(THE PICKET) – The University of Missouri’s football team used its influence to draw change at the University with the resignation earlier this week of school President Tim Wolfe.
The resignation comes after months of protest from some in the student body and faculty because many complained the University administration had not responded forcefully or quickly enough to ongoing racist incidents on campus.
Missouri University is a predominately white institution that has struggled with racial controversies on its campuses, which is only 7.2 percent black, 2,520 out of a population of 35,000.
Protests and demonstrations at the University started in September 2015 after Payton Head, president of the Missouri Student Association, spoke out on Facebook about the constant racial slurs he deals with at the University. He wasn’t the only one feeling this way.
Fueled by the absence of action taken by administration to combat what has been called the bigotry, discrimination, and anti-homosexual harassment that plagues the University, students formed an organization called Concernd Class 1950 and a list of demands. One of those demands was for the removal of the school president. A graduate student Jonathan Butler went as far as to declare a hunger strike on Nov. 2nd, which some say sparked the involvement of the University’s football players.
Two months of protests for change culminated in Monday’s resignation 36 hours after the involvement of the Missouri Tigers football players. Declaring that they would not play another game until the removal of Wolfe, with the support of their coaches, players stood with the student body and faculty for the cause and brought fast results. Players took to Twitter that they would not play another down until the demands were met. Their support went viral on Twitter and all social media. Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin also announced his resignation, effective the end of the year.
But the real question is what changes will come from the removal of a president and chancellor who arrived after the same social issues have long been there? What is the overall objective of the Concerned Student 1950 organization?
“I don’t see sure change with the removal of the president or chancellor but I do see a window of opportunity for positive change, whatever that may be,” said Micah Johnson, graduate student at Shepherd University. “The Concerned Student 1950 organization should focus on making Mizzou a University of inclusion that has a diverse faculty so that the minority student population can go to class everyday and see someone of success that looks like them.
“This truly represented the power of black athletes’ at the collegiate and professional level, and the power of social media,” Johnson said. “Athletes hold in their possession so much power and influence economically and socially but aren’t using it often enough to bring awareness and change to issues concerning their people. This same neglect is seen by famous black entertainers/musicians who gladly profit off of the support from their own people but are nowhere in sight when it is time to come together for the greater good of ‘their people.’”
“Thinking about black sport figures, entertainers, I feel as if they feel they have too much to lose by speaking out on race issues. This does not always mean monetarily by fines, but rather loss of acceptance or approval in the public eye,” said Addy Gilmore, senior at Shepherd University. “Some are blind by the glory they possess they lose sight of who they are so in turn they stay silent on what really matters.”
“I personally feel as though African Americans aren’t more than willing to get involved because they aren’t comfortable with whom they truly are,” said Vivian Alvarado, junior at Shepherd University. “Also, it’s not just internal reluctance but society comes into play. Racism is still alive and what we have had to overcome is still present. That being said, our history makes us feel reluctant to be even more heavily involved.”
Some are saying Butler’s hunger strike forced Wolfe’s resignation and I guess essentially it was because if it weren’t for his courage then UM football players may not have joined in, which ultimately forced this outcome.
“I know the University would have definitely been set back financially if the football players would have sat out for that game,” said Naim Muhammad, captain of Shepherd University basketball team and president of the Black Student Union. “I guess they took all factors in and realized they needed to make a decision and act quickly. You know with what the football players did it caused the University to react in way that the students and the faculty liked.”
Muhammad also said he hopes this is just the start to leadership being demonstrated by those with influence.
“I hope this triggers more black entertainers and musicians to get more involved because I always thought since they’re in such strong place of power and have such an effect on society from their position, especially within the pop culture world,” Naim said. “I feel as though most athletes and celebrities that don’t get involved in social injustice issues are just afraid of the reactions of fans that disagree and the potential repercussions from agents or company owners. Actors, athletes, you are human, you’re allowed to take a stand and have political views on things.”
Social media is at the fingertips of society and with that advantage it is being used to spread and raise concerns faster than ever before. Twitter played a vital part in the University of Missouri protests, via tweets several football players saying they will not play another game until the removal of Wolfe, which went viral. Hash tag “#ConernedStudent1950” was trending on Twitter and created a nexus for people tweeting about the matter, voicing their concerns and opinions.
“Social media is what is popular and if it’s not on social media in today’s society then it’s ignored, a lot of people aren’t looking at it. The older generations are the ones taking more heed to picking up a newspaper to read or watching the television news while the newer generation are more into technology. So with this, use technology to grab attention and social media is a major attention grabber of the modern generation. Social media will continue to play a big role in activist movements,” said Raymond, Shepherd University senior.
One thing is certain; distance will no longer be an excuse for not being informed, if not involved, because of the power of the web. Also, celebrities, professional athletes, and musicians can learn from UM Tigers football players on what it means to use influence to spark positive change.
Da’Shawn Long is a staff writer for The Picket. He can be reached at Dlong03@rams.shepherd.edu or followed on Instagram @sirswave