While most of the country is dismayed by the racial tension and events unfolding at the University of Missouri, some students argue it was a long time coming.
Valparaiso University alumna and second year Mizzou law student Grace Shemwell said racism on Mizzou’s predominantly white campus is “nothing new.”
“Those of us who had been here for a while knew what was going to happen,” said Shemwell. “We knew guys would drive by in their trucks with [confederate] flags; we knew there were threats on campus.”
However, she said this year “it has been like there was a catalyst thrown into the concoction.”
“Of course nothing was new, but it was quicker and quicker in succession. The threats continued toward students,” Shemwell said.
On Monday, Nov. 9, University of Missouri system president Tim Wolfe announced his resignation at an emergency curators’ meeting. The decision was made in response to growing popularity and media attention of student protests.
A week prior, graduate student Jonathan Butler announced he was going on a hunger strike until Wolfe resigned.
“Death threats are being made to Black students, and no administrators are responding effectively,” Butler tweeted.
Members of the football team later backed Butler, committing not to practice or play until he began eating again.
Hours after Wolfe’s resignation, Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin told announced that beginning January 1, that he would transition to a new role advancing research.
Loftin praised Butler, telling CNN “[he is] a very tough, tough young man, a very focused young man, a very intelligent and forward-looking young man, so we owe him a lot."
It’s difficult to pinpoint when things began to stir. Criticism towards Mizzou administration's lack of action regarding racism began long before Wolfe’s time. One group on campus took it back to 1950.
In that year, Lloyd L. Ganes was the first black man admitted to the university. A group of students named themselves “Concerned Student 1950” in honor of Ganes.
During the school’s homecoming parade this year, representatives of CS1950 stood hand in hand to block the president’s car from continuing down the parade line.
“Think what you will of it, but when you have someone in front of you, by law you are not supposed to hit them,” Shemwell said.
More than 10 minutes of the demonstration was filmed and has since surfaced online. In the video, Wolfe says little during the protest, provoking ill feelings among many.
“I think he handled the situation entirely wrong,” said Ellis Lichtfuss, first year Mizzou graduate student and 2015 Valpo alumna. “They haven't been super transparent with us unfortunately...we want transparency.”
Lichtfuss condemned racism on campus.
“No one should ever feel unwelcome in a community,” Lichtfuss said, “and I’m hoping we can make positive steps forward because that's really what students want.”
Shemwell has affiliated with the CS1950 since the 2014 unrest in Ferguson, Mo.
“I brought officers guarding the group, media and the protestors coffee,” Shemwell said. “Not once was I told I was racist, not once was I harassed, or told I couldn't tweet, film or otherwise. When they prayed, they prayed for everyone, and for love and for peace.”
Lichtfuss echoed Shemwell.
“Students have handled it well, the right way,” Lichtfuss said.“Respectful, peaceful protests.”
On Monday, Shemwell said the story took another leap forward.
The football team, in near-unanimous union, came out saying they wouldn’t practice or play until the president resigned.
“The board of curators were up for the entire night before, and suddenly the senators and state governor were involved,” Shemwell said. “And people knew something big was happening.”
Shemwell said more students who previously weren’t involved joined hands to block the press.
Now that the dust is settling, Shemwell said that hope for change is high with the incoming administration charges.
“There are only shades of gray in Mizzou right now,” Shemwell said, “but it’s about learning to respect those shades.”
Contact Rebecca Gesme at email@example.com.