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We Live Here: Why wasn't race a priority before things unraveled at Mizzou?

On Oct. 10, students blocked a car carrying former University of Missouri system president Tim Wolfe during Mizzou's homecoming parade
Susannah Lohr
St. Louis Public Radio
On Oct. 10, students blocked a car carrying former University of Missouri system president Tim Wolfe during Mizzou's homecoming parade

This week’s show started with a simple question we could not get out of our heads as we followed the recent shakeups at Mizzou.

We’re referring to, of course, the wave of protests over racial incidents on MU’s campusand subsequent resignation of Tim Wolfe, who on Nov. 9 stepped down from his post as university system president following a student’s hunger strike and the threat of a boycott by the football team.

One of theflash pointsthis fall was a confrontation Wolfe had with black students outside a fundraiser in Kansas City.

The students asked Wolfe to define “systematic oppression.” He stumbled through the answer, and resigned three days later.

We couldn’t help wondering:

In this week’s show, we went in search of answers.

Listen to the podcast where we hunt for answers about the recent events at Mizzou

 The first thing we learned?

Wayne Goode, who was on the board of curators at the time, said officials assumed the businessman was attuned to race relations and would be adept at handling them.

Most recently, black students — including the student body president — reported being called racial slurs. Someone, using human feces, drew a swastika on a bathroom wall.   

Incidents like these are nothing new, according to several black alumni we interviewed.

Shawn Taylor, who went to Mizzou in the 1980s, said the recent events there unlocked painful memories of her own college experience.

She and other alumssaid their time at MU was smattered with instances of racism that often garnered an apathetic response from those in charge.

Saint Louis University history professor Stefan Bradley, who got his Ph.D from Mizzou, said it’s almost seems “unconscionable” that diversity issues weren’t a big part of the conversation given this history.

Raymond Cotton, a Washington, D.C., lawyer who negotiates contracts between college presidents and university boards, said officials are usually looking for someone who can raise money.

Issues like diversity and race aren’t normally top of mind in leadership searches, he said.

But that may be changing because of what happened at Mizzou, Bradley and Cotton said.

Since Wolfe’s resignation from the UM system, there’s been a wave of activism about race on college campuses around the country.

Help inform our coverage

This report includes sources from our Public Insight Network. Learn more about the network and how you can become a source  here.

Copyright 2021 St. Louis Public Radio. To see more, visit St. Louis Public Radio.

Kameel reports on race and culture. She is also one of the producers of our We Live Here podcast, covering race, class, power, and poverty in the St. Louis Region.
Tim Lloyd grew up north of Kansas City and holds a masters degree in journalism from the University of Missouri, Columbia. Prior to joining St. Louis Public Radio, he launched digital reporting efforts for Harvest Public Media, a Corporation for Public Broadcasting funded collaboration between Midwestern NPR member stations that focuses on agriculture and food issues. His stories have aired on a variety of stations and shows including Morning Edition, Marketplace, KCUR, KPR, IPR, NET, WFIU. He won regional Edward R Murrow Awards in 2013 for Writing, Hard News and was part of the reporting team that won for Continuing Coverage. In 2010 he received the national Debakey Journalism Award and in 2009 he won a Missouri Press Association award for Best News Feature.