As a loyal University of Kansas graduate and die-hard Jayhawk fan, in my 38 years I have never supported or cheered for anything related to the University of Missouri.
Other than reading what’s been coming through social media, I haven’t closely followed the specific events that led up to where Mizzou is today, I think this article from the Missourian gives a good summary:
As a parent of a middle school student who will be headed to college before I know it, I have an expectation that generally speaking, she will be safe. That if she needs to ask for help, she will be given help. That if she has a concern, she can voice it and it will be heard. I have that expectation because the system is set up for her.
The system is not set up for everyone. I think what’s happening at Mizzou right now shows that it’s not set up for people who look different than my daughter, Jordan.
At a meeting with Concerned Students 1950, university President Tim Wolfe assured student leaders that he cared for black students at MU but was “‘not completely aware of systemic racism, sexism, and patriarchy on campus,” according the group.
I’m confused how Mr. Wolfe was still “not completely aware.” You’ve got a group of students who have written you directly, or indirectly through social media, and now you’ve got a group of students standing in front of you telling you about their experience with racism on the very campus with which you have been entrusted. Why is that not enough to make you – if not completely aware- then at least more aware? Let’s just assume that you left that meeting at least minimally more aware – you still did nothing.
So, when you do nothing to let a group of students know that you not only heard them, but that you want them to have the same experience on your campus as the majority of the students – you’re not doing your job. The message is, “I don’t care about your safety.”
White people have the absolutely luxury of not having to pay attention to racism. Doesn’t affect me. Doesn’t hurt me. Not my problem, and I can’t fix it anyway. I bet that’s what Mr. Wolfe thought until a couple of days ago.
I will tell you in my experience as a white person – racism affects me. Becoming aware of the racism that exists – whether blatant, subtle, or subversive – is forcing me to speak up. Speaking up is hard. White people don’t like to talk about race…especially when it involves talking about racism. We don’t want anyone to think we’re racist.
Speaking for myself, I believe that not saying anything is saying a lot.
Not saying anything is saying that I’m perfectly content living in my world and that I don’t really care that an entire group isn’t heard. Doesn’t feel seen. Isn’t cared about. Not speaking up for them and in support of them means, for me, that I don’t care about them and I’m fine with being part of system designed to keep them out.
We all have what I call “our truth.” We believe “our truth.” It’s what we know and sometimes, it’s all we know. It’s comfortable. It’s familiar.
Guess what? Every single person in our world has their own truth.
There are, in fact, a lot of competing truths. So, who gets to be right?
What’s right, in my mind, Is hearing each other and honoring one another’s truth – no matter what.
What’s right is listening to someone else’s truth and not diminishing it because it’s different than yours.
What’s right is to see someone who looks different than you as a person with a heart and feelings – just like you.
I invite you to talk to someone who doesn’t look exactly like you. Ask them what their experience was in college or shopping or walking down the street. And I encourage you to just listen. I promise their experience will be a little (or a lot!) different than yours.
When people say, “racism doesn’t exist” or “they’re overreacting” or when they are bent out of shape that “we’re still having this conversation” or they pick a current event that they think proves some point so that they can keep believing that we are in fact superior, I would just ask you to pause and ask yourself: What am I afraid of? Why does giving someone else more of a voice diminish mine?
As the story at Mizzou continues to unfold, I can’t help but hope that if enough people speak up, that when Jordan leaves for college in six years, the systems will be set up to support all students, not just the ones who look like her.
For A Deeper Dive:
For more on the student perspective at MU, read the New York Times article, “At University of Missouri, Black Students See a Campus Riven By Race.”
And, some additional perspective: