Missouri students strike blow to racism

mizzou_team_1019Nov. 9 — Students’ anger and power, organized under the leadership of the most oppressed, not only can make demands and fight for them, but can win. A victory against racism was won today when University of Missouri president Tim Wolfe resigned after weeks of students’ demands that he step down.

Student protests since late September, a hunger strike, the Mizzou football team announcing a boycott of the rest of the season, and an impending faculty walkout all demanded Wolfe’s ouster for woefully failing to combat a spate of racist acts on and near the Columbia, Mo., campus, some 125 northwest of St. Louis.   

Wolfe made the announcement at a morning meeting of the Board of Curators, the university’s governing body. “I take full responsibility for this frustration [by students] and I take full responsibility for the inaction that has occurred,” he stated.

The undergraduate student government leadership, representing 27,000 students, publicly issued a letter this morning before the resignation announcement, demanding that Wolfe step down. Only 8 percent of the Mizzou student body is African American, yet the students strongly supported the struggle against racism and other forms of oppression.

The letter read in part: “In August 2014, the University of Missouri met the shooting of Michael Brown with silence. In the following months, our students were left stranded, forced to face an increase in tension and inequality with no systemic support. Over the last 16 months, the quality of life for our students has only worsened. …

“[Wolfe’s] leadership has undeniably failed us and the students that we represent. He has not only enabled a culture of racism since the start of his tenure in 2012, but blatantly ignored and disrespected the concerns of students. … While we recognize that the burden of systemic oppression does not fall entirely on his shoulders, as the leader of this system it is his sole prerogative to listen and respond to students. He has failed in this completely. Students from different races, genders, sexualities, abilities, and other nationalities have not had their identities represented.”

A first, important victory

Jonathan Butler, a 25-year-old African-American graduate student, had been on a one-week hunger strike when news came that Wolfe had resigned. As he announced the end of his hunger strike, Butler tweeted, “This is only the first step! More change is to come!! #TheStruggleContinues #ConcernedStudent1950.” The latter hashtag, used by the group of student anti-racist activists, refers to the year Black students were first admitted to the University of Missouri.

Michael Sam, the first openly gay professional football player and a former linebacker on the Mizzou team, expressed his solidarity with Butler’s actions. (cnn.com, Nov. 9)

On Nov. 7, the university football team announced it would boycott the remainder of the season. Sophomore defensive back Anthony Sherrils posted on social media a photo of 32 football players, Black and white, with a statement demanding Wolfe resign or be fired as president. Head coach Gary Pinkel announced solidarity with his team on Twitter on Nov. 8: “The Mizzou Family stands as one. We are united. We are behind our players. #ConcernedStudent1950 GP.”

In the public announcement the players said, “The athletes of color on the University of Missouri football team truly believe ‘Injustice Anywhere is a threat to Justice Everywhere.’ We will no longer participate in any football related activities until President Tim Wolfe resigns or is removed due to his negligence toward marginalized students’ experience. WE ARE UNITED!!!!!” (espn.com, Nov. 9)  

Payton Head, president of the Missouri Student Association at Mizzou, had racist epithets hurled at him as the academic year began in September — on two occasions he was called the n-word. Head used Facebook to report the incidents and speak out against racism, sexual assault and oppression of gender expression. This social media transparency caused an avalanche of student outrage and support for the struggle.

Other incidents include the flying of Confederate flags and a swastika scrawled on a dormitory bathroom wall in feces.  

Reuters reported Nov. 9 that hashtag #ConcernedStudent1950 is one of the most trending topics on Twitter and Facebook, while #Mizzou was the most trending hashtag in the U.S.

Most social media users are reporting Wolfe’s resignation as a victory in the fight against racism. Many are stating that the struggle has just started and much still needs to be done on the Mizzou campus, in Columbia, Mo., and in other cities throughout the U.S. to address and eradicate racism and racist terror.