University of Missouri Students Fight the Power & Take Aim at the Media (Video)

Recent events that have transpired at the University of Missouri have turned the town of Columbia into a flashpoint of racial tension and political discourse surrounding what continues to become a standoff between school administrators and the student body. The university’s football team made headlines when it walked away from duties as student athletes to protest what it viewed as a lack of accountability at the hands of the school’s administration, particularly of its president, Tim Wolfe. Racially motivated attacks on campus – such as the scrawling of a swastika in feces in a campus dorm and the hurling of racial epithets by White students – elicited complaints from students, particularly those of color who felt personally threatened by such actions. Those complaints were allegedly ignored by Wolfe and his colleagues, resulting in campus-wide protests and the cancelling of class by many of the school’s professors who sided with the students. Yesterday, Wolfe resigned, and the University is now the headquarters for a conversation about racism on a national scale, with activists, pundits, politicians, and celebrities all beginning to voice their frustrations with what can only be described as systemic failure by those in positions of power. Now, a recently released video shows the volatile tensions building up on campus, but it didn’t happen in a vacuum.

The brave Missouri Tigers football team who protested against racism on campus have been joined by others, all of whom are working to bring national attention to the ostensibly localized problem. Their coach Gary Pinkel, according to the Guardian, “earns more money annually than any other public employee in the state,” and he “announced his support for the players’ decision, and in a show of solidarity, the entire team, black and white, joined the boycott.” Jonathan Butler, a Black student of the university, launched a hunger strike last week, and dozens of students began camping out in tents on school grounds, all in an effort to demand Wolfe’s resignation. Over the course of just one weekend, Wolfe was announcing his resignation, but the fight is far from over. As the University transitions into a new administration and unwittingly leads the charge on redefining how educational institutions address racism on their campuses, the question becomes to what degree do the seemingly isolated events in Missouri indicate a much more sinister, problematic quagmire that is dominating much of the political conversation in the United States today, particularly as it relates to the relationship between the media and the concerned citizenry?

With movements like Black Lives Matter becoming household names, it is not an arduous task to find parallels between what is going on at the University of Missouri and other recent events like the ongoing problem of police brutality, disproportionate incarceration rates, lack of access to healthy food, and similar parts of life that overwhelmingly affect communities of color more directly than White communities. And, perhaps even more sadly, this fact is news to nobody. In fact, it’s been happening on a national scale for centuries and, at the University of Missouri, since 1950. That’s when the school’s first Black graduate student was admitted, and today’s Black students have adopted the name Concerned Student 1950 as both an homage to and a protest of the issues facing Black students at the University. Just yesterday (November 9), the student activists behind the #ConcernedStudent1950 movement clashed with others who were filming their peaceful assembly in order to prevent the exploitation of their movement for publicity. According to NPR, “Student activists, who had just succeeded in their quest to oust the system president, tried to stop Tim Tai, 20, a student photographer, from documenting what was going on for ESPN. It was a clash between the right to assembly, to be left alone and the right of the press to operate in a public space.” The altercation was caught on camera (see below) and its very existence is proof that what is happening in Columbia is also happening elsewhere; the struggles of the student body, the failure of the institution’s governing body, the use of social media in exposing a movement, and the power of protest in Missouri only echo similar movements in Oakland, Ferguson, Baltimore, Los Angeles, New York, and in towns across the country where people are sick and tired of being sick and tired.

So what now? Racism on campus is not a new problem; it’s not even the first time this year that this country has addressed the issue in mainstream, popular politics (remember the racist chants from a fraternity at the University of Oklahoma?). To what extent are schools responsible for the actions of their students, and at what point is individual accountability supposed to be enforced by a higher power than ourselves? Furthermore, as the video below seems to suggest, is it okay for outsiders (i.e. the media) to interfere with the execution of a politically and socially motivated movement for change? Are the members of #ConcernedStudent1950 justified for fighting back against the filming of their activities? And, finally, is the infighting showcased in the video only a means of distraction from the real issue, that of racism at the hands of those purported to be in charge of protecting and educating?

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