Friday, November 13, 2015

And A Bully (or a Check) for Old Mizzou

Today, I wrote my first check to the Missouri Alumni Association, and I put "Concerned Student 1950" in the memo line. I did so because I have been grieved to read the stories of what some students have endured on my campus, and even more upset that there are alumni withdrawing their donations because the campus administration has said, "OK, let's address this." 
When I was a student in the J-School, I supervised and worked under and beside many students who were African-American, Asian, and from several European countries. My first Morning Edition editor, the late Lynise Weeks who died much too young, was a tremendous mentor to me. I benefited from listening to the experiences of my fellow students, and did what I could in my capacity as a TA in the radio newsroom to foster their skills so that when we both emerged onto the job market, we could be the best hires. Prejudice and racist stupidity was all around us. But if somebody had put a picture of a lynching up on the dorm room door of one of my friends or fellow students, I'd have sat down in the Quad, too. That's inexcusable! 
When I was at one of my freshman orientation sessions, some parent, probably from a small rural area of Missouri, asked whatever administrator was addressing us if there would be a language interpreter in the room because of all these "furrin' TAs." My Economics 51 class had one of those "furrin' TAs." His name was Osman Hassan. He was from Sudan and was a devout Muslim. Osman was a very demanding teacher, and I was really ill for the last seven weeks of that Fall Semester. But Osman was willing to meet with me, and help me understand concepts of macro economics, even as the room was spinning in front of my eyes. He went to bat for me against the professor who was, frankly, a jerk who had harassed me in the middle of the final exam telling me that I "better get moving" on my test questions. Osman and I would talk. He was critical of "the way things are" in the United States. I would remind him that it wasn't right to say "Americans are 'x, y, z,' because some of us are more 'a, b, c.'" We were different races, different religions, different interests. But we were both members of the Missouri Tiger family, and we had respect for one another.
I had another professor in a Sociology class who was a native African, I don't recall now which country. The course was called "The Black Americans." We had an assignment to write a paper and I remember I wrote mine on the advancement of minorities in journalism, how we were seeing more TV anchors of color. But I noted in my findings that the upper levels of news management continued to be predominantly white and predominantly male. My conclusion was that in order to claim true diversity in broadcast news, there needed to be more advancement of minorities and women into roles of management and ownership of media outlets. I got an "A" and the professor wrote a note asking me to come see him. So I did. And I think the man's teeth just about fell out of his head. 
"YOU wrote this paper?" 
"Yes," I said smiling, and being stupidly naive. He flipped through it and saw his notes and affirmations. 
"It's a very good paper." 
I was curious about that comment. "Well, I guess it must be since you did give me an A." 
Then I realized what was happening. He hadn't expected one of the ten or so white students in this lecture hall class would write this way about race. Perhaps he hadn't met many white students who gave a damn about "The Black Americans." Perhaps he had encountered too many stares, and too much animosity to think that "whitey" might actually "get it."   
My first apartment I lived in as a sophomore was on Conley Avenue down the street from Jesse Hall (I think it has, thankfully, been torn down!) There were four apartments. I was the only American and the only Christian. Everyone else was a Muslim from Malaysia. My apartment mates kept to themselves, especially the woman from across the hall who would dash back into her apartment if she saw me coming out. One day, I locked myself out of my apartment. I knocked on their door, and begged them to let me use their phone. The man invited me in, and (amazingly) the woman didn't hide. But after that moment, she stopped hiding from me, and began to say, "Hi" when we'd bump into each other in the foyer of the building. An embarrassing moment of me locking myself out, and asking for their help somehow broke the ice.
My point in telling these stories is to say that I had a rich, wonderful, educational experience at Mizzou. And my education was enhanced by having contact with people who didn't look or talk like me. Diversity of all kinds is what makes an education complete, and Mizzou gave me that. I would like that opportunity to exist, free of hatred of the "other," for all students attending the University. Yes, facing racism and all the other "isms" is difficult and painful. But I would like to think that our alumni will support efforts to make the campus a better place for all. That's what my check represents. A commitment to see my University through to a better future that values all of its students and faculty.

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