Best student achievement: Ousting the presidents

Former MSA presidential candidate Syed Ejaz: “Our student body cares about a lot of things, but oftentimes just doesn’t do much. (In) those moments when push comes to shove, I think that in general, a lot of people will come together.”
Former UM System President Tim Wolfe immediately after resigning Nov. 9 at the Old Alumni Center in Columbia, Mo.

Students at MU managed to get rid of not one but two presidents — a testament to what can happen when students unite for a cause.

Before former UM System President Tim Wolfe’s resignation in November and former Missouri Students Association president-elect Haden Gomez’s in January, it was evident that many students did not want them in office. Wolfe had not openly addressed institutional racism, and Gomez broke campaign rules, which some say helped him get elected.

To remove Wolfe, Concerned Student 1950 protested several times before graduate student Jonathan Butler went on a hunger strike, the activist group started camping out on Carnahan Quad, and the football team boycotted.

Former MSA presidential candidate Syed Ejaz, who participated in the open Senate forum that led Gomez to resign, said it wasn’t easy to go against Gomez after his dishonesty came to light.

“I think no matter how difficult it is, though, you should do the right thing,” he said. “If the rules that govern us fail to uphold the values that we have, at least in the case of MSA, it should certainly be OK to go outside of them.”

Former MSA Senate Speaker Kevin Carr said Gomez’s removal set an example for the student body, but it probably will not last.

“With students being here for three, four or five years, that sort of issue remains in a collective memory, an oral history if you will, only for so long,” Carr said.

To fix this problem, Carr created the position of MSA Historian during his speakership. This position keeps written records of MSA issues and proceedings for future students to learn from.

Ejaz agreed with Carr that the ejection of Gomez was an example of student power.

“For the most part, our student body cares about a lot of things, but oftentimes just doesn’t do much,” he said. “(In) those moments when push comes to shove, I think that in general, a lot of people will come together.”

Ejaz said that while the ousting of Gomez was one example of students rallying around a salient campus issue, a better example was Wolfe’s removal.

The MSA fiasco pertained only to MU, but Concerned Student 1950 highlighted institutional racism, an issue that resonated internationally. Schools across the world stood in solidarity with MU in the days following Wolfe’s resignation.

Graduate student Maxwell Little, a founding member of Concerned Student 1950, said it was not new or surprising information that a united group of students could have such power. Concerned Student 1950 followed in the footsteps of other student movements against racism, such as #TheIrateEight at the University of Cincinnati in Ohio and #RhodesMustFall at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, both of which happened in 2015.

Both resignations led to several interim leaders running the university and MSA.

In March, students elected new MSA leadership focused on reforming the broken system. MU’s permanent leadership is still to be determined, but Little said interim administration has become more attentive to race relations. Students are involved in the selection process for Wolfe’s permanent successor, and interim Vice Chancellor Chuck Henson’s Working Group was more productive since Concerned Student 1950’s protest in March, Little said.

“Students (are) having their voices heard that historically have been marginalized and silenced,” Little said.

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