Unless you've been under a rock, or don't live in Missouri, you already know that there's been a lot of publicity over the fact that a group of black Mizzou football players have stated that they will not play until the university addresses the systemic racism that continues to make headlines in our city. Specifically, they are calling for the resignation of the university system President, Tim Wolfe.
The backlash on these players in social media is pretty brutal. A lot of people are saying that their scholarships should be revoked if they don't play. Others are questioning why this is a big deal. On Twitter today, "If you can't take a few feces-smeared swastikas then don't play with the big boys."
What is a big deal is that the coaches appear to support the movement. What that means is yet unclear. The coaches are "united," but haven't stated that they protest the upcoming games if Wolfe does not step down. Coach Gary Pinkel has said that the team will not practice tomorrow.
Here's my two cents, for whatever it's worth as a 35 year old, privileged, white female. Mizzou is a mess. They are notorious for sweeping situations under the rug and/or not reacting until media scrutiny forces their hand.
In 2014, a fire fighter was killed in a walkway collapse of a Mizzou owned property where structural repairs were needed, but were not completed due to lack of funds. A lawsuit by the family is still pending. However, looking around campus, there seems to be plenty of funding for new buildings to attract prospective students. The building in question was a sort of "married student housing" for older students. Some of these were families with young children. The building has since been demolished, but it raises the question why it took the death of a fireman for the university to locate funding.
Also, there has been the somewhat hard to follow saga of a female swimmer who allegedly was raped by a football player. After her suicide, her journals showed that she had reported the rape to several faculty members, who are bound to look into such allegations, yet never did. To date, I am unable to find public record that these events were ever investigated.
Football scandals abound at Mizzou. There was the highly publicized and somewhat controversial dismissal of star wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham, who was investigated by police for allegedly assaulting a woman while he was trying to talk to his girlfriend. No charges were filed and DGB was dismissed from the team. The events were highly publicized.
Now take into account Mizzou starting quarterback, Maty Mauk. After starting the season and playing four games, Mauk has been suspended for the rest of the season. The details of his suspension have been vague. Coach Gary Pinkel has said that he violated team standards, then also that he is going through some personal issues. After the very public dismissal of DGB, it is difficult to understand the secrecy, until you consider that the police were involved with DGB, and perhaps not with Mauk.
Mizzou has made other news, for cutting graduate students' benefits, then reinstating them after a walkout was highly publicized. The benefits were reinstated for one year, but not secured for the future after that year. After Republican political pressure, they have also cut ties with Planned Parenthood, not allowing Planned Parenthood doctors access to their hospitals, nor Mizzou students to complete training at Planned Parenthood.
I mention these stories only as examples of the way that Mizzou has mishandled events and then kept them intentionally vague in the media. This, I believe, is why the students at Mizzou, have taken to protest in what may appear at first glance to be an extreme way.
It appears that, looking at Mizzou's track record, being extreme is the only way to have your voice heard. Once the public is involved, and boy, they are now, Mizzou has no choice but to listen and respond, lest they face the wrath of the media, and public opinion. It's pretty hard to have faith in a university that will not make hard choices, or even right choices on their own.
The students using the name #concernedstudent1950 have tried other options, including one student undergoing a hunger strike, and then sitting down with Wolfe with a list of suggestions on how to improve the racial climate at Mizzou, with not unreasonable suggestions like comprehensive racial awareness and inclusion curriculum, hiring additional mental health professionals, especially people of color, and increasing social justice centers. While he listened, no changes were enacted. Obviously, a football boycott would be a last resort. The student athletes are risking a lot, potentially scholarships and career prospects. Certainly they have weighed these risks.
In an environment just a two hour drive from Ferguson, we are both connected and disconnected to the race relations that went on there. But looking around, you'd think we were twenty hours away. It's like it never even happened here. Aside from a few peaceful protests, the only thing that Mizzou has done is develop an online diversity program that will be required for students and staff.
I don't know the answers to stop the divide. I don't know how to stop racism. It's a big challenge. But I know that sitting around and doing nothing is not ok. I know that when you're the president of a large university system, you do more than require an online diversity training.
I'm sorry that there may be consequences for these students, but I'm even sorrier that it had to come to this. As a resident of this city, I'm tired of being told half-truths. I'm tired of not knowing what's going on. The brushing under the rug has got to end. The thin veil that the university has been hiding behind needs to become more transparent. If nothing else, stop treating the public like we're stupid. The secret keeping, enforcing decisions and then telling the public as an afterthought, the vague, "We take this seriously and are looking into it," then doing nothing, makes it look like you have something to hide. Or, that it takes a major movement to force your hand.
I support #concernedstudent1950.