College campuses have long been hubs of civil protest and demonstration. While anti-racism protests at Missouri University have been deemed dramatic and selfish by much of the media, they represent this history of effecting change at institutes of higher education. The concerns of the students should be taken seriously even amid a defacing media storm.
No one should be a victim of racism, and dealing with it in a place of learning is detrimental to a student’s education. These views were shared by a student named Jonathan Butler who finally felt that they had suffered enough. He went on a hunger strike calling for the resignation of Missouri University System President Tim Wolfe.
The charges were that he had failed to respond to “racist, sexist, homophobic” incidents and thereby protect students. Butler cited several events in a letter addressed to the University on November 2: “the MSA President Payton Head being called the n-word on campus, graduate students being robbed of their health insurance, Planned Parenthood services being stripped from campus, #ConcernedStudent1950 peaceful demonstrators being threatened with pepper spray and a matter of days ago a vile and disgusting act of hatred where a MU student drew a swastika in the Gateway residential hall with their own feces.”
Though that incident sparked media coverage in early November, the university has been dealing with issues of racism for an extended period of time. Students formed the group Concerned Student 1950 after the first year African-American students were admitted to the University to combat issues of racism, homophobia and sexism on campus.
After the swastika incident, death threats were made on social media stating “I’m going to shoot any black people tomorrow, so be ready.” As the frequency of school shooting seems to be increasing, students were understandably horrified by the possibility.
15 months ago in nearby Ferguson Missouri, the death of Michael Brown at the hands of a police officer brought the topic of racism to the forefront of national discussion. That tragedy sparked the Black Lives Matter movement that continues today, which has provided a platform for people to share their experiences of race-based discrimination.
When the terrorist attacks in Paris swamped the news on Friday night, some Twitter users made comparisons between coverage of the two events. As the tweets flooded in, a few common threads appeared. Some used the incident to attempt to de-legitimize the student’s fears and concerns by saying the Paris attacks should show them what real terrorism is. The implication being that their problems were not valid because separate and terrible events are taking place in another part of the world.
In response to these demoralizing comments, some used #Mizzou to try to bring the focus back to their protest. One twitter user said “Racist white people kill me, you want everyone to have sympathy for YOUR tragedy, but you have none for ours. #Getthef***outofhere #Mizzou.” The right wing conservative media jumped on the chance to criticize and silence the entire student movement at Missouri University. Breitbart ran the story “Campus activists in America showed their true faces during an international tragedy last night: they are the selfish, spoiled children we always knew they were.”
When social activists and civilians alike cry out against discrimination and violence in their communities, their voices are so often silenced. As in the case of MU, it’s important to focus on the actions of the overall organization rather than letting a few dramatic outliers discredit the central message.
When watching the news, one should focus on #ConcernedStudent1950, not just a few individuals who made inflammatory remarks on social media. In the Black Lives Matter movement, the focus should be demonstrators who have continued their mission for peace, justice and validation of their experiences of systematic oppression.