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University of Missouri Football Team

Source: Legion of Black Collegians / Legion of Black Collegians/Twitter

On Monday the president of the University of Missouri system resigned with the football team and others on campus in open revolt over what they saw as his indifference to racial tensions at the school.  President Tim Wolfe, a former business executive with no previous experience in academic leadership, took “full responsibility for the frustration” students expressed and called their complaints were “clear” and “real.”

For the past few months, black student groups had complained that Wolfe was unresponsive to racial slurs and other slights on the overwhelmingly white flagship campus of the state’s four-college system. The complaints came to a head two days ago, when at least 30 black football players announced that they would not play until the president was gone.

One student went on a weeklong hunger strike on the issue.  Wolfe’s announcement came at the start of what had been expected to be a lengthy closed-door meeting of the school’s governing board.

He said, alluding to recent protests, in a halting statement that was simultaneously apologetic, clumsy and defiant “This is not the way change comes about. We stopped listening to each other.”  Wolfe urged students, faculty and staff to use the resignation “to heal and start talking again to make the changes necessary.”

In response to the race complaints, Wolfe had taken little action and made few public statements. As students leveled more grievances this fall, he was increasingly seen as aloof, out of touch as well as insensitive to their concerns, and as a result he soon became the protesters’ main target.

In a statement issued Sunday, Wolfe acknowledged that “change is needed” and said the university was working to draw up a plan by April to promote diversity and tolerance. However by the end of that day, a campus sit-in had grown in size, graduate student groups planned walkouts and politicians began to weigh in.

After the resignation announcement, students and teachers in Columbia hugged and chanted.  Head football coach Gary Pinkel expressed solidarity with players on Twitter, posting a picture of the team and coaches locking arms with the caption “The Mizzou Family stands as one. We are united. We are behind our players.”

The protests began after the student government president, who is black, said in September that people in a passing pickup truck shouted racial slurs at him. Again in early October, members of a black student organization said slurs were hurled at them by an apparently drunken white student.

Also, a swastika drawn in feces was found recently in a dormitory bathroom.  The university did take some steps to ease tensions announcing plans to offer diversity training to all new students, faculty and staff starting in January, at the request of Columbia campus Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin.

Many of the protests have been led by an organization called Concerned Student 1950, which gets its name from the year the university accepted its first black student. Group members besieged Wolfe’s car at the homecoming parade, and they have been conducting a sit-in on a campus plaza since last Monday.

On Sunday, the association said in a letter to the system’s governing body that Wolfe headed a university leadership that “undeniably failed us and the students that we represent. He has not only enabled a culture of racism since the start of his tenure in 2012, but blatantly ignored and disrespected the concerns of students.”

The Concerned Student group demanded, among other things, that Wolfe “acknowledge his white male privilege,” that the school adopt a mandatory racial-awareness program and hire more black faculty and staff.  The school’s undergraduate population is 79 percent white and 8 percent black.

The state is about 83 percent white and nearly 12 percent black.

 

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