“If your simple existence is not a political statement I’m really going to need you to check your privilege. These are some of my experiences and the experiences of one closest to me. This is what I’m fighting against every day in boardrooms, conferences, meetings, classrooms, the Capitol, and in my daily life. This is my reality. Is it weird that I have the right to feel safe here too? If you see violence like this and don’t say anything, you, yes YOU, are a part of the problem…
…if this post made you feel uncomfortable, GOOD! That means I’m doing my job. It’s time to wake up Mizzou. Your [slurs deleted] Missouri Students Association President, Payton Head.”
Picture: Payton Head (Student body president) and Brenda Smith Lazama (Student body vice president)
These are the words that sparked a revolution. A revolution marked by words of concern voiced by black students: “we just want to know why our simple existence is treated like a threat to society.” And what happened at Mizzou ignited a spark that spread like wildfire to several other universities across the nation. Being a student at UCSB, I know I’m an academic, a student of higher education and many of my peers are too. But some don’t have the need to understand why this movement is important. Here’s a timeline of the event at Missouri.
September 12, 2015: Peyton Head published a Facebook post about how he was called the N-word not once, but repeatedly by fellow peers on campus. Four days later, Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin issued a statement in response to Head’s post. “I have heard from far too many of you who have experienced incidents of bias and discrimination on and off campus,” he said. “This is particularly hurtful when our students are the target.”
September 24, 2015, and October 1, 2015: “Racism Lives Here”, a student movement calling for action from the administration, gathered on campus to protest, twice. Still no response from administrators.
October 5, 2015: Legion of Black Collegiates wrote a letter about a student yelling racial slurs at them. And there is still no response from the upper admin officials.
October 10, 2015: Student protestors with the Concerned Student 1950 gather at the MU homecoming parade to bring attention to racism and discrimination on campus. They gave anecdotal and systematic reports of racism on campus from 1839 till 2015. It was peaceful – no violence was involved. Yet the mostly white crowd was extremely invalidating, yelling at the students to “move on” and chanting “Mizzou” over the Concerned students’ chants. The Concerned students even blocked University President Tim Wolfe’s car, but he nonchalantly appraises the situation and stays in his car, making his security guards move the students.
October 21, 2015: Concerned Student 1950 issue a statement with eight demands, including the resignation of President Tim Wolfe.
October 24, 2015: A swastika drawn with human feces appears in an MU residence hall, and the hashtag #hateliveshere begins on MU campus.
October 27, 2015: Students finally get to meet Tim Wolfe and address their set of demands. He mentions no plan of action to eradicate the problem or to help address the issue.
November 2, 2015: A Mizzou student named Jonathon Butler goes on a hunger strike to protest the “slew of racist, sexist, homophobic, etc., incidents that have dynamically disrupted the learning experience” and vows not consume any food until President Tim Wolfe formally resigns.
November 5, 2015: Concerned Student 1950 held a demonstration before the MU football game, chanting “Join us in the revolution.” In response, several death threats and racist slurs were posted on Yik Yak. Here are some examples:
“N** fest at speakers circle. I f***ing hate Mizzou. Time to transfer.”
“How do you starve a black guy? You hide his food stamps under his work boots.”
November 6-9, 2015: A series of statements from the Mizzou football team, football coach, and President Tim Wolfe are released on their support for the movement. Tim Wolfe finally releases an official statement resigning from his position.
November 9, 2015: After Tim Wolfe resigns, a series of serious threats towards black students on campus are spread. Threats of black students being gunned down are diffused throughout campus. Professors ignore students’ pleas to stay inside because of the threats made towards their lives. They still require the students to come in to class for exams. Classes are apparently supposed to be continued the following school day, as normal.
And there you have it. A timeline of events that happened at University of Missouri, one of the finer higher educated institutes in the United States of America.
“Ok, how is this relevant to me?”
Here’s a crash course. You live in America. America is the land of the free. The brave. The land of opportunities. The land of the American dream. The dream every PoC and white American has. So imagine if this opportunity, to fulfill this American dream, is stripped away from you. Stripped away by the same exact school that was supposed to give you that opportunity. How ironic, right? But students of color, especially Black students, are not give this opportunity when they are denied basic safety and dignity on their campus. Western institutions uphold age old systems of violence by attacking the very people in the US they are supposed to protect. The fact that a student has to starve himself to make his demands met proves that there is deep rooted racism and problematic issues regarding higher institutions in the US.
What’s interesting to me is that I’ve seen these protests before. Not in real life of course, I wasn’t alive then. But I’ve seen them in pictures, articles, books. These Mizzou protests parallel the protests from 1968-1969. At that time, the Black movement was entering university campuses, and campaigns were calling for more Black faculty and students. They were challenging the whiteness, the white social norm that was prevalent throughout America. And the scary thing is, the demands they had during those protests in 1968 are so similar to the demands these Mizzou students released. The fact that there are similarities between protests from the sixties to now proves that racism. still. exists.
It’s not over dramatic and it’s not students being sensitive. This is students experiencing invalidation every day of their lives. This is not a random, sporadic incident. Students of color, Black students in particular, have been experiencing racism from the beginning. And their shiny, pretty diplomas from these top notch universities won’t cover the fact that they have been facing systematic, oppressive discrimination from public and private Western institutions ever since these institutions were built from their foundation.
It shouldn’t take years of pain and tears to gain the support of administrators. Who knew that our generation would have to deal with this. We were so past this, right? No, and sadly, we are considerably far away from the goal. But now with Mizzou sparking the call to change on several campuses, that sense of empowerment is there. To make America own up to what it said it was – a land of freedom and opportunity for all.