Nov 9, 2015 | CAP Action War Room: University of Missouri President Tim Wolfe resigned today after student and faculty protests over his handling of racist incidents on campus. Multiple racist incidents on Mizzou’s campus in recent weeks sparked the student protests, which led various groups on campus to question Wolfe’s leadership and commitment to addressing racism on campus.
Over the weekend student protests escalated. Graduate student Jonathan Butler, who had been on a hunger strike, was joined on Saturday night by at least 32 members of the school’s football team who vowed not to play or practice until Butler ate. Head coach Gary Pinkel supported his players’ decision tweeting, “The Mizzou Family stands as one. We are united. We are behind our players.”
The protests came after multiple racist incidents on Mizzou’s campus. In one, a swastika was drawn on a university bathroom in feces. In two other incidents, African American students, including the school’s African American student associated president, were harassed and called a racial slur. In the wake of these incidents, various campus groups began to question Wolfe’s leadership and his commitment to addressing racism on campus.
How the events transpired, and in particular the way the football team’s advocacy elevated the issue to national prominence and forced a quick action on the part of the university, is a powerful example of how sports can play a role in cultural and political change. In a press conference announcing his resignation Wolfe said, “It is my belief that we stopped listening to each other. We forced individuals like Jonathan Butler to take unusual action to effect change. This is not, I repeat, not the way change should come about.”
The University of Missouri is not the only school grappling with how to address tense issues of racial insensitivity and injustice. Halfway across the country at Yale University, students are also protesting the administration to demand a public response to recent controversial events involving race on campus. In one incident, a fraternity allegedly turned away black women from a party, with one brother saying only “white girls” were welcome, according to eyewitness reports. In another, some students took offense to an associate master of one of Yale’s undergraduate residential communities when she wrote an email encouraging students to tolerate and talk about insensitive Halloween costumes.
BOTTOM LINE: The events at the University of Missouri come in the midst of a heated national debate over race that has created tension across the country. Whether on a college campus or a neighborhood street corner, everyone in America should have the right to feel safe and respected in their communities. It is troubling when vile events take place, but it is also encouraging to see public pressure to fight them and a national dialogue taking place.