The Maneater’s website played host to a heated discussion this past week, after we published a letter to the editor written by two students who argued that the existence of “two Homecomings” perpetuated racism on campus and is a step backward for inclusion and equality at MU. The letter sparked plenty of responses, some in agreement and many in opposition, defending the need and purpose of the Legion of Black Collegians’ Homecoming events as separate from those hosted by the Mizzou Alumni Association.
We acknowledge that it may be easy to see the separate events as segregation, as an unnecessary and detrimental division of the MU community along racial lines. LBC’s Homecoming, however, is not an act of segregation. To the contrary, it is an act of inclusion, and it is an act of remembrance.
Homecoming is about tradition, yes, but traditions are not always positive, and there are more sides to the Mizzou story than those taught at Summer Welcome. This university has been imperfect: It has treated groups of people as lesser, and it has excluded potential students from becoming Tigers based on their gender or their skin color. This part of MU’s history cannot be relegated to the corners. It cannot be washed over for the sake of conformity. It must be remembered, and the progress that has been made to establish a more inclusive and welcoming university must be celebrated.
This is perhaps the primary purpose of the LBC’s Homecoming events. In addition to celebrating the LBC itself and honoring those students who make a difference in various LBC organizations and at MU, it serves as a reminder of the more shameful parts of MU’s past.
The first LBC Homecoming was in 1988, after the Steering Committee chose “Show Me Ol’ Mizzou” as that year’s Homecoming theme — a theme that conjured up the dark side of “Ol’ Mizzou” that did not allow black students until 1950 — or, even further back, an “Ol’ Columbia” that housed slaves not too far from this storied campus. The tradition of LBC Homecoming continued until 1995, when it was put on hiatus until its revival in 2008.
During their years in college, many of the MU alumni who may return for Homecoming did not experience the kind of inclusive and fair campus environment that we like to think MU students experience today. For them, a black student on the Alumni Association’s Homecoming royalty may have seemed an impossible dream. The memory of their MU experiences, as well as those who were unable to even have an “MU experience” at all, must be preserved and kept to light — it’s an essential piece of the Mizzou story. That’s what LBC Homecoming helps to accomplish.
The term “racism” was used in last week’s discussion by those who oppose the Alumni Association and the LBC for having separate Homecoming celebrations. We feel this is an unfortunate and miseducated use of the word. Racism, at its simplest, is the belief that humans of a particular racial or ethnic group are either superior or inferior to those of another group, and include any actions arising from such beliefs. While LBC’s Homecoming celebrations remember a time in which racism ruled this university and honor those who suffered and who bravely fought against it, they do not celebrate or espouse racism in any way.
It's crucial to remember that organizations under the LBC umbrella are not exclusive to those who identify as black. Neither are the actual events of LBC Homecoming. Unlike many organizations in the university's past — including the university itself — they do not prohibit students of any particular race from involvement; to the contrary, they welcome Tigers of all colors and identities to come, join, learn and celebrate. Consequentially, to accuse the LBC or any events it puts on of being racist or perpetuating racism is both injurious and fundamentally wrong.
What can be learned from the discussions regarding LBC Homecoming that seem to arise nearly every year? Beyond the apparent truth that many MU students misunderstand what racism is and is not, they demonstrate the need for greater involvement and exploration between different communities on the MU campus.
For all the talk of “One Mizzou,” the truth is that our school is very far from being homogeneous; there is an incredible amount to be learned from simply using the resources offered by various MU organizations. If you don't identify as black, attending an LBC or other cultural event may feel uncomfortable. But that's the entire point of attending multicultural events — you'll experience something you wouldn't otherwise, learn from a different perspective, immerse yourself in traditions you aren't used to and hopefully expand your horizons. One Mizzou isn’t about pretending our differences don’t exist; it’s about celebrating those differences and discovering how we all can benefit by sharing our divergent experiences with each other.
This is not to say that the Mizzou Alumni Association should not strive to have a more diverse Homecoming. Todd McCubbin, executive director of the Alumni Association, commented on the letter we published, acknowledging that his organization can and should still improve on its inclusion of all MU students in its Homecoming events and asking readers to help him do so. That’s an admirable action. To start, we’d suggest a unified and easily accessible calendar listing all the events put on both by the MAA and by the LBC; this would inform more Tigers about all the opportunities they have to celebrate Homecoming and all that it means. In addition, perhaps the MAA could reach out to the historically black fraternities and sororities of the National Pan-Hellenic Council, which we feel are often pushed to the side at MU. It doesn’t stop with black student organizations — why not seek to make other multicultural and minority (beyond race and ethnicity) organizations more prominent in Homecoming events?
As we congratulate both the Alumni Association and LBC on their successful Homecoming 2013 events, we urge the Alumni Association to seek out ways to include students of all traditions in their 2014 celebration, and to provide all Tigers the opportunity to learn, share and grow in the spirit of brotherhood and respect. We also urge you, the reader, to leave your comfort zone and try to become more educated on the experiences of your fellow students and the history of our own campus.
After all, what is this university but a place to discover?
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