Student protesters no longer fill the campus, but the demands and dialogue those protests fueled continues to reshape the University of Missouri. A tumultuous semester of student protests resulted in the resignation of former University of Missouri System President Tim Wolfe and the departure of numerous other University leaders. Those that remain now work to answer the question: where do they go from here? In the final installment of our series, “Mizzou at a Crossroads,” KBIA’s Ryan Famuliner tells us how these University’s leaders are fostering a conversation about race and inclusion on campus.
The Vice Chancellor of Inclusion, Diversity and Equity position was created the same day Wolfe and MU Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin resigned in November. Chuck Henson, an Associate Dean in the MU law school, was appointed to the new position on an interim basis the next day.
From his new office in Jesse Hall, Henson knows his job is a tall order, and he’s still shaping it. It’s also only an interim post for him: three finalists are currently interviewing for the full time job. Henson says just in the last few weeks, student groups for Asian students, and Jewish students have reached out to him trying to figure out how they can utilize this new office. But, the events of last semester have created an urgent need to discuss the experience of black students on campus. Henson says, to find a way forward, he looked back to the list of demands Concerned Student 1-9-5-0 made of administrators last semester.
“And I could see three areas, how do we treat each other? Two: what do we know? what are the facts? What should we know? And the third one was, who’s here?” Henson said.
It’s not the first time administrators have tried this kind of thing, far from it. Some recent examples: The Chancellor’s Diversity Initiative was created in 2004 to try to address some of these same issues. It still exists, but now it will report to Henson’s office. The University also created an initiative in 2011 called One Mizzou, following two high profile racist incidents on campus in the two years prior. Then-chancellor Brady Deaton called One Mizzou his proudest achievement as chancellor. But the students who helped create it, graduated. Deaton retired in 2013. And by 2015, that initiative had completely dissolved, and instead One Mizzou was used as a promotional slogan.
“I think we learned that we have to maintain an ongoing dialogue about important issues. Staying engaged, demonstrating respect for all segments of the community, there is no alternative to that,” Deaton said.
Henson, and other leaders on campus, are tasked with starting the conversation over again now, and figuring out how to sustain it.