Students implore administration be proactive, not reactive

The “Ferguson Listening Session” on Monday highlighted an urgency to discuss solutions to racial issues on campus.

People hesitated to speak even after associate professor and event moderator Earnest Perry left the microphone open during a “Ferguson Listening Session” on Monday evening in Jesse Wrench Auditorium.

The room was filled with students, administrators and faculty responding to an email that Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin sent out expressing “support for all members of our community who may be directly or indirectly affected by the ongoing events in Ferguson.”

Both before and after the grand jury’s Nov. 24 decision to not indict officer Darren Wilson for the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, students had held vigils and marches that the administration had not directly addressed.

Now, they were listening. Media had been asked to not record or photograph the event so people could speak freely and openly, but people still hesitated before speaking.

“We may not have many answers today,” Perry said. “We may not have any answers today. But this conversation is not the end. It is a beginning of a series of conversations.”

He decided to pose two leading questions.

“Where do we go from here?” he asked the crowd. “How do we begin to have a meaningful conversation, not just a polarized back and forth?”

His second question pertained to observations from social media.

“Are you all still angry?” he asked.

Voicing weariness

The students who responded during the discussion said they weren’t just angry. Many, who asked that their names be withheld, said they were tired.

Curtis Taylor Jr., president of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, said much of MU hadn’t come out to listen to them.

“We can barely fit a group of 100 (in this room) on a campus of 35,000,” he said.

Senior Naomi Daugherty, an organizer of MU4MikeBrown, said progressive solutions needed to come now, when administrative concern should have come sooner.

Daugherty implored allies to educate themselves, "instead of asking marginalized groups to continuously tell (them) about the uncomfortable oppression they live every day."

But the administration also needed to step up and pay more attention, she said, addressing Loftin.

“We’ve been tweeting at you about this since August,” she said. “Why is this discussion happening only now?”

Taylor had a similar point.

“I’m going to ask the administration: are you angry?” he said.

Vice Provost for Undergraduate Studies Jim Spain was the only administrator who directly responded.

Spain said he had met with the Four Front Minority Student Leaders Council, who implored him to create a required “diversity education” course at the university.

The proposal had gone to Faculty Council, who reviewed the idea of having a diversity requirement but wanted to make it more complex, thereby not formally passing it at this time.

However, Spain said, the possibility of a mandatory course will continue to be discussed.

“We don’t get it right every day here,” he said. “I know that. But we’re trying to make efforts here.”

Spain also pointed to the university’s current optional Multicultural Certificate, which 800 students are voluntarily completing.

But students like senior Ashley Bland said these efforts were not large enough.

“We’re not necessarily trying to change policy,” she said. “We’re trying to change thought. We need to acknowledge the divide.”

Speaking directly to the administration, Bland asked that faculty acknowledge these issues before they happened, that they “stop being reactive and start being proactive.”

“You need to be there for your students, not just in the classroom,” she said.

Discussing solutions

Bland urged the administration to give more attention to important resources for black students.

She suggested giving the National Pan-Hellenic Council equal attention, equal funding for the Legion of Black Collegians and pushing for more culturally relevant courses as general education requirements.

Daugherty provided solutions in a similar vein. She said while also being more committed to disciplinary action in response to bias reports, the administration should also mandate that all instructors go through an inner group dialogue training course.

This sensitivity training, Daugherty said, was something that all faculty should do to actively prevent any racial disregard in the classroom.

Taylor also emphasized the importance of making sure the journalism school was teaching its students to tell stories the right way, and not sensationalizing aspects of Ferguson like he said the current media was doing.

“There was more peaceful stuff going on (in Ferguson) than violence,” he said.

Sean McLafferty, a spring 2014 MU graduate and Ferguson resident, asked the audience to make change that was tangible off campus as well.

“The city of Ferguson is offering a scholarship to hire more black officers in the police department,” he said. “We need to have more critical discussion, and try to bridge the divide in our communities.”

Post-doctoral fellow Kristopher Ebarb said that a common misconception that the majority held about minorities was that racism is hate.

“But the kind of racism that brought down Mike Brown and so many others was fear,” he said. “It’s a baseless fear that we need to deny and reject. But racism is about seemingly innocuous biases. Whites become defensive because it feels like they’re being accused of hate that they don’t recognize in themselves. We need to make a distinction.”

Freshmen Kaylah Stewart and Kristen Harris, who are from Ferguson, said the discussion was a start, but still not enough.

“Considering half of the room was faculty, we definitely needed more people,” Harris said after the event.

Stewart said she believed the talk had opened a few eyes, but the indifferent majority had not cared to share their voices.

“It’s an issue of knowledgeable versus unknowledgeable,” Stewart said. “We’re a minority (in race), but we’re still not a minority (in number). There’s enough of us for you to know, for you to know our culture. It’s not like we’re one in a million. You see us around.”

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