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Racism: Facing Mizzou’s Underlying Tension


The trouble started innocently enough last semester: some tension about TV use, a couple of arguments – typical roommate problems.  As time went on, though, Bre, a black college freshman, began noticing a disturbing trend.  According to Bre, her roommate, a white freshman, began talking down to her.  Her friends interrupted Bre’s studying and blasted movies while she slept.  She repeated a racial joke to Bre.  The roommate left messes in the bathroom and demanded that Bre clean them up. Bre felt that these behaviors were racially motivated, and made peer advisors and her hall coordinator aware of them.  Residential life held mediated discussions and had the two girls sign a contract dictating roommate behavior, but tension remained.  The breaking point came when the roommate’s friend posted a picture, clipped from the New York Times, of an apparently black woman’s shrunken head with a rope attached on Bre’s door.  The picture was reportedly intended for the roommate in response to an inside joke about shrunken heads.  For Bre, however, this picture implied lynching.  The roommate’s friend saw no racial implications in the picture, and university officials involved considered the incident a product of cultural unawareness and miscommunication. After reporting this incident to her hall coordinator, Bre was moved out of her residence hall.   Her roommate and the roommate’s friend suffered no consequences.

Whether or not the events were intended racially, Bre’s experiences are extreme examples of the problems an apparent lack of cultural awareness creates.  Despite the initiatives of student diversity organizations such as the Muslim Student Organization and the Chancellor’s Diversity Initiative, discussion on a personal level about race and racism is heavily stigmatized.  Those who have faced racism often feel uncomfortable addressing the issue in their daily lives, either because they are afraid of being ignored, as in Bre’s case, or because they feel that other people just won’t understand.  My conversations with white students indicate that many are unaware of the racism happening here, even as minority students deal with racial tension every day. Our lack of widespread dialogue strengthens racial tension, making campus an uncomfortable and even hostile place for many students.


Often, racial tension stems from a lack of cultural awareness.  The roommate and her friend did not understand the implications of posting a picture of a dark-skinned shrunken head with a rope attached on a black girl’s door, even if the picture was not meant for her.  Because Mizzou students come from diverse backgrounds, this type of insensitivity to difference is harmful.  “There is a misconception that racial tension no longer exists… [it] will not be blatant,” said Marvyn Arévalo Avalos, president of the Latino/a Graduate Professional Network at Mizzou (LGPN).  Because of unfamiliarity with different cultures, some people will act offensively without knowing it.  According to Arévalo Avalos, subtle racism includes asking questions about a stranger’s heritage, calling someone’s name weird or unpronounceable, and assuming that every individual who appears to be Latino is from Mexico.  Junior KC Pounds, who has Mexican heritage, receives this message often.  She receives suspicious looks when speaking Spanish on campus.  Though an American citizen who learned Spanish during high school, KC has been told, “you’re in America… speak English”.  These actions imply that the individual is different and doesn’t belong. 


Other more overt incidents, like the cotton balls that were spread in front of the Black Culture Center in 2010 and the racist epithet spray-painted on a statue outside of Hatch Hall in 2011 also contribute to the idea that students of certain backgrounds aren’t welcome here.

Racial tension affects all Mizzou students.  “[This lack of cultural knowledge] creates an absence of trust between ourselves and other people”, said Alhussain Yusuf, public relations chair of the Muslim Student Association.  To reduce racial tension and hostility, student organizations such as the National Association of Black Journalists, LGPN, and the Muslim Student Organization have taken the initiative to provide cultural education and promote diversity on campus. In order to make campus a better place, though, campus as a whole needs to address this problem on an individual and community level.  Until we address our university’s racial tension, we cannot become one Mizzou.


The picture involved:




Photo Credits:

Rjionline.org – followingthelieutenant.blogspot.com 

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