While the national media attention has shifted from protests about police shootings and the racial identity of the victims in those shootings to the 2016 presidential candidates squabble of the day, the students at the University of Missouri are struggling with increased racial, sexist and hateful behavior on their campus in Columbia. National coverage and social media are telling the story of a climate on campus that is the impetus of the current protest that now includes the Mizzou football players of color who are supporting the protest by refusing to play until the president resigns.
It has been reported that the incidents that lead to the latest activism on campus started a few months ago when the president of the Missouri Student Association shared a racist experience on Facebook. Members of the Black student organization (Legion of Black Collegians) were targets of racial slurs on campus; Black students created a group called Concerned Student 1950 (the year that the first Black student attended the school); protesting students were bumped by the car of the University of Missouri System president Tim Wolfe during a homecoming parade when they blocked his vehicle; and a swastika was smeared with feces in a dorm bathroom. Graduate student Jonathan Butler is currently on a hunger strike that he said he will continue until Wolfe resigns.
The students and athletes on that campus have decided not to look the other way. Their collective resistance to derogatory comments and treatment is both courageous and reminiscent of a time when students refused to just go along and ignore an uncomfortable situation because it didn’t affect them. The problem of race and hatred of all kinds is everywhere and we see it, whether we want to or not because technology puts us in the heat of the battle in real time.
A few years ago I asked a retail telephone salesman if I could buy a cell phone without the camera because I didn’t need it. That was a pretty naïve request. The phone images are a window to what can happen when our worse selves are in charge. It allows us to see and hear for ourselves what has been known in some communities and unknown or ignored in others. America needs to reset its moral compass to respect human life and the students at Mizzou are yet another reminder of that charge.