Here's What Being A Mizzou Student Has Felt Like This Week
On Monday morning, my social accounts were flooded with news of (former) University of Missouri system President Tim Wolfe’s resignation. I was surprised, I was happy, I was in disbelief. Concerned Student 1950 had actually done it. It made demands, and those demands were met. This pessimist became an optimist, if only for a few short hours. History had been made. And Jonathan Butler would once again allow food into his body.
Cue media frenzy, protest drama, and, of course, Internet trolls. News of the football teams’ abject refusal to play had offered national attention to the movement here at MU, so when news of Wolfe’s resignation hit social media, the media wasn’t far behind. I admit, I was personally disappointed in the protesters when I heard that they were denying reporters and photographers access to the campsite, which is on campus. The Black Lives Matter campaign is an assertion that no matter the skin color, every life is important and everyone should be treated like a human being, so I wondered: Why was that courtesy not extended to the media?
Unfortunately, that incident took away from the victory of the day — and, instead, gave way to racist comments about the protesters. As I said, I personally agree that they shouldn’t have blocked reporters so aggressively, but condemning them and devaluing their characters, emotions, and shared experiences of discrimination was not OK.
Unless you are a black man or woman, you have no idea what it’s like for a random person to yell the N-word at you, and you therefore have no right to say that it shouldn’t hurt our feelings and that we shouldn’t speak up about it.
Unless you are a part of any minority group that has been stigmatized and demonized by the majority, you simply won’t understand the pain of someone demeaning your history with the utterance of one hateful word.
The indignities didn’t stop with mere racist comments. Someone decided it was a good idea to issue death threats to the black student body. A search was ordered, but the damage had already been done. Students were scared. I was scared. Even after a mass email informed us that a suspect was in custody, images of lynchings, bombings, and water hoses kept me home on Wednesday.
Once again, some right-wing trolls made fun of students for fearing for their lives — do I really need to remind you that #BlackLivesMatter? They mocked the announcement from MUPD that stated that we should report any instances of hateful speech.
Well, we should report any instances of hate speech. By doing nothing at all, we are perpetuating the culture where it’s OK to be racist because “free speech is a First Amendment right." Guess what: It goes both ways. We have the right to say that some speech is hurtful. If we don’t, then things escalate to the point where death threats are OK, which they aren’t, by the way.
How exactly will MU move forward? First, we need some time to heal. People are angry and need time to work through that.
Some serious dialogue needs to take place — between students and the administration, and students of different races. No one will ever know the experience of another unless they ask, and listen.
Most of all, the administration needs to outline some concrete procedures on how they handle situations of racial, sexist, and religious discrimination, as it has promised to do. How can students expect to feel safe and welcome if they don’t know that there are measures in place to protect them?
Ultimately, the administration needs to act quickly and be more transparent in how they handle issues of diversity. I don’t know if these things will happen — but something absolutely needs to.
Images: Courtesy of Rebecca McGee