University of Missouri Football Team Goes on Strike, Protesting Racial Harassment on Campus


Players are not going to play until the school president quits or is fired.

Taking a stand against instances of racially charged harassment on campus, the University of Missouri football team has decided to stop playing until the school president resigns or is fired, several players announced on Twitter on Saturday. 

“The athletes of color on the University of Missouri football team truly believe ‘injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,’ ” read the team’s statement, quoting Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter From a Birmingham Jail.”

“We will no longer participate in any football related activities until president Tim Wolfe resigns or is removed due to his negligence toward marginalized students’ experiences,” the statement continued. It was tweeted by Missouri Tigers players including defensive back Anthony Sherrils and running back Russell Hansbrough, highlighting a call for the administration to address and mitigate growing racial tensions on the university’s campus.

The team’s head coach, Gary Pinkel, tweeted his support of the decision this morning. 

The boycott comes less than a week after student activist Jonathan Butler declared a hunger strike to protest what he dubbed “a slew of racist, sexist, homophobic, etc., incidents that have dynamically disrupted the learning experience for marginalized/underrepresented students” since Wolfe was named president in 2012, Butler wrote in a letter posted to Facebook on Nov. 2.

In the past three months, those incidents have included the student association president being called a racial slur on campus, a swastika drawn on a dorm room wall in human feces, and a student group that was threatened with pepper spray during a peaceful demonstration, Butler said in his letter. “Although these incidents individually are not [Wolfe’s] fault, as a collection of incidents at the university, they are his responsibility to address.” Butler went on to write that he’s willing to risk his life by abstaining from food until Wolfe resigns. 

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Wolfe issued a statement on Sunday in which he acknowledged that change was needed. He pointed to a systemwide diversity and inclusion strategy that was approved by the university board last summer and said he was dedicated to “ongoing dialogue to address these very complex, societal issues as they affect the campus community.”

Last week, Wolfe met with Butler and representatives from other student groups to talk about issues of racism and intolerance at the University of Missouri. “Racism does exist at our university, and it is unacceptable,” Wolfe said in a press statement. “It is a long-standing, systemic problem which daily affects our family of students, faculty, and staff. I am sorry this is the case,” he went on. “I truly want all members of our community to feel included, valued and safe.”

He apologized for an incident during the homecoming parade last month in which he appeared to ignore protesters from the antibias campus group Concerned Student 1950, which takes its name from the year the university began enrolling black students.

But many members of the group say his note is too little too late. They’ve since posted a list of demandscalling not just for Wolfe’s resignation, along with a handwritten apology and a press conference, but for the University of Missouri to create and enforce a comprehensive racial awareness program and make it mandatory for everyone on campus to complete. They also demanded the creation of a 10-year plan for retaining marginalized students, and an increase in black faculty and staff to 10 percent.

As of fall 2014, black faculty members accounted for 3.25 percent of the full-time faculty of 2,895, and 7 percent of full-time staff of 5,836, according to the school’s statistics. African Americans comprise 9 percent of the overall metro population of Columbia, Missouri, and 11.6 percent of the state population. Black students make up 7 percent of the school’s total enrollment, with the class of 2012 marking the school’s most diverse freshman class to date, according to the university.

It’s not just undergrads at the University of Missouri who have recently thrust racial tensions on campus into the national spotlight. Last month, a student group at American University in Washington, D.C., created a campaign to expose racist comments made privately on social media by printing them out and posting them on the school’s gates.

Missouri’s footballers are not alone. On Thursday, students at Berkeley High School in California walked out to the campus of nearby University of California, Berkeley, to protest a white supremacist slur left on a campus library computer. Police are investigating it as a hate crime, but school administrators have not publicly identified the student who confessed. 

This story was originally published on Take Part.

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