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In response to the rapid downturn of events at Missouri University this week, staff members Amma Marfo and Jeffrey Smith, Jr. led an emergency forum regarding the state of race relations at the University of Missouri (Mizzou) and beyond.
The current tension at Mizzou was incited last month when students–frustrated by the administrative indifference to their claims of racial discrimination and harassment on campus–blocked the progress of the homecoming parade, particularly obstructing the car carrying Former President Tim Wolfe. This was followed by graduate student, Jonathan Butler, beginning a hunger strike and the Mizzou football team striking and calling for Tim Wolfe’s resignation. Without responding to the racial climate on campus, Wolfe signed on November 9 with protests and demonstrations led by black students beginning the following day.
Notable speakers at Emmanuel’s forum were Adebukola Ajao and members of the Black Student Union Executive Board Ashley Jeannot, Gabriela Rodriguez, Jonathon Rowe, and Laurie Paul.
Ajao began the conversation by calling students to recognize the true weight of a threat against another’s life, arguing that students should not be forced to choose between their education and their safety.
She continued by addressing the systemic nature of racism and by acknowledging the recency of the Civil Rights Act, critiquing the general public’s lack of racial memory or knowledge of the racial narrative that underlies United States history.
Ajao concluded by remarking on the problem of eliminating discussions of race in educational settings: without exposure to the experiences of other cultures, especially the black experience, students of color and not of color are unable to fully understand their own place within culture and society.
Responding to Ajao’s comments, Jeannot directed the attention of the forum to the experience of students at Emmanuel by asking students, staff, and faculty to assess whether they truly live out Emmanuel’s social justice mission. She argued that those who really believe in social justice do not address issues only when they are personally affected, or when the majority suffers, but when they see others, particularly the underrepresented, suffering.
Jeannot called on those who identify as “allies” to the black struggle to move beyond simply stating their support, to actually take the next step to walk alongside students and people of color as they fight for equal treatment and representation.
Rodriguez spoke to her own experience as a woman of color, citing negative interactions and micro-aggressions she had experienced and witnessed on campus. She stated that it was difficult to continue to see no change in the educational requirements for leadership positions on campus.
Rodriguez suggested that members of SGA, 1804 Society, Resident Assistants, and other leaders on campus should be given education in cultural competency. Education like this could help prevent offensive, ignorant statements and unintentional micro-aggressions against students of color.
Rowe spoke to his desire to see a greater level of cultural awareness from students on campus, but also within class curriculum. He referenced his own experience of cross-registering at Simmons College in order to engage in Africana Studies as an example of the need for more emphasis on the African and Black experience in the humanities.
Paul ended the conversation by stating that while she has been hurt by the inaction of her peers and fellow student leaders on campus, she is looking forward to some of the upcoming reforms to the President’s Commission for Diversity, of which she is a member.
Marfo and Smith concluded the discussion with remarks on Emmanuel’s own transition toward creating a more egalitarian campus environment.