(This is my tenth blog entry for my fall semester J2150 class.)
One of my biggest frustrations with the mess that surrounded the protests, resignations and viral videos that came out of Mizzou this week is the lack of context provided in many news accounts. No, this blog is not about multimedia this week, but I’m going to assume that’s okay. Below, I hope to create a little bit more of an understanding about what has taken place on this campus recently.
It seems that one of the biggest misunderstandings of people who aren’t quite as informed as they’d like to think is that these protests began last week because a bunch of black people started whining about nonexistent oppression. Sorry, no. The protests began several weeks ago because of the (actually pretty widespread) belief of people on campus that the administration was incompetent when it came to responding to acts of hate on campus. And though racism has become one of the main themes that has stemmed from recent events, these acts of hate were not solely against black people. This did not begin as a black and white issue, but it seems to have become one, which should prove to us as a society that when students talk about these hate crimes that happen on campus, they’re not just making a big deal about nothing. Now that we’ve seen plenty of examples, let’s all finally accept that racism still exists. So does sexism, homophobia, etc. So does systematic oppression, which occurs when a system is set up to overwhelmingly favor the majority (in other words, pretty much every system in the U.S., and yeah, that includes our university systems).
Another vital aspect to understanding why the protests started was because of our administration’s incompetence in dealing with things like grad student healthcare, which was cancelled with very little notice to grad students and with our chancellor saying he had no knowledge that the cancellation was going to take place. Yet another aspect was the university’s cancellation of contracts with Planned Parenthood, which, regardless of your stance on abortion, provides a wealth of healthcare resources to women and families. This happened solely due to recent criticism of PP, presumably because the university didn’t want to look bad.
The fact is that so many incidents and frustrations culminated to create the kind of unrest that has engulfed Mizzou since last Monday, when graduate student Jonathan Butler began his hunger strike. It was his belief that only extreme tactics would get the university’s attention at that point, which I believe to be true. You definitely do not have to agree with his tactics, but I don’t believe it is my place or any of our places to decide what is a “respectable tactic” for protest. I am white and I recognize that I will never have the experiences of a person of color on this campus or anywhere, nor can I claim to be able to understand their experiences. In the same way, people who are not marginalized cannot determine how much or how little the people who have protested are allowed to be frustrated or angry.
The incident that happened on Monday afternoon in which supporters of protestors decided to push a reporter is unfortunate, in large part because it has gained so much media attention and has distracted from the original message the protestors were trying to get across: we need better leadership in this university that will do more than just recognize when things are broken within the system, i.e. “The university recognizes that racism lives on this campus.” Of course it does. Whether or not you agree that the university system did enough to address all of the incidents that occurred on campus in recent months, one of the most frequently targeted groups didn’t believe it had. It is well within their rights to protest it.
The most important part of the entire discussion is that a group of people who are already marginalized in this country as a whole felt that their university, where they came to learn and feel at home and where they pay tuition, was pushing them aside. Who are we to discredit their frustrations when this is not a new problem? When it’s been proven to us time and time again over the past few days that racism is still rampant?
I don’t claim to know everything about what has been going on at MU lately; not in the slightest. But as a member of student media and someone who has been practically obsessed with trying to stay well-informed and understand everything going on, I feel like there is too much misinformation going around that has led to dangerous circumstances. Please do not reduce these issues to black vs. white. IT IS SO MUCH MORE THAN THAT. To put it broadly, it’s about systemic failure. It is a multi-faceted issue with many layers that have built up to get us to where we are now. We should treat it as such.