9 Nov 2015

With $1 million at stake, U. of Missouri’s president now taking protests seriously

To the students, Tim Wolfe seemed to be speaking another language.
The University of Missouri system president emerged from a fundraiser on Friday night dressed in sharp suit and a baby blue tie. For weeks, he had sidestepped questions about a string of racist incidents on campus. When surrounded by protesters at a homecoming parade, he had driven off. Now a group of African American students were waiting for him.
Spurred on by the hunger strike of a fellow student, the small crowd peppered Wolfe with questions. As the head of their university, did he even know what systematic oppression was?
“I will give you an answer, and I’m sure it will be a wrong answer,” Wolfe said.
“You gonna Google it?” one of the students asked sarcastically.
“I will give you an answer, and I’m sure it will be a wrong answer,” Wolfe repeated. “Systematic oppression is when you don’t believe that you have the equal opportunity for success ….”
He didn’t get any further. Stung by the suggestion that racial oppression was more imagined than real, the crowd erupted in anger and disbelief.
“Did you just blame us for systematic oppression, Tim Wolfe?” a student shouted angrily as Wolfe turned his back and walked away. “Did you just blame black students?”
Barely 24 hours later, however, the war of words had become something else: a fight over finances.
And that the businessman-cum-college president could understand. 
On Saturday night, a group of African American students on the University of Missouri’s football team — including several stars — announced that they were joining protesters.
“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,” they wrote in a statement posted to Twitter along with a photo of them locked arm-in-arm with Jonathan Butler, the student on a hunger strike. 
On Sunday, MU football coach Gary Pinkel seemed to throw his entire team’s support behind the protests, tweeting a picture of his players along with the protest’s #ConcernedStudent1950 hashtag and the message: “The Mizzou Family stands as one. We are united. We are behind our players.”
“After meeting with the team this morning, it is clear they do not plan to return to practice until Jonathan resumes eating,” Pinkel and Athletic Director Mack Rhoades said in a statement. 
At stake is more than just pride for the struggling Southeastern Conference squad. If the football team’s boycott doesn’t end by Saturday, when Mizzou is scheduled to play Brigham Young University, the school won’t just forfeit the game; it will also automatically forfeit $1 million for breaking a contract between the two colleges. For MU, the total cost likely will be far higher.


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