What You Haven't Heard About The University Of Missouri Protests

Photo: Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images.
What is Concerned Student 1950, and who is Jonathan Butler?
Concerned Student 1950 is a group of student activists concerned about the university’s failure to address racial inequality and social injustice. The group takes part of its name from the year the first Black students were admitted to the University of Missouri — 1950 — but pronounces the numerals as 1-9-5-0. Eleven students lead the group, and have said that some of its goals include bringing more focus to minority student enrollment, creating initiatives to hire more faculty and administrators of color, and providing better mental-health resources for students. Concerned Student 1950 has led protests and camped out on the university’s Carnahan Quad since November 2.

Jonathan Butler, a Mizzou graduate student who is part of Concerned Student 1950, began a hunger strike to protest racially motivated incidents on campus and to demand the resignation of Tim Wolfe, the University of Missouri System president. On November 2, Butler released his own statement, saying that the hunger strike was a means to protest “a slew of racist, sexist, homophobic, etc. incidents that have disrupted the learning experience.” He ended his hunger strike on November 9 when Wolfe and Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin resigned.

Why did students begin protests and a camp-out on campus?
Several recent incidents pushed students to demonstrate this semester, though it’s important to note that a culture of racially charged occurrences at Mizzou is also a factor. In September, the president of the Missouri Students Association was called a racial slur on campus. The next month, members of the Legion of Black Collegians — a student-government organization that advocates for Black students and diversity — also dealt with racial slurs. Then came the swastika graffiti painted on a dorm wall in feces. The use of pepper spray and force on Black protesters at the university’s homecoming parade, who surrounded university president Wolfe’s parade vehicle, spurred students to create Concerned Student 1950.
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Butler named other recent university incidents. How has that had an impact on the situation?
The University of Missouri has had a tumultuous fall semester — what the student newspaper has called “a historic fall” — because of a number of issues and outrages. Butler, in his hunger-strike announcement, suggested that several of these situations have plunged the campus into turmoil this year, including incidents that go beyond hateful racism. He also called attention to the campus’ nixed agreements with Planned Parenthood, which provided learning experiences for medical students, and the uproar caused by an attempt to cut graduate-student insurance benefits with only a few hours' notice before students would become uninsured.

On November 8, Missouri state representatives began calling for Wolfe’s resignation. Their reasons included the purchase of a golf course for the University of Missouri-St. Louis that came months prior to major budget cuts, the Planned Parenthood agreements, and a failed attempt to construct a hospital in Columbia.

Has Mizzou faced racially motivated incidents and tensions in the past?
Short answer: yes. Mizzou has seen multiple incidents of racist vandalism in past years, including a 2010 incident when two students dumped cotton balls on the lawn of the campus’ Black Culture Center. In 2011, racist graffiti was found scrawled on the side of a residence hall, and racist flyers were hung in dorms in 2012. These are just a few examples. Students and faculty members alike shared their own experiences with bigotry on campus earlier this month. Even the university's homecoming traditions speak to the legacy of racism; after years of exclusion from campus homecoming events, Black students created their own homecoming court and events in the 1970s, which continue today.

How is campus security handling threats against students and protesters?
Students were evacuated from the campus’ Black Culture Center Tuesday afternoon after it received arson threats. Social media exploded Tuesday evening with reports of a campus shooting threat that was made on social media app Yik Yak. Reports of Klu Klux Klan members on campus sparked fear when tweeted by the Missouri Students Association president, although those rumors turned out to be false.

On Wednesday morning, the University of Missouri Police Department announced its arrest of a 19-year-old Rolla, MO, man who allegedly made those online threats to shoot Black students on campus. Although the campus is open, albeit with heightened security, some classes and events — such as meetings for Black student groups — have been canceled, and some Mizzou students have tweeted photos of half-empty classrooms and usually popular campus areas.

What was going on with clashes between protesters and media?
What many people outside Columbia don’t know is the relationship the city has with reporters. The University of Missouri School of Journalism attracts prospective students from across the globe, and Columbia residents and students can often be inundated with requests for interviews by student reporters. The influx of national reporters on Monday made that crush even worse.

After Wolfe resigned on Monday, members of Concerned Student 1950 and journalists clashed on the campus’ Carnahan Quad, where protesters had created a tent camp. A human wall of students, led by some Mizzou faculty and staff, attempted to bar reporters from taking photos and conducting interviews with Concerned Student 1950 members in the tent camp. One communications faculty member resigned her courtesy appointment with the university’s journalism school for her attempts to remove reporters from the area.

The activist group explained later on Twitter that as a student-led organization, it is still learning how to interact with media, though its message was not solely for reporters’ benefit. On Tuesday, Concerned Student 1950 passed out flyers to protesters explaining the rights of the media, and its importance to protesters. But the clashes have called attention to the distrust between minority groups and news organizations as an added component to the situation.

What happens next?
At this moment, it’s not quite clear, but the protests haven’t ended. A diversity course will be mandatory for incoming students beginning next year, though few details have emerged about how the course will be put into place. Concerned Student 1950 has remained ensconced on the campus’ quad and says it will remain there, updating its list of demands and meeting with university and state officials to make necessary improvements toward campus culture and issues of inclusion.
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