Biggest Disappointment: Administration’s handling of race relations

Administrative approach to campus climate and race relations has lacked decisive leadership and long-term direction.

Take a walk through the heart of the Francis Quadrangle and you’ll notice there’s a lot of repairs taking place on Red Campus. Lafferre Hall is finally undergoing renovations after years of soaking up water leaks with buckets and Tupperware. Jesse Hall, once overflowing with visitors and special events, has been hollowed out for a facelift. Swallow Hall has been disemboweled completely, and officials estimate that work will continue into early 2016.

Right across the chancellor’s own front yard is Pickard Hall, which was vacated last year after the Nuclear Regulatory Commission found low levels of radiation leftover from when chemical experiments took place there in the early 20th Century. These structural problems are some of the most visible on campus, but they are hardly the biggest issues plaguing MU today.

For too long, many top MU administrators have taken the passenger seat in driving conversations to address campus climate and race relations instead of leading them.

We’ve seen some progress in the past few years, like the creation of One Mizzou under then-Chancellor Brady Deaton and the open forums hosted by Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin. But administrators only gave these issues their full attention after acts of hatred and discrimination prompted dozens of student protests.

After taking heat from frustrated students in December, Loftin vowed to listen more closely and “create action plans” to address the campus climate.

Five months after the first forum, Loftin has continued to listen, but we’ve hardly heard him speak or take action to cool off tensions that have only built up since the events in Ferguson highlighted systemic racial divide both here and elsewhere. In fact, we’ve only seen more hatred toward marginalized groups emerge from the discussion around the “American Sniper” screening and incidents of anti-Semitism.

Many of Loftin’s biggest critics accused him of being too “reactive” and urged a more proactive approach to tackling these problems. I am not by any means implying the chancellor does not care enough to address this issue, but I agree; the administration’s way of addressing campus climate has lacked assertive and decisive leadership.

Students should not have to protest at the chancellor’s doorstep in the rain to see reform start to take place. Change should not always have to follow a traumatic event like cotton balls strewn outside the Gaines/Oldham Black Culture Center.

And when students talk about senseless bigotry on campus, we don’t want to see our chancellor throw his arms up in the air and proclaim, “I don’t have the power.”. But the chancellor does have the power. He can introduce new programs and policies, and help create a safe campus environment for constructive dialogue.

What’s more disappointing is that the ‘Bowtieger’ also has the power to influence over 22,000 people on Twitter with a few clicks on his phone. I wrote in last year’s Mizzou in Review that Loftin’s social media following is one of his greatest assets as a leader because it gives him the power to influence. But he has so far neglected to use this influence to rally students for positive change.

That’s not to say Loftin completely ignores students on Twitter; he frequently retweets messages from campus organizations and marginalized groups, and replies to student feedback. But I’d like to challenge the chancellor to do more with this incredible power he has. I want to see Loftin ask students what they would like to see on campus and raise awareness about serious concerns on campus as much as he tweets about Mizzou Athletics.

Additionally, any reform that does come out of the forums and students’ Call to Action will require long-term direction as discussed during the April 29 forum, which was lacking in past administrative actions. Even One Mizzou lost momentum after its honeymoon phase, which prompted the Missouri Students Association to pull its funding for the initiative because of its “lack of vision.”

Implementing meaningful reform is a marathon, and administrators should take care to ensure today’s efforts do not burn out tomorrow.

Students are sick of the game of whack-a-mole in which administrators only act in response to peripheral problems. Loftin said in a press conference that some responsive action is necessary. I agree with the chancellor, but that should not be the only way to heal what he called “a great deal of hurt” on campus. If we are not reaching the root of the these problems, we will never see the end of hate speech and discrimination on campus.

Administrators must listen to students. They should shift the way they think and operate so they can begin to develop policies that enhance the cultural competency of our students and proactively make campus a more inclusive environment for all students.

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