Administration criticized for lack of action in race relations forum
“How am I supposed to see myself at this university for the next three years when I don’t feel safe being myself?” one student asked.
Mar. 18, 2015
Students called out administrators for not taking concrete action to address race relations problems on campus in an open forum Tuesday night.
“Everything you’re talking about is reactive,” one student told administrators. “There’s very little that’s actually being done.”
They brought up the controversial upcoming showing of “American Sniper” on campus, lack of a diversity course requirement on campus, and the MU4MikeBrown march through Greektown. Media were asked not to record the event and speakers were not required to give their names.
Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin opened the forum before a full audience of students and faculty in Keller Auditorium and said the dialogue began last year after the grand jury decision to not indict police officer Darren Wilson for the shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown.
“No change of this nature is going to be quick,” he said. “I can’t change the human heart. If we can make systematic and permanent changes, it’s worth the wait.”
A controversial film
Several Muslim students in attendance said they do not feel safe walking through campus wearing hijab and asked why the Missouri Students Association is still sponsoring the upcoming screening of “American Sniper.”
One female student said the administration has not been proactive in addressing student safety and mental health.
“I do not feel that the administration is there for me or cares about my safety,” she said.
Another student said she is ashamed to call herself a Tiger because of the race issues on campus.
“How am I supposed to see myself at this university for the next three years when I don’t feel safe being myself?” she asked.
Loftin said he cared about students individually and didn’t make the decision to screen the film. When he asked the audience if they wanted him to ignore student leadership, people responded with a resounding “yes.”
“I don’t have the power,” Loftin said. “There are limits to things I can and cannot do.”
MSA President Payton Head said the decision to continue the film screening wasn’t an easy one, and that he wanted to consider the overall safety of students.
“We take full accountability for it,” he said. “The last thing I want is for any student to feel unsafe on this campus, because I know what it feels like to be unsafe on this campus.”
MSA Vice President Brenda Smith-Lezama said the film provides an opportunity to get students to give more attention to such a sensitive topic. Head also said MSA plans to provide a forum alongside the film screening to discuss its message, which many critics said contains overt Islamophobia.
Calling for change
One student said swift change was possible at universities, and pointed to the University of Oklahoma’s response to a recent racist incident involving OU’s chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity. She said she would like forums to extend to a larger scale, specifically to Greektown.
“Things can happen and they can happen overnight when we have an administration that’s not afraid to offend white donors,” she said.
Another student criticized Loftin for joking earlier in the forum that “something good came out of racism” after a student said that his grandmother moved from St. Louis to California because of segregation.
“This is a race forum and that’s what you’re going to say to me?” the male student asked. “This is my life. It’s not a joke.”
Others pointed out that every administrator Loftin introduced at the start of the forum was white, and that the significant administrators he has hired in his year here, including Provost Garnett Stokes, have all been white. Loftin defended his choices by citing their gender.
An unsafe environment
One student recalled the time he found a racial slur spray-painted on his dorm room door in 2009, after which he asked for administrative actions on race relations to take the forefront of administrative publications such as MU Info.
“I’m sick and tired of having these anonymous threats for my life and for my friends and loved ones,” he said. “I’m sick and tired of this happening on campus. I’m very frustrated because there’s been no transparency and no accountability in this process.”
A sorority member said she was told not to go outside or comment during the MU4MikeBrown protest that walked through Greektown on March 12. She suggested making Greek organizations more culturally aware by implementing a required forum on diversity and race relations issues.
One leader of the Interfraternity Council said the Greek community is open to having honest discussions on these issues and that the IFC is launching a “campaign” in April.
“We want (the Greek community) to reflect the student body and be a place that’s open and warm and welcoming,” he said.
Another Greek student said he disagreed, saying IFC is not inclusive and suggested diversity seminars be held in addition to existing ones on sexual violence prevention.
“We earned our letters; why can’t we all be accepted?” he asked. “It hurts to see something I love reject me this much.”
Required competency course
Several students asked why there is no course requirement for diversity. They pointed to recent Title IX reforms and new sexual violence prevention training programs, suggesting a similar training on diversity for students and faculty be created.
Loftin said he wants to see similar changes that have real impact.
“A mandatory training takes 20 minutes,” he said. “How long does it take to train somebody to be culturally competent?”
Professor Angela Speck, Faculty Council’s Diversity Enhancement Committee chairwoman, said a diversity course requirement was previously voted down by 70 percent of the council, but she is hopeful that current discussion will lead to change. She said many faculty voted against the addition of the requirement because there was a perception that many courses already addressed diversity.
“It’s not that they’re against teaching diversity, it’s that there was an understanding about what that curriculum was about,” she said.
Speck told The Maneater in January that a mandatory course is not realistic to implement and “not going to happen.”
Traci Wilson Kleekamp, who identified herself as a Columbia community activist, said MU has less faculty diversity now than in the 1970s and ’80s. She said she wants every department to publish their faculty recruitment and retention strategy on their websites.
“Because our campus lacks diversity at the teaching level, they’re not able to convey those ideas adequately to students,” she said. “It’s not their fault, but some of these people shouldn’t be teaching.”
Other students said they are the only minority students in their departments and feel disrespected in the classroom.
Loftin said he saw the lack of diversity at every level when he was being considered for the chancellor position in 2013.
“There are less than 10 Latino faculty members in the whole school,” he said. “It’s not just about one position, but every position here. We have far too few faculty of color at this institution.”
Another forum will take place April 29. The location has yet to be announced.