Monday, November 9, 2015

Fight, Tiger, Fight for Old Mizzou!

UPDATE: University of Missouri system president has resigned. Jonathan Butler has ended his hunger strike.

I don't think I have ever been so proud of my alma mater's football team than I am today.

In response to problems with racism, and a lack of action coming from the President's office, thirty members of the Mizzou Tigers football team announced they would not play or participate in any football activities until Missouri University system president Tim Wolfe resigns. Their move is in solidarity with a student movement called #ConcernedStudent1950, which is raising the racism issue after many reports of students being called the "N-word" and the smearing of a swastika using feces on the bathroom wall of a dormitory. The year 1950 was when MU began admitting African-Americans. Student protesters blocked the President's motorcade during last month's homecoming parade as a way of getting his attention to address racism because the President had refused to answer their emails or respond to Twitter messages.

Now, with this football walk out, perhaps the President will get the message.

The Tigers are supposed to play BYU this coming Saturday. But Coach Gary Pinkel has cancelled practice. And he put out his own message on Twitter yesterday with this photo of the whole team:

"The Mizzou Family stands as one. We are united. We stand with our players. #ConcernedStudent1950. GP"

Faculty have announced they are also refusing to hold classes. An African-American graduate student, Jonathan Butler, is on a week-long hunger strike at this point to protest the campus racism. This is no joke. This is real. And it is time for the talk at Mizzou to end and the action to begin.

I am particularly proud because my alma mater has needed this type of shake up for a long time. We had our own pains when I was a student with racism.In the student union building, it was not uncommon that African-American students were grouped together in one area and the majority white population occupied another.  There was soul-searching and discussion at the Journalism School when, if my memory serves me, a professor made an off-the-cuff remark that was offensive. The culture at the J-School changed, somewhat. But not enough.

When I was a senior, I remember being one of the few white students in a sociology class called "The Black Americans." It was taught by a professor who was a native African, and it was probably the best personal education I'd had in seeing things from the perspective of my African-American peers. I didn't do a lot of talking in that class (I usually didn't anyway, but this felt like a time when I really had a mission to listen). I heard from my classmates the internal divisions within them; those who were raised in majority black suburbs of St Louis versus those who had grown up in more racially-mixed neighborhoods had different perspectives on the oft-cited "white man." After awhile, one of the African-American women would speak up to note that white women were also to be seen for having advantages that they didn't have. Another would note that while white women could move about in society more freely and easily than they could, they were aware that their white sisters were still not treated with equity. I listened, sometimes with feelings of anger that I felt blamed for so many sins that I could not possibly address, and sometimes with the understanding that I was bearing witness to pain, and I had a responsibility to my brothers and sisters of color to do what I could do to address those sins.

This translated, for me, into my journalism. I had recognized talent, and I was an undergraduate trusted to be on the edit desk at KBIA-FM. In that position, I wanted to push back against what I knew were the white assumptions about affirmative action by sending forth African-American Mizzou graduates who could out shine any other job applicant, including me. I encouraged my peers. I spent time teaching the delicate art of tape splicing. I worked with them on how to write in and out of a soundbite, so that their stories would move and not sound too "student-y." I would help them choose the audio clips that had the most impact. And, most importantly, I listened. I believed in the abilities of my classmates, even when some of them told me privately that they didn't think journalism was for them. I knew that journalism needed them, and their voices. Some of them were in the same Sociology class, and we'd have a good joke at the expense of our professor about his accent, and his demands that everyone "go natural" with their hair, something my female classmates of 1990 could not imagine.

"That man is crazy!" they'd laugh. "This isn't 1970!"

As I wait to hear news on the developments at my alma mater, our fight song goes around and around in my head:

Fight, Tiger, Fight for Old Mizzou
Right behind you everyone is with you
Break the line and follow down the field
And you will be on the top, upon the top!
Fight, Tiger, you will always win!
Keep the colors flying ever skyward
In the end you'll win the victory
So Tiger fight for Old Mizzou!

This is a fight. Combating the cancer of campus racism is worth more to me as an alumna of the school than whether our football team forfeits a game. Seriously, I have never been prouder. The victory in the end of this will be a state university campus that is better, stronger, and more capable of leading the city of Columbia, the state of Missouri, and maybe even this nation to a place of more equality.

Those of us who have the power must be willing to see how our death grip hold on that power is not serving humanity or the planet well, and it's time to let go and allow those who have been traditionally powerless to enter this picture and assume leadership. Diversity is not a dirty word.

#ConcernedStudent1950, I am with you.

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