How Did Mizzou Protesters Succeed In Forcing President's Resignation?

Nov 10, 2015
Originally published on November 11, 2015 2:02 pm
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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Yesterday's resignation of the system president and the campus chancellor of the University of Missouri seemed to happen fast after protests and the threat by the football players to boycott a game. But students who accused university President Tim Wolfe of ignoring their concerns about a hostile racial climate on campus say their concerns are not new. Adrian Florido of NPR's Code Switch team reports from Columbia, Mo.

ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: In the end, it appears to have been the football team's boycott that finally forced Wolfe to resign. But the campus movement began about a month ago with 11 classmates. Here are three of them.

ABIGAIL HOLLIS: My name is Abigail Hollis.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: My name is Marshall Allen.

STORM ERVIN: My name is Storm Ervin.

FLORIDO: I met them Monday night on the quad where students have been camped out since last week. And I asked them to take me back to the very beginning. It was September when a man on campus used a slur against student body president Payton Head, the latest in a string of racially charged incidents. Allen says they'd never planned to demand Wolfe's resignation over these incidents.

ALLEN: This problem didn't just begin with Tim Wolfe. Since 1950, we've had all kinds of collective injustices that have happened toward black students on campus - those that have been in the media and those that haven't been.

FLORIDO: Storm Ervin says they did think Wolfe's silence on these incidents allowed them to keep happening.

ERVIN: And so we wanted to challenge him on that and - these are our experiences.

FLORIDO: The 11 friends started meeting. They called themselves Concerned Student 1-9-5-0 for 1950, the first year Missouri admitted black students. They spent three weeks planning a demonstration for the October 10 homecoming parade. That day, Wolfe approached waving from the back of a red convertible. The 11 students formed a human chain and stepped into the street.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Hi, Tim Wolfe, how are you doing? We're some concerned students at Mizzou and we have something for you.

FLORIDO: Their plan had been to read out every documented instance of racial injustice in their school's history. Instead, others at the parade drowned them out with the school chant.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: M-I-Z..

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: Z-O-U.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: M-I-Z..

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: Z-O-U.

FLORIDO: All the while, they said Wolfe never made eye contact with them. The video shows his driver revving the engine and trying to force the car through.

ALLEN: Something we didn't account for was the toll that that was going to take on us after it happened because the experience was honestly traumatic. To be at an institution voicing what you have problems with the university and you get drowned out, you know, by the very chant that's supposed to show solidarity amongst all students. That - that's something that you have to sit and you honestly have to process.

FLORIDO: After the parade, the 11 kind of thought they'd just move on. But they said they couldn't stop thinking about how Tim Wolfe just didn't seem to care. That's when they decided he had to go. They drafted a list of demands, including Wolfe's removal as president. Over the next couple of weeks, they organized marches and protests on campus. And one of the 11, graduate student Jonathan Butler, told the rest that he was going on hunger strike the next day. Abigail Hollis says that's when she got scared.

HOLLIS: It was when I realized that Jonathan was 100 percent serious about going through with the hunger strike - all the way - indefinitely.

FLORIDO: Storm Ervin says that suddenly...

ERVIN: We had to act with urgency if we wanted him to eat again.

FLORIDO: They erected the tent city on the quad. They brought in faculty allies. Finally on Saturday, they got the support of the football team. And by Monday, Wolfe had resigned.

HOLLIS: It was definitely a happy moment, and then of course after that we began thinking, you know, what's the next step?

FLORIDO: They outlined some of their next steps at a press conference Monday afternoon. They say they'll keep pushing for changes like more diversity training and more black faculty. Afterward, as they walked away from the cameras, the crowd celebrated by breaking out in a chant, the school chant - the same chant that drowned out their protest weeks before. Adrian Florido, NPR News, Columbia, Mo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.