“Study hall” demonstration calls for more administrative action against racism

“Administrators need to not only listen but also take action,” MSA President Payton Head said.

At various times during the “study hall” protest at Jesse Hall, one of the leaders of the protest would yell out “ashay,” a word commonly said during Kwanzaa, to which the assembled would reply “power.” Graduate student Jonathan Butler, who led several of these chants, said that “ashay” meant “it’s so.”

“So when you guys say ‘power,’ we’re saying ‘it’s so,’” Butler said. “We’re affirmative. We’re saying each of us in this room has a voice that can change our campus. Each of us has power.”

Students and professors gathered in Jesse Hall on Oct. 6 to protest racism and administrative inaction in a sit-down study hall demonstration. Participants sat on the floor of Jesse Hall from 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., with intermittent breaks where they stood up and chanted for equality.

“Honestly I would say (we expect) about 50 people at one time,” senior Ayanna Poole said. “We realize people have class, so people can come and go as they please.”

One participant, senior Missouri Students Association Senator Delan Ellington, said the protest was organized by “a collective of students who want to make an impact.”

“We are in the capital of Mizzou, and by being in here, we are forcing administration to look at our face,” Poole said. “We are forcing them to see our unity.”

Protesters held that university administrators are not doing enough to respond to racist incidents on campus, including verbal assaults on the MSA President Payton Head and, more recently, the Legion of Black Collegiates Homecoming Court.

“Administrators need to not only listen, but also take action,” Head said in an interview at the event. “Listening is one thing, but students have been talking for so long. We’re finished talking.”

Head said that actions administrators need to take include implementing a policy on hate crimes and adding a diversity course requirement. He especially emphasized the need for students of marginalized groups to have access to mental health care, citing the long wait list for counseling services as one of the barriers to students getting help.

“Some students are emotionally distraught right now, and they don’t have resources available to them,” he said.

University officials have made a few statements, including a mass email and video message from Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin stating that “what (MU has) been doing on campus to address racism has not been enough.”

Protesters erupted into cheers after receiving another email sent by the Provost’s Office announcing that the individual who interrupted the LBC Homecoming Court had been identified and “moved from campus” pending the outcome of the conduct process.

“It’s good-ish that this incident has been somewhat addressed and that this person will be held accountable,” Ellington said. “Hopefully, he’ll be expelled.”

Ellington said he was “interested” to see how the offender would be punished, as the university’s Standard of Conduct does not specifically mention race-based harassment. He said that this left marginalized students vulnerable to verbal assaults, and that slurs were often used in conjecture with violent acts.

Loftin’s earlier email said that in the past, students had “been suspended and expelled for engaging in race discrimination.”

Protesters said the event “would not be the last.”

“We are gonna fight back until change happens,” Poole said.

Neeti Butala contributed to this report.

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