It’s homecoming at the University of Missouri’s Columbia campus. Its usual decor of yellow and black has been replaced by the black shirts and black power of protesters, arms linked, just like their struggles, standing in front of the car that seats the university’s president, Tim Wolfe. A female protester has just finished speaking and hands the megaphone to another female. The voice of a white woman standing in the crowd fills the street: “It’s 2015, move on.”
Well, it’s 2015 and Sandra Bland died in a prison cell four months ago. It’s 2015 and Tanisha Anderson was killed exactly one year ago during a confrontation with Cleveland police. It’s 2015 and Eric Garner is dead. Michael Brown is dead. Samuel Dubose is dead. Kaylyn Pryor? Dead. It’s 2015 and students will graduate from the University of Missouri this year, leaving behind a school in which they were called racial slurs and a swastika was drawn on the wall in feces. Leaving behind a school whose president, when asked what systemic oppression was, stated that it was not a national issue, but an issue of self-esteem: “Systematic oppression is because you don’t believe that you have the equal opportunity for success.”
The University of Missouri protests have many loopholes. Though the movement has persisted for months, if not years, given the timeline of events that sparked it, it has only recently garnered attention. However, regardless of how isolated incidents leading up to recent protests have been, they all contribute to a general fear of the R-word: a fear of calling racism “racism.” This fear lies in journalists, politicians, and officials of universities alike, but it is one that cannot be tolerated and that Concerned Student 1950 should be praised for refusing to tolerate.
We see it all the time. Dylann Roof is referred to as a “terrorist” on headlines, rather than a “racist.” Killings of unarmed persons based on their skin color are called “killings of unarmed black persons”, rather than racist attacks. There is a fear of calling things what they are and it is one that cannot be tolerated. Saying racism exists does not mean supporting it. It is just the first step to its gradual destruction. To eliminate systems of oppression, there needs to be acknowledgment of the means on which the oppression is based.
Particularly, people in positions of power within influential institutions, such as colleges and universities, must know that racism exists and must be willing to acknowledge it when apparent. University presidents are viewed with less scrutiny than they should be. To govern over a body of thousands of students, there needs to be a sense of sociological awareness within the president. A president who insists that systemic racism is more of a mindset than a means used to defer certain people from aspects of society does not fit this qualification. Concerned Student 1950 practices a sense of impatience with the denial of discrimination that should be utilized more often. They refused Wolfe’s inability to be direct and say the r-word, to say the word that is treated like a curse, yet is utilized in society like a dogma.
This is why I stand with Concerned Student 1950. Because just like them, I want to say the word. I want everyone to say the word: racism. However, I also believe that there are changes that we, as students, can make ourselves. In fighting systemic racism, we need the examples to back up our argument. Concerned Students 1950 has cited several instances of racism on the University of Missouri’s campus. During the homecoming parade protest, a student recalled an instance in which cotton balls were scattered around the Black Culture Center in 2010. We also need goals, which Concerned Student 1950 provided, posting a list of demands on their Twitter page, which has gained approximately 10,600 followers. One of Concerned Student 1950’s main goals is for the University of Missouri to introduce racial inclusion and diversity training programs. However, as a member of a school of multiple ethnic organizations myself, we also need to make sure that we, as students, are doing what we can to create inclusion without waiting on officials. The ability to mobilize is clear, as seen in Concerned Student 1950. However, can we also mobilize the utilities we already have? Can we promote cooperation between organizations of various ethnicities? Do we attend diversity programs already in place? Do we even know where our campus multicultural center is? These are all questions we must also ask ourselves as we simultaneously ask those in positions of power within our institutions to step up and call racism “racism”.