Missouri Students Celebrate President’s Resignation — But Say It’s Just the Beginning

After University of Missouri President Tim Wolfe announced his resignation amid mounting criticism over how the school had handled a series of racial incidents, the leaders of a student movement announced additional demands.

by Steven Hsieh
Nov 10 2015, 12:05am

Photo by Steven Hsieh

Music blasted on Monday as hundreds of University of Missouri students celebrated a momentous victory involving the school's football players — one that played out away from the stadium on campus.

Earlier in the day, University of Missouri President Tim Wolfe bowed to student pressure — including a strike by the football team — and announced his resignation amid mounting criticism over how the school had handled a series of racial incidents on campus in recent months. Hours after Wolfe said he would resign, R. Bowden Loftin, chancellor of the University of Missouri's flagship campus in Columbia, said he would also step down at the end of the year.

"To see something actually happen, it's beautiful," said Darrell Cruse, an undergraduate senior studying fine arts. Cruse, who is black, said that he sometimes feels "unwanted" on campus. "As a black student, you're either here to confirm or disprove stereotypes."

Related: University of Missouri President Resigns After Protests Over Handling of Racial Incidents on Campus

Tensions have been steadily building on campus since September, after the president of the student body, who is black, said that fellow students yelled the N-word at him as he was walking on campus. That same month, a student shouted racial epithets to members of the Legion of Black Collegians, a student group, as they were rehearsing a play. In October, a swastika smeared in human feces was discovered on the bathroom wall of a residence hall. 

Many students believed the school administration's response to these incidents was woefully insufficient. Wolfe's resignation capped off a week of protest activity including marches, prayers and walkouts. Last Monday, graduate student Jonathan Butler embarked on a hunger strike to call attention to the issue. Over the weekend, 32 members of the school's football team said that they would stop playing until Wolfe stepped down.

"It is my belief that we stopped listening to each other," Wolfe said when announcing his resignation. "I take full responsibility for this frustration and I take full responsibility for inaction that has occurred."

Students celebrated after University of Missouri President Tim Wolfe announced his resignation. (Photo by Steven Hsieh)

A statement from the Mizzou athletics department said football practice would resume Tuesday.

Concerned Student 1950, a student movement that refers to the year that black students were admitted to the university, called a press conference in the afternoon to announce additional demands, including meetings with Missouri Governor Jay Nixon and the university's Board of Curators, the governing body that selects the system president. They also demanded a share of decision-making power at the university and increased black representation on the faculty.

MU's undergraduate body is 8 percent black, but only 3 percent of tenured or tenure-track professors are black. The University of Missouri System comprises four campuses across the state, including the flagship campus in Columbia, where the protests have taken place.

"We will not rest until we have achieved full governance within the UM system," said Marshall Allen, one of the founding members of Concerned Student 1950.

At the same press conference, Butler brushed off questions about his personal health after his hunger strike, urging the media to focus instead on the student movement as a whole.

"It should not have taken this much, and it is disgusting and vile that we find ourselves at the place where we are," said Butler, who is a founding member of Concerned Student 1950.

Related: The Most Militarized Universities in America: A VICE News Investigation

In October, students heavily criticized Wolfe's reaction to a protest involving protesters blocking the president's car during MU's annual homecoming parade. Witnesses said that the car bumped one of the protesters. They also pointed to a statement Wolfe made in November at the university's Kansas City campus, in which he said, "Systematic oppression is because you don't believe that you have the equal opportunity for success."

"Did you just blame us for systematic oppression, Tim Wolfe?" replied a protester who was recording Wolfe. "Did you just blame black students?"

Protest organizers say that the University of Missouri has long fostered a climate that is unwelcoming toward black students. In 2010, two white students scattered cotton balls on the lawn of MU's Black Culture Center, evoking painful reminders of the state's roots in slavery.

Cynthia Frisby, a black journalism professor, recounted her own experiences with racism on Facebook. People had yelled the N-word to her while she jogged on two occasions — an insult that she said she also heard from faculty members. In another incident, a student "said he couldn't call me Dr. Frisby because that would mean that he thinks I am smart and he was told that blacks are not smart and do not earn degrees without affirmative action. Yes, true story. I have so many stories to share that it just doesn't make sense to put them all here."

Follow Steven Hsieh on Twitter: @stevenjhsieh