University of Missouri senior Kelsey Thompson and her classmates in MU’s School of Natural Resources expected to cover the usual topic of their course, human dimensions of fisheries and wildlife, when they arrived for 9 a.m. class on Monday. But their professor, Charles Nilon, instead led a discussion on recent race issues on MU’s campus and student activism in response to those.
During their discussion, Tim Wolfe announced his resignation as the president of the University of Missouri System.
Thompson, a senior in the school of natural resources, appreciated the productive and respectful discussion in her class. “I think that those kinds of things need to happen between students and the higher-up faculty, which I don’t really think that has been going on,” Thompson said.
Thompson was among the students, faculty, media and others that gathered for a midday rally held by Concerned Student 1950 at MU’s Traditions Plaza. The event was just across the quad from where Concerned Student 1950 — a group of student activists that formed to fight racism on the campus — set up an encampment to support the hunger strike of graduate student Jonathan Butler.
The Columbia campus this fall has seen multiple episodes of racial intolerance. Those include separate instances of African-American students being called racial slurs and another incident in which a swastika was drawn with human faces on the wall of an MU residence hall.
Erica Bedu-Annan, a freshman studying biology at MU, said she was “overjoyed” when she heard that Wolfe resigned. “It’s a very small achievement for a bigger course we’re going towards,” Bedu-Annan said. “But I do think it is a good step forward.”
Kennedy Jones, a freshman studying business, said she hasn’t experienced racism at MU but felt that the climate of inclusiveness here is weaker than in her hometown in Las Vegas.
“I’ve never felt like the divide between black and white before,” Jones said.
Black students accounted for 8 percent of the 27,654 undergraduate on campus as of fall 2014, according to MizzouDiversity, a university organization established by the Chancellor’s Diversity Initiative.
“I just felt that (university administrators) need to start looking at the diversity on campus aside from the numbers,” Bedu-Annan said.
Faculty members and organizations on campus showed support for Concerned Student 1950 and others who joined forces with the group. The MU Counseling Center offered its services to students who had experienced emotional distress.
“I think it’s a whole issue of what it means to be a person who is really challenged by feeling ‘I’m not being accepted,’ not being a part of the bigger whole, the bigger university, of being pushed aside, of being rejected by others,” said David Wallace, the director of the counseling center. “We’re here to help heal that.”