University of Missouri System President Tim Wolfe has resigned his position at an emergency meeting of the Board of Curators, and R. Bowen Loftin will resign his position at the end of the year. If you’re catching up on the whole story, the Columbia Missourian has a good timeline of all the events that led to this morning’s events. There’s much to reflect on in this situation, so let’s look at a few points individually.
- This Isn’t The End – We did a #FollowFriday on Tim Wolfe when he was first hired in 2012, and his résumé was befitting of someone taking on the leadership of an organization like the university system. The protesters have accomplished a surface level victory. We’re doubtful that any true change will be effected because Wolfe no longer represents the university. To cultivate the change the students are seeking, this should serve as a conversation about the racial environment on campus, and around the community. In the endless stream of tweets, Facebook posts, articles, and more we’ve read about this someone made the comment of, “Racism wasn’t created overnight and it certainly won’t be eradicated overnight”. Peaceful and thoughtful conversation (which, regardless of your feelings on the matter has certainly happened) is the only route available to change the issues raised by the protesters. If the status quo returns after the national attention leaves, nothing will have truly been accomplished.
- Moving Forward – The UM System, MU, and the Columbia community at large have a large task at hand. We need to define what “racism” is and what it looks like here. In Central Missouri. In 2015. It certainly is racial epithets, swastikas, and much more. But those are the SYMPTOMS of racism, not racism itself. Until we all stop making assumptions based on the color of someone’s skin (or what house of worship they attend, or fill-in-how-we-judge-others-here), nothing will change. There are some good first steps at work. People are talking about issues that have plagued our region for a very long time. Much of that conversation is angry, on both sides. But there’s a conversation happening. Here’s hoping its focus is on solutions and not who is right or who “won”.
- Recognition – There is racism on the Universtiy of Missouri campus in Columbia, Missouri. It doesn’t matter if you believe that or not. It exists. Whether the demands made by the protesters are attainable in the timeframes given is debatable, but the root cause of those demands must be addressed. Too often in situations such as this, the conversation is caught up in these details rather than solving the actual problem.
Change will take a long time. Racism is a disease with no easy cure. A system president stepping down won’t solve anything, but it can be the start of something. We hope that is what happens.