Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Clicked off: the Confrontation Seen Everywhere

When I saw the video this morning of a tense and heated confrontation between student journalists at the University of Missouri and protesters, who were both students and faculty, I felt as if I'd been slingshot back in time to situations in which I encountered anger and mistrust while attempting to do my job. Fortunately, I never had it quite as bad as young photojournalist Tim Tai had it. And while some faculty on the campus made sure I knew they didn't like me because I was a journalism major, I never experienced a faculty member threatening me with physical harm as happened to Mizzou junior Mark Schierbecker.

This video made me angry enough to write the following email letter to Dr. Melissa Click, the Communications professor who was screaming at the journalists and threatening them. I carbon-copied Garnett Stokes, the University Provost as well as my former advisor and KBIA-FM news director, Mike McKean:

Dear Dr. Click,

"Who wants to help me get this reporter out of here? I need some muscle over here." 

Seriously? You said that? Will you be including this video in your future dissection of video and popular culture topics in your Comm School classes?

As a graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, I am appalled that a professor at my alma mater would be a party to inciting violence against a journalist who in this case was also a student at the university. A protest such as Concerned Student 1950 is deserving of media coverage, and these student journalists were attempting to fulfill their public trust to gather information and present a current reasoned reflection of the days' events. The reporter who you wanted removed was seeking interviews with participants. As one of the journalists kept repeating, they were trying to do their job. I find it ironic that only a couple of days prior, you had tweeted a message to the world inviting media coverage of these unfolding events. When the media came, you pushed back. How bizarre.

Don't get me wrong. I do not disagree with Concerned Student 1950 and the righteous anger the students and faculty are showing. I was part of the Mizzou culture from 1986-1990, and therefore am aware that racism existed then, and am greatly disturbed by the reports I am hearing now. My sincere hope is that Concerned Student 1950 and the existing administration and the Board of Curators will now take time to sit down and set accountable goals of diversifying our campus, and having a true listening process so that we can become a model of how to move this country toward recognizing the sins of racism and realizing a future where racial equality can be more than just a nice ideal. Critics will take potshots at such efforts, but I have more confidence than ever in my alma mater to ignore the noise of the enemies of change, and begin this important and vital work. 

I also hope that Concerned Student 1950 and the existing administration will continue to make the athletic department, and the football team specifically, a part of this effort toward a better Mizzou. The football team and Coach Pinkel exhibited true courage and leadership by emptying themselves of their position of privilege and power in an effort to draw focus to those whose voices were being ignored. I have never felt prouder of the Tigers in my life. I don't care if we win a national championship in football; I care that our coach is teaching his players what "team" means and how to be men. They did that. 

Teamwork is what it will take to change the culture at Mizzou. Willingness to relinquish assumed privilege to make room for more voices is what it will take to change the culture at Mizzou. Respectful communication amongst those voices is what it will take to change the culture at Mizzou. Having a world-renown journalism school, with hard-working dedicated bright students to get that message out to the world, is a necessary part of exhibiting leadership at Mizzou.

Threatening student journalists has no place at my university. I don't know what kind of sanctions the school might impose on your behavior. I hope you are big enough to review the video and rethink what message that sent.

In solidarity with the students, both protesters and journalists,

Susan Gage
BJ, Broadcast Journalism, 1990 

This evening, word is out from the Columbia Missourian, the city newspaper published, edited and reported by students and faculty of the Journalism School, that Professor Click, who held what is called a "courtesy appointment" to the J-School has resigned that appointment and apologized for her actions. From her statement, she apparently did as I hoped she would: reviewed the tape and realized just how far off-the-chain she'd gone.

"I have reached out to the journalists involved to offer my sincere apologies and to express regret over my actions. I regret the language and strategies I used, and sincerely apologize to the MU campus community, and journalists at large, for my behavior, and also for the way my actions have shifted attention away from the students’ campaign for justice."

Life is messy. Protests are heated. I'm with the J-School dean who commended the students assigned to walk less than the length of a football field to the Carnahan Quadrangle to cover these historic events. Seeing them, and how they conducted themselves, tells me that my peculiar and oft-misunderstood School on the University campus is still turning out excellent journalists. Certainly being in the midst of an important protest happening on the campus is better than the classroom experience, and will lay the foundation for many a First Amendment discussion for years to come.

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