Students discuss their experiences with racism at session with Griffiths Leadership Society
They explained encounters with racism at MU, the origins of the Concerned Student 1950 movement, and problematic behavior on campus.
Nov. 16, 2015
Racism is all too real for some black students on campus, a panel told the Griffiths Leadership Society for Women on Nov. 7.
Students shared stories of acts of racism that had occurred to them on campus and discussed possible ways women leaders can combat the problem. UM System President Tim Wolfe and [Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin] (http://www.themaneater.com/stories/2015/11/9/loftin-announces-resignation-effective-jan-1/) both resigned two days later.
A freshman first recounted her experiences with racism since arriving on campus. The Maneater has chosen to keep these students anonymous per their request and for their safety.
She explained that she had never really experienced that kind of treatment before.
“As a freshman, I can’t believe it,” the student told the group. “It deeply pains me that I found out about it this way.”
She said she felt uncomfortable at MU.
“I didn’t feel welcome; I felt less,” she said. “They were forcing me to feel a certain way.”
Another student shared a story about an interaction she had with a white man in front of Roxy’s. She said she was with a group of protesters when he came up to her, said, ‘You are a joke,’ then lunged his head backward and spat in her face.
She said it is frustrating for the students demonstrating to resist reacting to such incidents.
“If anything happens, it’s us going to jail, not them,” she said.
The student explained that as demonstrators, they never want to negatively interact with bystanders.
“We are never violent and we never come looking to hurt or antagonize anyone,” she said.
Earlier that day, students also held a demonstration at The MARK on 5th Street to raise awareness about race relations at MU.
During the demonstration, a resident from Todd Apartments yelled at the demonstrators, saying, “You niggers just need to go home,” the panelist said.
Another freshman talked about the jolt she experienced when she came to MU.
“My first year here was a shock,” she said.
She explained that her friends and family have been very concerned about the way she has been treated on campus.
“It’s sad they have to worry about my safety here, and they’re paying so much money for me to go here,” she said.
Another student said the administration’s responses to the incidents on campus have been the bigger problem.
“It’s just a level of disrespect that’s tolerated; that’s what we’re upset with, the fact that it’s actually tolerated,” she said.
The students explained that the Concerned Student 1950 movement had grown out of MU4MikeBrown and the inaction of administration on issues they had presented to them at race relations forums held throughout the last year.
“Obviously, those were ignored for a long time,” a student said.
The students said the administration has been too slow to respond and often has done nothing at all concerning these issues. They said they had been ignored by Wolfe.
“Obviously, the institution doesn’t want to create any policy, any deterrent for these instances to stop happening,” he said. “So, we took it upon ourselves to do some action.”
In light of Wolfe’s reaction to Concerned Student 1950’s demonstration at the Homecoming parade, students said they felt he didn’t show any responsibility for his actions and that he could have done something symbolically.
For one sophomore, the tolerance of such treatment at MU has been a great disappointment.
“My freshman year, coming here was a dream,” she said. “Everything is here for you. But then, I find out, it’s not for me.”
She said many of the services and events such as Homecoming, which had been touted by admissions staff, no longer seem like an ideal.
“And to have your heart broken by something that was a dream is indescribable,” she said.
She described how she grew up in a predominantly white community, but that she wasn’t treated any differently because everyone knew who she was.
“They don’t see color, they see you,” she said. “But then I got to the University of Missouri, and I was just a black girl.”
The student then described her experience from the day’s demonstrations while on the sidewalk in front of Conservation Hall. She explained that a white couple was approaching the demonstrators head-on, and she refused to move, challenging the couple’s expectations. The couple continued walking anyway, and the woman of the duo proceeded to run into the student.
“I felt extremely small,” the student said. “She rammed into me.”
The student explained that she would not engage with them.
“I’m not going to be what you expect me to be,” she said to the audience on her decision not to react.
However, the discussion was not all negative. A different student then encouraged the audience to provide positivity.
“We must love and support each other,” she said.
Another first-year student said he slightly regretted his decision to come to MU.
“The first time I experienced racism was at Mizzou,” he said.
Another student shared how his mother had tried very strongly to sway him from choosing MU, even on the car ride before dropping him off his first day. She kept telling him, "This institution is not for you. This institution is not for you. They are not going to protect you." He didn’t believe her, he said.
Then he got to MU.
Three weeks into school, he was walking through Greektown to Taco Bell with several white friends when a man yelled at them, “Oh look, there goes a nigger.” He had to tell his friends to keep moving, he said.
“White people think they can do anything to us, and it’s just a joke,” he said. “Wolfe went 16 days without acknowledging (the Homecoming Parade Demonstration).”
He also discussed his experience during the die-in demonstration for MU4MikeBrown in the Student Center last year.
“Having people just walk over you, like you really are dead, and they’re just not caring, that messes you up,” he said.
Another student followed that by explaining his experience as a black man.
Everything is overshadowed by his skin color, he said. His personality and his actions come second or third.
“I think it’s important to recognize the different privileges we have,” he said. “Not doing anything is part of the problem.”
He told the group of women that they had to act when they saw instances of problematic behavior.
“You can’t let those moments pass you, because that is a start, so utilize the privileges that you have,” he said.
Facilitators then asked the group of women to discuss their reactions to these experiences. Members of the group said they felt ashamed, embarrassed and saddened by this culture.
The panelists urged them to educate themselves about it.
“Embrace that shame, embrace that guilt, and learn from it,” a member of the audience said.
The panel then ended, and the panelists advised anyone who still had questions to follow them over to the campsite. They left the room, chanting “Ashé. Power. Ashé. Power.”