Student leaders respond to Butler's hunger strike

After Jonathan Butler announced he will not eat until Tim Wolfe leaves office, students expressed concern for his health and for administration.

Multiple student leaders have expressed their support for graduate student Jonathan Butler’s hunger strike via social media, such as Residence Halls Association President Billy Donley, who tweeted about the protest Nov. 3.

Butler began a hunger strike Nov. 2 to protest UM System President Tim Wolfe’s position in office. Butler said he will not eat until Wolfe is removed from his position. Members of Concerned Student 1950 are also protesting alongside Butler.

Donley said that while he can use his platform as RHA president to spread the word about issues on campus, students have to become a more active part of any potential change.

“I made a statement because I’m a student who’s really concerned about the way other students are not supporting the people on campus,” Donley said. “I use my presidential Twitter as an outlet to get what I think out. You don’t have to be a student leader on this campus to make a stand on something, but it’s a shame that when you do make a stand on something it seems that people only listen to the student leaders.”

Donley said he will approach the situation as a student who has something to learn, rather than as a student leader.

“I’m out there on Carnahan Quad and I’m having these discussions and I’m also learning, because I don’t fully understand everything that’s going on and I can’t say that I do,” Donley said. “That’s why I’m out there learning, because that’s what I can give to this situation.”

All three Missouri Students Association presidential slates expressed support for Butler’s strike.

“We are extremely saddened that it would ever come to the point of someone feeling the need to put their life on the line for the issues that are occurring here in campus,” presidential candidate Haden Gomez said. “With that being said, we 100 percent support what Jonathan Butler is standing for.”

Gomez’s running mate Chris Hanner called the issue “complicated” and “complex,” and echoed his statement of support. Gomez and Hanner said they agreed Wolfe should resign.

Presidential candidate Jordan McFarland also said he supported Butler’s strike, and said he would participate if he didn’t have medical conditions that prevented him from it.

“I'm fed up with the politics thrown at race relations and student demonstrations,” McFarland said. “It's time to empower all students to use their voice, knowing what students like Jonathan continue to sacrifice, so that we might mend the institutional divides that have grown since the conception of this university.”

Vice presidential candidate Heather Parrie said she and presidential candidate Syed Ejaz would camp with protesters in solidarity.

“We believe the voice of underrepresented students on this campus deserves to be heard, and though it never should have taken a hunger strike to further campus awareness of the constant oppression minority students face on this campus, we believe every person has the agency to act in the way they see fit in order to make societal change,” she said.

However, not all student leaders supported Butler’s choice of a strike to advocate for change.

MSA Senate Speaker Kevin Carr said he supported the cause Butler was advocating for but said the strike endangered students.

“Jonathan Butler’s expression, and his way of going about it, is putting himself in danger, and it’s even encouraging other students to put themselves in danger, too,” Carr said. “I think it’s irresponsible of student leaders to endorse that sort of behavior.”

He emphasized that he was not speaking for MSA, but as a student at the university. MSA President Payton Head and Director of Communications David Wallace did not respond to requests for comment.

Carr said students should take other actions, such as attending Board of Curators meetings, instead of demanding that Wolfe resign. He said he thought students would actually accomplish less if Wolfe resigned due to the lack of leadership that would result.

“Unfortunately, it depends on how dedicated Jonathan Butler is to his stance,” he said. “I can’t fathom what’s going to happen.”

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