Note: I highly suggest you take the time to read the links throughout this the story, as they are vital to the overall understanding of what has been going on at the University of Missouri.
Walking to class has been an adventure this semester.
Any MU student will tell you that. Each day, I make my walk from my house on one side of campus, to the School of Journalism (where the majority of my classes reside) on the complete opposite side.
The mile-or-so walk takes me past all the historic places on campus. Traditions Plaza, Francis Quadrangle, Jesse Hall, Carnahan Quad, Speakers Circle, The Columns and the Thomas Jefferson Statue.
All of which have seen there a litany of protests this semester. And everyday, I have walked past them.
The historic Columns at MU were the site of graduate students and teacher assistants walking out and in-protest of not receiving adequate benefits as student-employees of the University, including fully subsidized health insurance.
It was also the scene of the the rally students held that burned the ISIS flag in protest of the terrorist group. An event I was lucky enough to watch unfold in the control room at KOMU.
#PostYourStateOfMind was an action taken by Members of the Student Coalition for Critical Action that encouraged students to place sticky notes on the Thomas Jefferson Statue in the quad that read “slave holder” and “racist,” among others.
Speakers circle is the home to daily protests, some have serious substance, others range from handing out free food, to people reading bible versus and telling you you’re going to hell as you walk past them on your way to class.
That’s the nature of Speakers Circle though, which was also the home of the Planned Parenthood Rally.
Most recently, Jesse Hall (the building with the dome) and Traditions Plaza have been the site of of the multiple “Racism Lives Here” rallies, in light of the occurrences of racism happening around campus this year.
Then there is the place the rest of the country has come to be very aware of, Carnahan Quad, where the MU Hunger strike led by Jonathon Butler took place.
I have walked past all of these, on multiple occasions this semester, along with the rest of the student body.
As a student studying journalism, I have listened to guest speakers that have worked across the world, from Pulitzer-Prize Winners, to employees of CNN and New York Times.
Their advice for young and aspiring journalists is unanimous.
In the past week, and months, I’ve done plenty of that.
This story is complex. They say stories have two sides to them, this one has many.
I’m not going to go off on a rant in favor or against the protests and everything that followed them this past week. I’m sure many of you have had your full-serving of that by now.
All over social media and the premier media outlets from CNN to the Washington Post I have read the incredible number of perspectives being given to this robust story.
Some have made me sick to my stomach, others have offered me a different kind of point of view I never had thought about beforehand.
My story? An account from someone who has been walking past these places and watching them as I go by. Many students (including myself at some points) have been enraged by how this story has been nationally covered. These protests (the handful I mentioned above) have been going on for sometime now, someone watching from afar might not know that.
For the record, I will say that in no way do I condemn these protests. At the very core, they are asking for equality and justice, something everybody should be in favor of. Whether or not you believe in everything the movements of Concerned Student 1950 and the Hunger Strike stand for, it’s 2015, not 1960, racism at this magnitude is completely unacceptable anywhere in this country.
As I said, this topic is complex as it is sensitive. Lives were at stake at one point. For me, it started on November 2nd, the day Butler began his hunger strike. It wasn’t only until a day later did I walk past Carnahan Quad and see the tents set up. From what I recall, there were only two of them and I wasn’t sure what was going on until I overheard someone say it was “another protest.”
In one week mind you, it went from two tents to the leading story on ESPN, CNN, FOX News and every major newspaper. One of my journalism professors hit the nail on the head when speaking about social movements like these.
“Movements are not clean, they are messy with a lot of voices saying a lot of different things.”
If you’re going to take anything away from this, take those words with you.
When I saw this tweet last Saturday night, I, and I’m sure many others who were closely following the situation to begin with knew the “messy” part was on the horizon. It’s one of the more intriguing parts of the story.
That’s just me, though. Many others will say if the football team didn’t do anything, none of this would have ever happened. Some may claim that football runs this school, I read that a few times.
You cannot however, deny the power that college football and sports in general can have on movements such as these. If you know who I am, then you know my take on the overall impact sports can have. If you disagree, I direct you to the 1980 USA-Soviet Union Olympic Hockey match, Jackie Robinson signing with the Brookyln Dodgers, and even the 1965-66 Texas Western Miners.
Sports can change history. Shape movements.
In this case, I applaud the football team for standing up for what they believe in, I have no problem with that. Set aside all the talk about “Would they do it if they were 9-0 instead of 5-4” or the apparent divide among the team when the decision was made.
I applaud Gary Pinkel for letting his players stand up for something bigger than the game Saturday, and most of all, making it clear that he is with them through and through. That’s what being a team is about.
This boycott by the team brought money to the forefront, as you might expect. The following is an excerpt from Philip Bump of the Washington Post who perfectly explains the financial impact this boycott would have had if it had reached November 14.
“According to data compiled by USA Today, Missouri’s athletic program generated $83.7 million in revenue last year, on $80.2 million in cost – a net of $3.5 million in profit. That’s a lot of money – but it’s actually fairly low for a public university. Of the 225 Division I schools that have an obligation to release that data, Missouri ranks 32nd in revenue. The top five schools are Oregon, Texas, Michigan, Alabama and Ohio State – who saw a combined $172.3 million in profit on $813 million in revenue.
That’s the fourth point: There’s huge long-term economic power in college football programs. The Tigers aren’t having a great season, at 4-5 after four straight losses. They’re still in contention for one of college football’s countless bowl games, assuming they close the season strong. If they did make a bowl, the school would get some amount of money as a bonus. Last year, schools that played in even the least-known games got six-figure payouts.”
“How much the school would lose if the team boycotted even one game is hard to say. But swinging back to politics, it’s easy to see where the leverage lies. The hunger striker, Butler, risks embarrassing the university badly by letting a student be hospitalized (or worse) over its policies. The football team is already embarrassing the university, but threatens economic damage as well. The operating budget for the school in 2014-2015 anticipates $1.19 billion in revenue and $1.16 billion in costs. The $84 million generated by all of the schools’ sports programs is 7 percent of that revenue total — and it’s safe to say that football is a lot of that $84 million.”
Agree or disagree, like it or not, football in college athletics is highly-lucrative which in turn garners massive amounts of attention, and as we say, power as well.
Monday morning came, and the world watched.
I walked to class. When I read that Wolfe had resigned, I headed to Carnahan Quad to take it all in, for better or for worse, I didn’t know what to expect, but I felt like I needed to go.
I remind you that it has been a series of events that potentially led to Wolfe’s resignation, as this incident during our Homecoming Parade certainly added fuel to the eventual fire.
When I arrived to Carnahan, what you might have seen on TV is for the most part what I witnessed. I watched and listened to Concerned Student 1950 and many others rejoice and cheer.
I witnessed the human chain that surrounded the tents, and caught glimpses of this as well.
This wasn’t the average day to walk to class. The scene was unlike anything I have ever witnessed. National media, cameras everywhere, people yelling and screaming, kids simply walking right through it to go to class, the whole nine yards.
For me, the embarrassing side of the story begins with Melissa Click and Janna Basler (Director of Greek Life.)
This is when the wheels began to fall off. All of a sudden, we went from the President and Chancellor resigning, to the main story being about “us vs. them.”
Us being the students, them being the protestors and those who support them. To have a professor who was a part of one of the most highly-acclaimed journalism schools in the world tell a journalism student that he cannot be on public property is hard for me to swallow.
This is the messy part of these movements, like my professor said. When the story loses sight of the main message, when people begin to say things they have to eventually privately and publicly apologize for, that’s when the embarrassment takes its course.
As for Tuesday night, when #PrayForMizzou was trending on Twitter, it was certainly a moment of sadness.
I love social media. I do not see social media as many others might view it as, though. Sure, being a journalism student, Twitter might be as crucial as the air I breathe, but I’ve seen what it can do. It helped hunt down the terrorists in Boston. It has become the number one medium in breaking news across the world.
Unfortunately as all MU students saw Tuesday night, there is a darker side. The threats on Yik Yak, unconfirmed sightings of the KKK in Greek Town, the videos of Speakers Circle. It all spread like a wildfire.
That night, I stayed up and watched it become breaking news on CNN, over the Republican debate recap. I watched and listened to friends pick up other friends from public spaces on campus because it was unsafe to walk home. I watched people leave Columbia in fear of what might happen next.
That night, Columbia was a ghost town, it slept completely silent.
The next morning, the majority of my classes had been cancelled by the professors themselves. All but the journalism class I walk across campus for, ironically enough.
It will go down as the quietest I have ever seen Mizzou. Dead silent, eerie. I counted five other people as I walked by all the historic sites I mentioned above. I found it very symbolic, the past week was nothing but chaos, maybe it was a good thing everyone stepped back for a second and took a deep breath.
My inbox in my school email brought me sadness as well, as my Nutrition professor, Dr. Dale Brigham had resigned over an email he had sent personally to one student the night before.
Though his comments were taken the wrong way, I assure you that this doesn’t represent who he is. The message:
“If you give in to bullies, they win. The only way bullies are defeated is by standing up to them. If we cancel the exam, they win; if we go through with it, they lose.”
I do believe that the reasoning behind this message is the right thing to say. Why give in to those trying to scare us and disrupt us of our way of life? Was the timing of it wrong, most likely.
Regardless, my news feeds on social media have been flooded by stories and nothing but positive comments about this man. He started every one of his classes with “Good morning Tigers!” and as cheesy as it sounds (trust me it is as cheesy as it reads) it puts a smile on your face because he’s the professor where I know outright that he cares about students first and foremost.
His class was a typical 500 person lecture hall and yet the way he taught made you feel like you were his best friend. Something very few professors at any college have.
“It is an honor to have been your professor. Good Luck, and Godspeed, Tigers!”
Good luck to you, Doc. I pray this email doesn’t define how you live for the rest of your life, Mizzou will miss you.
Well, now what?
My walk to class today was per usual. No more tents on Carnahan Quad. Speakers Circle is bumpin’ as usual, and all traces of national press have left.
Where do we go now?
The million-dollar question.
My final thoughts on all of this.
From those onlooking from an outside perspective, those who have not watched this develop from the beginning, please do not think this is who we are.
Does racism live here? Yes, it does. But it also lives on other campuses as well. We saw it live in Ferguson and Baltimore. When people say, “It’s 2015, why is this happening” (as I admit I did above) we should all take a step-back and think for a moment. We say it as if racism left for awhile and then decided to come back.
Folks, it never left.
But as the dust (hopefully) begins to settle and a true conversation about change can begin to happen, don’t let this define Mizzou.
Don’t let racism of a few sick individuals define our student body. As I have met some of the most kind-hearted and incredible souls here.
Don’t let the resignations of uncalled for acts of a few professors define our faculty. As they are some of the brightest, genuine and caring minds I have ever learned from.
Don’t let this define Mizzou.
The city of Columbia has adopted me as their son. They have given me a job, a home, and surrounded me with a group of people for whom I care deeply. I have left to go home very few times over the past year. Partially because I had no choice, and partially because I didn’t want to leave.
I’ve had friends and family come visit me, and all have left with a smile on their face.
I know many high school seniors and their parents are asking “why would I ever go to MU after all this?”
That’s a valid question. But I can tell you, even now, that it’s the best decision I’ve ever made.
We hit a bump in the road. Change is needed.
As one of our own, Mark Twain once said:
“Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.”
There are great people here at Mizzou, I can assure you of that.