Sunday, November 08, 2015

Missouri Football Players Tackle Racism On Campus

Under Fire: Univ of Missouri President Tim Wolfe
As a follow-up to yesterday's blog about budget cuts at Rider University, I wanted to share some thoughts on a different college that reflects another aspect of the state of higher education in America. 

Back on September 24th I wrote a blog about two separate incidents at the University of Southern California and the University of Missouri where two students of color (both presidents of their respective student bodies) were overtly targeted by vile racial slurs while walking on or near campus.

I wrote about Missouri Student Association president Payton Head posting a blistering commentary about the hostile racial environment on the campus of the University of Missouri on his Facebook page after a group of young white men in the back of a pickup truck drove past him yelling the word "Nigger!" as he was walking along the downtown Columbia, MO area minding his own business.   

Earlier this afternoon I was enjoying some chili while reading Rolling Stone and listening to NPR when I heard an interesting news report about a group of approximately 30 members of the University of Missouri football team announcing that they are going on strike from participating in any football-related activities or games until Mizzou president Tim Wolfe resigns.

The actions of the players are in support of a campus protest movement called Concerned Students 1950 - which refers to the first year that a black grad student, Gus T. Ridgel was admitted to the university.

Concerned Students 1950 has been calling for Wolfe's resignation for weeks in response to what they allege is his failure to take leadership to address a series of disturbing on-campus racial incidents targeting African-American students; including an incident when an unknown student used feces to draw a swastika in a dorm bathroom.

Students march across the Mizzou campus Thursday Nov 5th
The call for the president's resignation gained momentum last Monday after grad student Jonathan Butler sent a letter to the University of Missouri System Board of Curators announcing that he was going on a hunger strike until Wolfe steps down from his position.

Members of Concerned Students 1950 led a protest march through the campus last Thursday. (pictured left)

While Wolfe and MU Chancellor R. Bown Loftin did briefly meet publicly with members of Concerned Students 1950 last Tuesday after Butler announced he was going on a hunger strike, Wolfe's remarks did little to change the group's demand that he resign.

Earlier today Wolfe did issue a statement outlining the steps he plans to take to address the racial incidents, but it only seems to have ramped up calls for his resignation by various groups including UM's Forum on Graduate Rights and the Coalition of Graduate Workers who have called for grad students to join a two-day walk out next week to show support for the demands for Wolfe's resignation.

Is it too little too late?

Time will tell, but Wolfe's reputation is taking a bruising as he becomes the focal point of blame for the failure of the UM administration to take decisive steps to deal with the tense racial climate at Missouri and a series of recent high-profile incidents protesters claim have been poorly handled by the University.

I think it's culturally significant to see the degree to which university students are using peaceful forms of protest and social media to demand that the University of Missouri begin to take the racial climate of a place of higher education seriously.

Missouri football players show their support
College football is big down south and the Missouri athletic departments operating revenue was $83.7  million in 2014.

So the decision by the 30 or so members of the Mizzou football team (pictured left) to go on strike takes this protest movement to the next level and draws national media attention to the situation in Columbia.

Head coach Gary Pinkel has given his public support to the striking team members, which is pretty significant given that they are calling for the university's president to resign.

The Missouri Tigers play in the highly-competitive SEC Conference, they're 4-5 this season heading into a game against BYU next Saturday and the strike is sure to be an important topic of conversation in sports media.

It'd be nice if the administration of the University of Missouri were motivated to address the racial climate on campus by ethics and a sense of responsibility.

But as we know, money talks in this nation.

And if it takes a possible negative impact on the flow of revenue from the Mizzou football program tc confront and deal with racism on campus, so be it.

As a former Division I college football player, I can tell you that each day the protest continues, the ability of Mizzou to recruit high school student-athletes to commit is going to be impacted.

As someone who was recruited by some of the top Division I college football programs in the nation when I was a senior in high school, believe me when I tell you that recruiting can be ruthless.

In fact, I guarantee you that right now as I write these words, some recruiter somewhere is using (or is preparing to use) these protests to try and dissuade some high school student-athlete from committing to Missouri.

Parents of athletes or non-athletes don't want to send their kids to a college where the safety of all students is not treated as a priority.

As I blogged about yesterday, declining enrollment and rising educational costs aren't limited to Rider University in New Jersey, it's a nationwide problem that could potentially become more of an issue for Missouri if they can't get their act together and start taking definitive concrete steps to address the racism that's festering on their campus.

It's more than a little ironic that a University with one of the finest journalism schools in the world is getting hammered in the media and is seeing its reputation scarred for the inability to proactively deal with issues of racial insensitivity that have been making national headlines for months. 

I'm not a member of the University of Missouri or an alum, so I really can't say if removing Tim Wolfe from his position as president is going to magically solve the issue - racism and intolerance are certainly not limited to the campus in Columbia.

But from what I've read about the incidents over the past few months, the lack of leadership to address this issue is pretty glaring.

Maybe it's going to take some Missouri football players to tackle it.  


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