Events at Mizzou ‘could happen here’

Alexandria Smith, junior in marketing and Black Student Union member, speaks with Collegian News Editor Danielle Cook about her opinion of the University of Missouri System President Tim Wolfe stepping down as president. (Cassandra Nguyen | The Collegian)

In a Monday morning meeting with the Board of Curators, Tim Wolfe, University of Missouri president, announced his resignation amid student protests calling for him to do so. The protests were in response to increasing racial discrimination at Mizzou, which protesters argued Wolfe had done little to prevent or acknowledge.

When a series of escalating racial discrimination events, such as racial slurs directed at the student group Legion of Black Collegians, culminated in a swastika drawn with feces, Mizzou graduate student Jonathan Butler wrote a letter on Facebook stating his intentions to go on a hunger strike. In his letter, Butler wrote “I will not consume any food or nutritional sustenance at the expense of my health until either Tim Wolfe is removed from office or until my internal organs fail and my life is lost.”

Casha Mills, senior in English literature and member of the Black Student Union, said K-State’s BSU was “on board” with the action for equality and inclusiveness taken by Butler and other Mizzou students and faculty.

“I thought it was unfortunate that it had to go to that point,” Mills said. “But I was really proud of the stance that Jonathan Butler took, and I was really excited to see how the rest of the campus took it.”

Players on Mizzou’s football team publicly supported Butler, announcing that they would begin a boycott of athletic activities. The team said they would not practice or play until Wolfe resigned or was removed.

“I was extremely ecstatic about the football team because I feel like black athletes are people that are very important to the school,” Alexandria Smith, junior in marketing and BSU member, said. “They make up most of their (Mizzou’s) football team, so for them to actually come off their team and say that they weren’t going to do anything is something I was really proud of.”

Missouri football coach Gary Pinkel and athletic director Mack Rhoades stood behind the team.

“The primary concerns of our student-athletes, coaches and staff has been centered on the health of Jonathan Butler and working with student leaders to find a resolution that would save a life,” Pinkel and Rhoades said in a statement, according to a Tuesday USA Today article.

According to Smith, it wasn’t a surprise that black athletes were supported by their coaches, other teammates and athletic director.

“That shows how important it is to be (united),” Smith said. “That shows how important it is to support other people, and it shows how it just takes one person to start a movement and everyone else follows when they know it’s right.”

After Wolfe announced his resignation, Butler tweeted that he was ending his hunger strike. Pinkel and Rhoades released a statement saying that football activities would resume on Tuesday.

“As we move forward, it’s paramount as a campus and a community that this not divide us, but rather bring us together to listen, to grow, to understand and to create positive change,” Rhoades said in the statement.

Shortly after Wolfe’s resignation, Mizzou Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin announced he would also be stepping down and moving into a role with a heavy focus on research beginning Jan. 1, 2016.

In a letter released by K-State Today, Pat Bosco, vice president of Student Life, wrote that recent events provided “an opportunity for this university to reaffirm our commitment to respect, human dignity and social justice.” Bosco called for members of the “K-State family” to be a part of the solution and to work together to end discrimination on college campuses. Bosco also encouraged individuals to “speak up” when they see something they “know is not right.”

Mills said that she feels that in some ways, K-State’s campus could be more inclusive to minority groups and that this opinion is based on her experience with negative responses from other students to a protest conducted by BSU last semester. However, K-State faculty and administration have shown that there is, in fact, effort being put into making campus an inclusive environment, according to Mills.

“As far as faculty goes, I know that Pat Bosco has done an amazing job of promoting that family atmosphere that we talk about all the time, and he’s done a great job of just making sure the minority students on this campus feel welcome and comfortable,” Mills said.

According to Jeff Morris, vice president of communications and marketing, the events at Mizzou “could happen here — they could happen anywhere.” Morris said, however, that K-State “has mechanisms in place” that allow for victims of discrimination to safely come forward and speak.

“We’re looking at the way we listen, to respect people’s views,” Morris said. “If we want everyone to be welcome, we have to be diligent. We can’t just take it for granted.”

Smith said that all-inclusiveness and the elimination of discrimination can be achieved one day but that these achievements will take time and care.

“In a perfect world, all of us would be inclusive — we would have an inclusive environment,” Smith said. “But, it’s not a perfect world and we just have to understand some people don’t think the way we do, and we just have to work on it one step at a time.”