify at Mizzou

Students at the University of Missouri (MU), commonly referred to as Mizzou, have been protesting against racial inequality on campus after multiple incidents had been unresolved by the administration.

“For the past month, students of color, specifically black students, have been speaking to the administration about the discrimination they face structurally and interpersonally,” Mizzou senior Alanna Diggs said. “Marginalized students were tired of hearing ‘Our hands are tied’ or ‘What do you want us to do about it?’ so they attempted to get President Wolfe’s attention.”

Racial problems have been occurring at the school ever since the first black students were admitted in 1950. During Black History Month of 2010, two white students were arrested after dumping cotton balls in front of the Black Culture Center. In September, the President of the Students Association Payton Head was called a racial slur by a group of students driving by. The Legion of Black Collegians were also targets of racism after a white student yelled racial slurs directed towards the members during a homecoming rehearsal.

“These problems didn’t come out of nowhere,” Diggs said. “They were caused by years of systemic violence and discrimination.”

Concerned Student 1950 is a student-led group that is the driving force behind the recent protests. It was formed last year in response to the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, less than two hours away from Mizzou. They organized numerous boycotts, sit-ins, hunger strikes and nonviolent protests.

“Concerned Student 1950 was the tipping point,” Diggs said. “Our campus was riddled with violence. Regardless of opinions about how protestors protested, it shook up the community in a way that was needed.”

The movement at Mizzou garnered support from other universities around the country, President Barack Obama and even its own student organizations. It was after the school’s football team, the Missouri Tigers’, decision to boycott all football events, along with a campus-wide faculty walkout, that ex-system President Tim Wolfe chose to resign on Nov. 9. His temporary replacement is Michael Middleton, a former civil rights attorney who graduated from the school.

“I think now that the president is stepping down, Mizzou is going to solve some of its problems,” West junior Ian Towsley, whose sister attends Mizzou, said, “especially after hiring the new interim President, who is an African-American man.”

After the news broke out that Wolfe had resigned, threats against black students were posted on social media site Yik Yak, threatening to shoot them on sight. Students were evacuated from the Black Culture Center after reports of arson threats were received. Campus security was heightened and some scholastic activities were canceled. Many students were concerned for their own safety and refrained from going to class or popular areas around campus.

“I was born into a resilient family that brushed with the KKK and survived,” Diggs said. “I believe no weapon formed against me will prosper. I’m taking the necessary precautions to protect myself.”

Other Mizzou students who were not involved in protesting have been affected by the events occurring on campus as well.

“As a journalism student, I’ve seen how the media plays a role in what’s been happening on campus,” Mizzou freshman and Plano West alumni Janice Zhou said. “It’s been an interesting experience to see firsthand how all of this plays out.”

The recent turmoil at Mizzou has not affected senior Matt Stein’s decision to go to the school next year.

“If we’re going to be realistic, every college is going to have racial tensions,” Stein said. “It’s just that a group of people finally had enough and stood up against it.”

The protests have achieved cause for celebration. Middleton has promised to work with black students to battle racism at the school, starting with a mandatory course on diversity that all incoming students next year will take.

“Change won’t come overnight, but MU is definitely headed in the right direction,” Diggs said. “New leadership more versed in these issues has students feeling like their voices are beginning to be heard.”

Although the protests have posed a setback for Mizzou, students want to make sure that the image of their school isn’t being tarnished.

“If you’re coming to MU, it’s a great time to be a part of history,” Diggs said. “Don’t be afraid because of the media. I know our history is tumultuous, but I love this school which is why I’m fighting for it. We need people to carry the torch and keep the change going.”