When asked by African-American students what he thought systematic oppression was, Tim Wolfe, Former President of the University of Missouri Systems, responded, “systematic oppression is because you don’t believe that you have equal opportunity for success.”
In October, students at the University of Missouri, also known as Mizzou, began protesting racist events that had gone unpunished by school administration. A particular group of students called Concerned Student 1950, took a peaceful, yet forceful approach to evoke change within their campus.
On November 2, Mizzou graduate student Jonathan Butler began a hunger strike that he announced he would not end until President Tim Wolfe resigned for failing to respond correctly to racial incidents on campus. A week later, Wolfe resigned as the UM System President, after Mizzou’s football team refused to participate in any football-related events until Wolfe resigned. The school’s chancellor, Richard Loftin, resigned as well.
With the two resignations came both negative and positive responses. Some students began to threaten Mizzou’s African-American student population. The intimidation ranged from social media posts promising to shoot Black students, to Black students being harassed by other students yelling racial slurs. Fearing for their safety, many African-American students evacuated campus and did not attend their classes the next day. Thankfully, the university was able to apprehend the student making the mass shooting threats.
While visiting the University of Missouri, I had the opportunity to sit down with senior Lauren Giwa-Amu, and ask her about her experiences with the recent tension on campus.
Nadiyah Pate: “Have you ever felt unsafe on campus?”
Lauren Giwa-Amu: “In my three and a half years here I had never felt unsafe on campus, but I honestly did feel unsafe during that time. It was simply based on a smaller portion of students that were resistant to the change that was happening on campus. So I feel like I can look on the situation, take a step back and say in my three and a half years this has been great, but a small portion of it didn’t go as I planned.”
NP: “What’s your outtake on the events that occurred on campus?”
LGA: “The way I portrayed these incidents is that yes, I think that racism and these type of things are happening everywhere on campus, but I think we have students here at Mizzou that are courageous enough to be vocal about it. I think we just kind of started this movement about being vocal about inequality on college campuses.”
NP: “Have you ever experienced any racial incidents at Mizzou?”
LGA: “I have not personally experienced racism against me. However, our current student body president is a Black male, and he recently wrote a Facebook post about issues that were happening on campus. Someone who was in a pickup truck drove past him and screamed the n-word at him. I can’t really imagine how I would feel if that happened to me. And I think that it’s sad that that happened.”
NP: “What is Concerned Student 1950, and what are their goals?”
LGA: “Concerned Student 1950 is a group of students, I believe there are 11 of them, and the first appearance I saw them make was at the homecoming parade when they stepped in front of President Wolfe’s car. Their main goal is just to advocate for equality on campus for all students of all races.”
NP: “How do you think the media handled the situation?”
LGA: “The media was our best friend and our worst enemy in the situation: best friend in the fact that had the things not gotten national attention, I’m not sure how quickly the university would’ve acted on change. It was our worst enemy in that I worry sometimes about how things were portrayed, and how incoming families might feel based on things that have happened.”
NP: “What are your hopes for the campus as things change and evolve?”
LGA: “I honestly think that this was an important experience for me to have during my time here. I think that through it I learned that I have a voice, and I’ve learned about the things that are important to me and important enough to speak out on. So I guess I would say that I hope that all students learn that from the situation, instead of just seeing it as an inconvenience, something that’s scary, or anything like that. This was a really great learning experience. I also hope that people are more conscious and more aware in general. There are certain things that I’ve learned here about inclusivity, and equality. Just things like making sure you aren’t using terms that offend people, and making sure that you’re creating an environment that is welcoming and inviting for people. So I hope people learn that as well.”
The bravery and commitment Mizzou students displayed to promote change has prompted colleges across the country to speak out about racial injustice on campus. Students at schools such as Yale, Duke, and UCLA have brought to public attention racist incidents that have occurred on campus. Although it might have seemed impossible at first, Mizzou students were able to peacefully get solutions to systemic issues. The University of Missouri Systems have a long road of change ahead to make campuses safe and inclusive, but thanks to many devoted students and faculty members, the process already has a head start.