University of Missouri Protests Over Racial Tensions Result in Resignations and Violent Threats

On Monday, November 9, University of Missouri president Tim Wolfe resigned after serving just four years. This came after months of complaints and protests about his lack of response to many racist incidents on the University of Missouri campus in Columbia. The calls grew louder the week prior as a graduate student went on a hunger strike and a student group had his resignation at the top of their list of demands. Wolfe’s resignation is a glimmer of hope in what continues to be a difficult fight.

Historians often focus on a catalyst for social movements, that tipping point of change. For the Black Lives Matter movement, it was the killing of unarmed Michael Brown by a white police officer. One year and several nationwide protests later, police brutality and criminal justice is at the forefront of a national conversation. The Civil Rights Movement is often highlighted by Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat to a white person, leading to a year long bus boycott and eventually the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

However, the Civil Rights Movement was going on long before the 1960s, and had several moments of change over the previous century. The killing of Michael Brown was just the latest in a long history of police killings and the movement evolved from a sense of ongoing frustration of not being heard for years. The events of this past week at MU are being seen as yet another tipping point of frustration for change. Yet, Missouri’s largest public university has been on a long and tumultuous journey to this moment, starting in 1936.

Lloyd Gaines lived in St. Louis and graduated from Lincoln University, Missouri’s black liberal arts college, in 1935. An honors student and class president, Gaines applied to the University of Missouri’s Law School. It was against state law to “admit a Negro as a student in the University of Missouri.” With no law school for blacks in the state, the public university offered to pay for his tuition in one of four neighboring states, which he declined. In January 1936, with the help of lawyers from the NAACP, Gaines petitioned to be admitted. In December 1939, the Supreme Court of the United States ordered the university to admit him, or build a law school that was equal in curriculum for black students. His case was the legal framework for challenging the separate but equal doctrine in the 1954 SCOTUS case Brown v. Board of Education, which outlawed segregation.

In that same year, Lucile Bluford, a black woman, also applied for graduate journalism classes and was denied. She, too, sued and won. Gaines never enrolled in MU, mysteriously disappearing three months after winning the case. Bluford’s graduate dreams were dashed due to World War II and changes in the program. It wouldn’t be until the fall of 1950 that nine black students would be admitted to the graduate program. In 1952, Gus T. Ridgel would become the first of those nine, and the first black student, to earn a graduate degree from the University of Missouri. Sixty-five years later, the trailblazing spirit of those nine students are being honored by a group of student activists calling themselves Concerned Student 1950.

Jonathan Butler, a master’s student in educational leadership and policy analysis, highlighted many of the “racists, sexists, [and] homophobic” incidents that have happened this semester in his letter announcing his hunger strike. He spoke of students being called the n-word, including the Missouri Students Association president Payton Head. There was a swastika drawn with human feces in a university residence hall. All of this was after the university announced with 13 hours notice it was canceling health insurance for graduate students, as well as contracts with Planned Parenthood, a vital source of training and healthcare for the student body. The semester has been filled with ongoing protests from various groups and through it all, the university has given little more than lip service.

Butler’s hunger strike was gaining attention six days later when several football players announced that they would not be participating in practices or games until his hunger strike was over. Their announcement put Butler and MU on the national stage, and highlighted the impact of student athletes taking sides on issues with their school. The team did not practice and said they would not play in the upcoming game against BYU.

With millions of dollars of revenue on the line, the calls for Tim Wolfe’s resignation became deafening. The Board of Curators, who had the power to fire Wolfe, held an emergency meeting the next day. Gov. Jay Nixon issued a statement that “racism and intolerance” have no place at the university and that it must be a “haven of trust and understanding.” Twenty-four hours later, Wolfe and the Chancellor resigned and Butler ended his eight day hunger strike.

The focus of Concerned Student 1950 is inclusion for all students. Their list of demands focus on various areas for this to improve, including an increase in black faculty and staff, mandatory comprehensive racial and inclusion training for staff, as well as a curriculum for all students. Most importantly they want a diverse group of students to be included in a collective with staff and faculty when selecting the UM system president and Chancellor. They also seek meetings with the Board of Curators, Faculty Council, and Gov. Jay Nixon.

Concerned Student 1950 say they are doing this out of love for their school and vow to continue. On Tuesday evening, amid additional meetings and clearing their tents from the quad they occupied during their protest, threats of a violent attack against black students surfaced on social media. Fearful students left campus or remained locked in their dorms as they expressed their frustration of the administration not taking the threats seriously.

Wednesday morning, MU police arrested 19-year-old Hunter Park after identifying him as the source of the threat. Park, who is white, is a student at the school of Science and Technology. He is currently being held on a $4500 bond.

Photo Credit: University of Missouri

32 comments

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallusabout a year ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Jim Ven
Jim Ven1 years ago

thanks for the article.

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Nils Anders Lunde
PlsNoMessage se1 years ago

ty

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Ricky T.
Ricky T1 years ago

Bye bye inept Wolfe...

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Scott haakon
Scott haakon1 years ago

These are the result of helicopter parenting and PCism. The complaints were trivial. Tim Wolfe was right. These people expect it to be handed to them. Sensitivity is just another waste. One does not need sensitivity to have good manners. Kids with power is a very dangerous combination.

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Jean Wall
Jean Wall1 years ago

; it means having a reasonable assurance that the people in authority are not going to allow this to persist until there is actual violence perpetrated against you, and, perhaps not even then. Anyone who has experienced life at the margins understands the the impact of this kind of atmosphere without meaningful recourse to authority- or worse its complicity.

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Jean Wall
Jean Wall1 years ago

billie c- that one is right up there with "everyone knows". i read the papers, I read lots of informational things and the most important thing i read is people. Your suggestion that the concerted , then de facto segregation that has characterized the American racial landscape for centuries = "the blacks chasing everyone out" offends reason. The idea that "they need a place for black healing" might sound like empathy to you, but it comes across as suggesting that 'they ' need to work out their shit in isolation, like two year olds in a time out. Funny how your perception of what 'they " need sustains the de facto segregation they are in fact fighting. these students have endured open and very ugly animosity and intimidation for a sustained period of time. They have used all established channels for registering the problem and the people in authority have done nothing concrete to address the hostile atmosphere and in fact have worsened matters . These folks are all paying for an education and that education will determine their prospects for their life's course. They are entitled to have equal access- and that means not having to calculate weather or not you sign up for a class based on how much harassment you may have to endure; if a professor is going to neglect your educational needs or grade you on factors other than academic ones ; if you are going to have to walk by a frat house and run a gauntlet of intimidation, insult and humiliation; it means having a reasonabl

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Margaret G.
Margaret G.1 years ago

The article said,

" ... All of this was after the university announced with 13 hours notice it was canceling health insurance for graduate students, as well as contracts with Planned Parenthood, a vital source of training and healthcare for the student body ..."

And Lisa L. wrote,
And this is what happens when universities appoint "businessmen" as administrators. They are totally out of their element, they have no sensitivity to the way university culture operates and must operate in order to function as intended, and then when trouble erupts, they are so tone-deaf about it their inappropriate responses, or lack of them, leads to meltdowns of various kinds. U of Missouri is fortunate to be rid of this pinhead. If only all the other institutions of higher ed now strapped with similar buffoons could get rid of them too."

From the above, my guess is that Tim Wolfe was a businessman, quite possibly a right winger, who ran the University as a right wing business; cutting expenses by stopping health insurance for the graduate students; sucking up to the pro-birthers by cancelling contracts with Planned Parenthood.

is my guess correct?

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Janis K.
Janis K1 years ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Billie C.
Billie C1 years ago

read the paper jean w the blacks chased everybody out that wasn't black. they need a place for black healing.

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