Missouri Compromised

The fight for justice is never over, of course, but it has achieved a small victory in forcing the resignations of University of Missouri system President Tim Wolfe and Chancellor Richard Loftin. By now, you have probably already heard why they had to go. Since the start of the Fall semester, there have been two different instances in which Whites called a Black student, or in one case, a group of Black students, niggers. Twice! That is a trend. That is dangerous.

Naturally, a group of Black collegians decided to voice their concerns to then-Mizzou President Wolfe. So they tried to get his attention by blocking the route of his car during the annual Homecoming parade, but this only led to further racist outrage. No, they were not arrested, but instead of stopping the parade right then and there so he could hear their righteous demands, the students were removed, and Wolfe went on his way, waiving at the children or whatever it is they do at those things. (I should add in passing that at Mizzou, my alma mater incidentally, Homecoming is an even bigger deal than at most schools; the Homecoming tradition, now observed all over the country, was first started by MU.)

Then, on Oct. 24, it was discovered that some Shitlord had redecorated a wall in one the dorms with a Swastika made of feces.

Since all of this happened on Wolfe’s watch, he had to go. Black students began staging protests, one Black graduate student decided to go on a hunger strike until Wolfe stepped down, and then last Saturday, 32 Black Mizzou football players went on strike. Wolfe was gone by Monday. Wolfe could have revoked the players’ scholarships, he could have done a lot of things to fight back, but . . . well, you know the type. Maybe he received a golden parachute, which would make the situation even worse, because his cowardice deserves no reward of any kind.

No one is alleging that Wolfe has any personal connection the perpetrators. And so a rational person might wonder why the actions of a few locals should have cost Tim Wolfe his job. The answer is that we are not dealing with rationality. That is my point here. University life, which ought to be the most rational sphere in society, is now among the least. For Christ’s sake, the Professor in the viral video who called for “muscle” to remove a reporter from the protest site is a Professor of communication!

A similar situation is playing out over at the Mizzou of Connecticut, Yale. At Yale, every residence hall has a live-in Professor to guide the intellectual life of the hall. (At Mizzou, we did not have such a nurturing arrangement. We simply had R.A.s, who were just fat kids who might issue smoking-in-the-dorm citations and question you about why the couch in your room looks just like one that used to be in the lobby, but who otherwise left you to your own devices.) Anyways, in one of Yale’s resident colleges, husband and wife Nicholas and Erika Christakis, both teachers at that University, share this mentoring task.

Apparently, some residents of this hall complained to the couple that University administrators were taking the fun out of Halloween by advising them to avoid certain costumes. So Mrs. Christakis, who, as a Professor of early childhood education, would seem more than qualified to speak on such an issue, sent out a thoughtful email in reply. College students are probably mature enough to decide for themselves what costumes to wear . . . if it is alright for an eight-year-old blonde girl to dress as a non-White Disney Princess, who is to say at what age it is no longer acceptable? . . . perhaps we should be encouraging imagination, not restricting it . . . These were the kinds of reasonable things she said in the email. Ultimately, she concludes that we should not be forcing our “Hallowenish” standards on each other. That is obvious, I think.

Her husband added, “if you don’t like a costume someone is wearing, look away, or tell them you are offended. Talk to each other.” Again, this seems pretty obvious. If you are a sane and civilized person, those are pretty much your only two options.

Regrettably, it can no longer be taken for granted that Yale undergrads are sane and civilized. And now many of them are demanding that the couple resign their posts. In the words of one student, whom I am guessing considers herself a Strong Black Woman, and who is probably quite strong:

Then why the fuck did you accept the position?! Who the fuck hired you?! You should step down! If that is what you think about being a master you should step down! It is not about creating an intellectual space! ... Do you understand that? It’s about creating a home here.

Creating a home and an intellectual space were once thought to be compatible, but as the Tragedy of the West unfolds, this appears less and less true. Free speech and rationality are fading away in the name of tolerance.

I do not have a personal blog to remind you of my past wisdom, and I do not want to be one of those writers who produces the same story over and over, only with different characters. So if you are interested in placing these examples of academic degeneration in a larger societal context, see here.

But back to Mizzou and Columbia for a moment though. The image many in the media are promoting about Columbia, that it is an only semi-reconstructed Southern town, is flat-out silly. It is possible that since Ferguson the town has become more racially tense, but when I was there less than a decade ago, it was, for better and worse, a picture of American normalcy—college edition.

My first semester there, three differences from back home stuck-out to me.

  1. People were a bit nicer and a bit smarter.

  2. The distribution of personality-types and fashion-styles was much more narrow. I think MU acceptance letters must have come with complimentary Northface jackets. I must have forgotten to check that box on my admissions form.

  3. Back home, bathroom graffiti was mostly curse words and racial slurs; at Mizzou, it was debates about religion and between Greeks and non-Greeks.

In hindsight, these seem like the kind of differences that must be noticed by millions of kids arriving on campuses around the country every year. So in other words, Columbia is a normal American college town.

I heard very little in the way of racist commentary from my fellow students, even though it was known that I was a safe-space for the airing of such views. On my subjective racism-scale, I would rank Columbia as a bit less racist than Chicagoland, and a bit more so than Madison. And that might even overestimate Columbia’s racism, because people there are much more likely to be open-books than in those other two places.