Graduate student Danielle Walker prefaced her speech by warning those assembled that she was going to use profanity and racial slurs.
“The University of Missouri does not care about its black students,” Walker said.
More than 100 students gathered at Speakers Circle on Sept. 24 to speak out against racism on MU’s campus, an event organizers called “Racism Lives Here.” The protest began at 1 p.m. with Walker shouting the group’s concerns into a megaphone while participants arranged themselves on the steps.
Many of them held signs with slogans such as “#LoftinCantExplain,” “#ColorBlind” and “Racism Lives Here.” The event concluded with the participants marching to Jesse Hall.
Protesters focused largely on the Missouri Students Association President Payton Head’s experience with racism, in which several white students yelled racial slurs at him from the back of a pickup truck, and Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin’s response.
Head attended the first part of the protest, but did not march to Jesse Hall with the rest of the group. MSA Co-Director of Communications David Wallace and Chief of Staff Kelcea Barnes were also present.
Participating students were primarily black, but there were students of other races in the crowd. One white man held a sign that read, “I recognize + acknowledge my white privilege.”
Graduate student Reuben Faloughi, an active participant for the duration of the event, said he was disappointed with the number of white participants.
“White silence is consent for racism, sexism and every other ‘ism’ to continue on this campus,” Faloughi said. “It’s going to take a lot more white people than the ones who were there to effect change.”
When addressing the assembled crowd, Walker also expressed dissatisfaction with the low turnout of white activists.
“Even though you all may never utter a racial slur, you are just as guilty, because you are not speaking up,” Walker said. “You are not coming to terms with your friends, or your associates, or your family members, who may have a problem with ‘colored folk.’”
Much of the protestors’ discussion targeted MU administration for the way they addressed the incident. Walker compared it to the University of Oklahoma’s response when confronted with racism on their campus, which was markedly different than MU’s.
Last March, members of the OU chapter of the fraternity Sigma Alpha Epsilon were recorded singing racist songs on a bus ride to a party celebrating the fraternity’s 159th year of existence.
OU President David Boren kicked the fraternity’s members off campus and shut down the chapter, according to the Oklahoman.
“Real Sooners are not bigots,” Boren said. “Real Sooners are not racists. Real Sooners believe in equal opportunity. Real Sooners treat each other with respect. Real Sooners love each other and care for each other like members of a common family.”
Walker criticized Loftin for the six-day delay in responding to Head’s incident. He said he was upset that Loftin did not use the word “racism” in his statement. He instead opted to use the terms “bias and discrimination.”
“I have heard from far too many of you who have experienced incidents of bias and discrimination on and off campus,” Loftin said in the statement. “This is particularly hurtful when our students are the target.”
Walker did not believe the Chancellor’s response in the letter adequately addressed the situation.
“Let me be clear about what I think of this letter: Fuck this letter,” Walker said. “Fuck this letter, because it continues to perpetuate the fact that that Mizzou doesn’t give a damn about its black students.”
Immediately after the gathering at Speakers Circle, Walker handed off the crowd of roughly 150 people to graduate student Jonathan Butler, who led the group to Jesse Hall, chanting, “If we don’t get it, shut it down!”
Upon their arrival at Jesse Hall, the group assembled on the steps, chanting, “Racism lives here!” Then, a crowd of about 50 people made their way into Jesse Hall and Butler led the group in a series of more chants, which they repeated several times:
“It is our duty to fight for our freedom!”
“It is our duty to win!”
“We must love and support each other!”
“We have nothing to lose but our chains!”
As the group filed out of Jesse Hall, they stopped to tape their posters to the glass panels on the sides of the south entrance. One posted a sign that read, “Mizzou is Racist” over a picture of Jesse Hall with the “One Mizzou” slogan underneath.
Barnes posted a sign that read, “I am fed the fuck up! Signed, an angry black student” underneath the picture of Loftin.
“Feel free to leave,” Barnes had said at Speakers Circle earlier in the protest. “Take your bowtie with you.”
Before the protesters disbanded, Butler called the protesters in for a group hug and assured them that the Racism Lives Here event was only the beginning of the movement to improve race relations on campus.
Butler has Faloughi’s support, as Faloughi echoed Butler’s sentiments.
“This issue isn’t new,” Faloughi said after the rally was over. “It hasn’t ended and it might never end on this campus. But what (the event) is speaking to is the struggle that is never ending. There’s a lot of people who are comfortable on this campus and we’re going to have to get them uncomfortable to get things to change.”