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Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Social justice organizations react to Wolfe’s resignation

NAACP, ADL and Forum on Graduate Rights speak out after UM System president resigns.

Several social justice organizations at the national, regional and campus levels have come out in support of Jonathan Butler and the Concerned Student 1950 movement following the resignation of UM System President Tim Wolfe on Monday morning.

NAACP President and CEO Cornell Brooks tweeted “#ConcernedStudent1950 we support you, we commend you. The NAACP stands with you.” The NAACP’s official Twitter account retweeted the statement.

The Anti-Defamation League is working on a formal statement, but they are currently talking with the university about the general response on campus following Wolfe’s resignation. They are also addressing the vandalism in Gateway Hall last month involving a swastika, ADL Regional Director Karen Aroesty said.

She said she is optimistic about MU’s capacity to take initiative on these issues, and that the consistency of messaging from the highest leadership down to staff members and students is important moving forward.

“The work really needs to be intentional, and I hope we can be a resource in that regard,” Aroesty said.

The Forum on Graduate Rights said Wolfe’s resignation “is only the beginning” in a statement released Monday.

“Addressing systemic inequities at our campus, such as racism, homophobia, misogyny, and labor exploitation, will require that graduate students continue to organize for collective action,” the statement read. “We cannot wait for solutions to come from administration; we must mobilize to enact them.”

The co-chairs of campus organization FourFront, Ipsa Chaudhary and Alanna Diggs, also commented in an email.

“Tim Wolfe's resignation satisfied one of many demands put forth by students,” Chaudhary and Diggs said in the email. “We are now focused on the needs of marginalized students on this campus and supporting them in whatever way we can.”

On Nov. 6, Wolfe met with protestors at UM-Kansas City hours after issuing an apology for his reaction in response to Concerned Student 1950’s Homecoming parade demonstration. During his meeting with protesters, he was asked what he thinks systematic oppression is.

Wolfe responded by saying, “Systematic oppression is because you don’t believe that you have the equal opportunity for success.” This response was met with outrage from the protestors.

Aroesty defined systemic oppression as how history, economics and personal customs all collude in some way to keep the disadvantages of society on the African-American community and the advantages of society on white people.

“Systemic racism requires that we look at public policies and laws, institutionalized practices and our own personal bias in order to affect cause and change,” Aroesty said.

One of Concerned Student 1950’s demands to combat systemic oppression was that MU raise the percentage of black faculty and staff campus-wide to 10 percent. Aroesty said that in order to achieve this goal, the search for faculty of color would have to involve intentionally finding people who will bring a different perspective to the MU community.

“It’s too easy for us to revert to going to the same places we’ve always gone to find the people who are qualified,” Aroesty said.

Dr. Berkley Hudson, chairman of the Faculty Council Committee on Race Relations and an associate professor in the School of Journalism, said the central question moving forward after Wolfe’s resignation is to figure out how to effectively talk about race relations.

“Our committee has been meeting regularly since May … (we are) still uncovering how to unlock the doorway of openness and understanding,” Hudson said. “We’re trying to write the script for that. How do we have the uncomfortable conversations we must have? Today’s events are part of that process.”

Hudson also said that he is “hoping we can find ways to devise strategies that have to be implemented throughout the whole university.” The Committee is figuring out how to scale up the small group experiences of the MU community into a process for change.

“(We need to) create a culture of leadership at the level not only at the president and chancellor, but deans and department chairs,” Hudson said.

Incidents of racism have been prevalent throughout MU’s recent history. In 2010, cotton balls were strewn across the lawn of the Gaines/Oldham Black Culture Center. A year later, a racially-charged graffiti message was written outside of Hatch Hall.

“Those are the ones we know about,” Aroesty said. “Imagine what we don’t know.” The Hatch Hall graffiti incident sparked the student-led One Mizzou diversity initiative. This past April, administrators announced that the slogan would be phased out.

Aroesty is in favor of a broad, uniting slogan, but she doesn’t think One Mizzou is that message.

“They have to talk about this stuff directly,” Aroesty said. “While it has value on some level, One Mizzou doesn’t talk about race, it doesn’t talk about differences, it doesn’t talk about acceptance.”

Hudson and Aroesty both said moving forward after Wolfe’s resignation, there needs to be a different dialogue on campus about race.

“We do everything but talk about race; we don’t actually talk about race,” Aroesty said. “We do everything but make ourselves vulnerable to this conversation.”

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