Race relations committee preps for fall semester

The committee was conceived in January in response to student leaders’ Call for Action regarding campus climate and race relations.

Deputy Chancellor and Professor at the MU School of Law Michael Middleton, who was an MU student in the ’60s, was one of the first black students to attend the MU School of Law. As a student, he helped establish the Legion of Black Collegians.

When he returned to MU in 1985, he said he noted a larger population of students of color and more support provided by student groups. Aside from that, he said the campus climate is “exactly the same.” He also said he was surprised to see LBC still intact.

Middleton is one of 12 people who sit on the Faculty Council’s committee on race relations, a group established to identify the nature of the problems related to race and ethnicity on campus. With just over a month before the fall semester, the committee has dedicated their summer to understanding each other’s experiences. Once that is completed, the six-month-old committee has an even bigger task: to introduce solutions for the campus climate in the fall.

“We need to discover about one another: how (we have things in) common, and what we have that’s dissimilar,” said Berkley Hudson, the chairman of the committee. “We need to learn how to be excellent in that discovery, we need to learn how to be respectful of one another. We need to be responsible.”

The committee was created in response to a Call for Action drafted by a coalition of student leaders in December 2014 who were concerned with race relations and the experience had by students of color on campus.

The events in Ferguson, Missouri, prompted a series of dialogues throughout the 2014-15 year. Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin hosted two listening sessions where students were allowed to voice concerns in front of faculty and administration. The third forum was a presentation from administrators on how the administration handled students’ requests.

“There’s still this skepticism on the part of the majority, whether there really is a problem,” Middleton said. “Whether ‘those African-American kids are overstating the problem, imagining racism or being too sensitive.’ And there’s still the sentiment that we should just ‘get over it, that we should forget the past.’”

He said those attitudes existed at MU when he was a student, and they still exist now.

“It’s a giant assumption that this committee can come up with something that will make progress, and even with that assumption, it’s very difficult to imagine how long it will take to make that progress, but we have to try,” he said.

Nine faculty members, one staff representative and two students — one a graduate student, the other an undergraduate — make up the committee on race relations.

Right now, they are “engaged in talk,” Hudson said. As for the demographics of the group, Faculty Council chairman Craig Roberts purposely made the committee predominantly white, and Roberts was unavailable for comment.

“There’s 2,000-plus faculty members and 1,500 of them would identify as white,” Hudson said. “And in some ways, that’s who we’re trying to pay attention to: What is their belief system? What are their attitudes? What are their actions? And how do they connect with helping race relations? There’s the complicated issue that race is a social construction.”

To Hudson’s knowledge, no other Faculty Council committee has appointed students before. He said the student perspective was important.

Middleton said he appreciates the fact that students are on the committee.

“This committee was formed largely as a result of the first listening session the Chancellor had back in December, when students expressed their views and talked about their experiences,” he said. “It seems to me that this committee certainly needs to hear that student perspective.”

Both students on the committee were unavailable for comment.

The committee members who remained in Columbia for the summer have already met several times during the summer. Hudson said he has been contacted several times by students who have had problems they feel are not being addressed by the university.

“I say, the provocative question is, if you want to be a leader in the SEC on the football field, on softball field, I would also say, why couldn’t you not be a leader in terms of teaching, service, research and economic development when it relates to race relations?” he said. “So let’s set an example.”

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