A Voice From Missouri

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(Editor’s note: Kaitlin is the daughter of Voice of OC Editor David Washburn and a freshman at the University of Missouri, Columbia, where African American students have made international news with protests over how university leaders have handled a series of racially motivated incidents on campus. The protests led to the resignations of the state’s university system president Tim Wolfe and Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin.)

Last spring, when I decided to study journalism at the University of Missouri, my dad told me that coming from Southern California I’d have to get ready for two shocks to my system when I moved to Missouri: the humidity and the racism.

The weather was unseasonably cool my first week on campus, so it was the racism that hit me first.

The first “date” that I went on at MU was with a guy I met at a frat party. Everything was going fine until we had left dinner and were walking back through campus. We got to talking about San Diego and the diverse mix of people that live there. He told me he could never live in San Diego because he has to live in a place where people are real Americans. In other words, he couldn’t handle the idea of living where Mexicans could be his neighbors. He then proceeded to inform me that Mexico is actually in Central America, not North America.

That’s when I told him, in so many words, that he sounded like a racist asshole. He didn’t like that very much and stormed off, leaving me to walk back to my dorm by myself.

Now, that night was not how the rest of my time at Mizzou has gone. Overall, my college experience has been great. My dorm is full of people of different ethnicities and everyone does a good job of getting along. I’m taught by open-minded professors and my classes don’t feel to me full of racial tension.

And I don’t want to pretend that I grew up in a racism free bubble. Racial stereotypes and racial tension have been things that I have witnessed throughout my childhood – I’ve heard racial slurs come out of the mouths of some of my friends, and even their parents. And classmates of all ethnicities using racial stereotypes to crack jokes about people was an everyday occurrence at my high school in Chula Vista.

But I went to a high school where the numbers of Latino, Filipino, and Chinese students were at or near those of white students, and it was never OK for someone to be fully overt and outwardly comfortable with racist beliefs.

Here at Mizzou there is a comfort zone for racism. It’s something I have not experienced before, and it’s something that shouldn’t be.

So I was inspired by the courage of ConcernedStudent1950 and Jonathan Butler (the student who launched a hunger strike) and proud of the football players for taking their stand. Over the last few days I’ve had the great experience of being a first-hand witness to the power behind the First Amendment. I’ve also seen how it can be misused. I was disappointed by how the protesters lashed out against members of the media for asserting their First Amendment rights as well.

Here are some of the images I was able to capture throughout the history-making week at Mizzou:

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Jonathan Butler, a member of ConcernedStudent1950, is escorted away by family from the celebration that erupted at Carnahan Quad when news broke that President Timothy Wolfe had resigned and Butler could end his seven-day hunger strike.

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Members of ConcernedStudent1950 started camping out on Carnahan Quad on November 3rd a day after Butler started his hunger strike. The tents remained into this week. They stood as a symbol and a reminder of Butler’s strike and the movement that ConcernedStudent1950 had sparked.

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Butler (pictured far right) and members of ConcernedStudent1950 held a press conference after news broke of Wolfe’s resignation. Throughout the conference, each member talked about the movement and the demands that they want to see put into action on campus. Butler said: “this is the first time that I’ve seen the Missouri community stand together united.” He ended the conference by leading a chant that has become the anthem for ConcernedStudent1950.

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A prayer circle led by members of ConcernedStudent1950 who had spent the night in the tents on Carnahan Quad.

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Two members of ConcerenedStudent1950 explain how they “feel empowered” and are “one step closer” to meeting their goals. Moving forward, they want to see a “hate crime policy” enacted at Missouri.

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Chelsea Haynes, a nineteen-year-old sophomore at MU, (pictured far left) is thrilled about Wolfe’s resignation, however she says that “there is still progress that needs to happen.” Haynes feels that there is “still a body of students that don’t respect us” and that has to change in order for more progress to be made.

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“No Media Safe Space” signs surrounded the protesters campsite on Carnahan Quad. Though the protestors were free to exercise their First Amendment rights, they were doing it in a public space where journalists also had a right to be.

Kaitlin Washburn can be reached at kaitlinewashburn@gmail.com

  • LFOldTimer

    Hi, thank you for telling us about your experiences. I’ve read several news articles about the problems at U of Mizzou. And I’m confused why the University President and Chancellor were forced to resign. What exactly did they do wrong? No one has explained it to me and there is nothing in the news about it. How were these 2 men responsible for the independent acts of other people? And what is the general opinion of the student body of football players threatening to not take the field as a means to force these 2 men to resign? Should football players have the clout to force university management to lose their jobs? Could you detail the specific acts committed by the President and Chancellor that led to their resignations? I must have missed it. Thank you for any information you can offer.