Racial Conflict at MU Sparks University Response, Demonstration

Sep 29, 2016

Credit Riley Beggin / KBIA

It’s been nearly a year since the University of Missouri erupted in protests over racial conflict on campus. Now, a similar incident is reigniting the conversation.

The Delta Upsilon fraternity at the University of Missouri was temporarily suspended on Wednesday after members allegedly yelled racial slurs at two black students in front of their fraternity house late Tuesday night.

The students were members of the Legion of Black Collegians, which released a statement early Wednesday morning detailing the event.

They wrote that MU Police arrived shortly after the conflict and began trying to control Legion members rather than the white students heckling from the frat house. The statement said another officer used “verbal force” while resting his hand on his gun.

Sean Earl, the president of the Missouri Students Association, got calls at 2:00 in the morning from three of his friends. He was shocked.

“My hope was that this was going to be a year of progress, a year of change,” Earl said. “This incident from last night sets us back. It doesn’t mean that we can’t continue to grow. This is just reiterating the fact that we do have to change.”

But Earl and others noticed one big change from last year’s incident: institutional support.

Interim Chancellor Hank Foley wrote in a press release less than 12 hours after the incident that the university has “zero tolerance for actions like this.”

The statement said that the university would be investigating the students involved in the incident, and would determine whether any individuals should be suspended or expelled.

MU and Delta Upsilon International also both temporarily suspended the local chapter.

Ben Trachtenberg, chair of the MU Faculty Council, reached out yesterday to let Legion members know that he’s interested in making change, and that students can bring their concerns to the council.

“I think it’s important for faculty and students and staff and everyone at this university to be working together to solve some real problems,” Trachtenberg said. “So my attitude has been that I’m willing to get good advice from anyone who’s willing to give it to me.”

Black students came together on Wednesday to support one another and talk about their experiences. The Legion organized a demonstration in the Student Center during the day and a town hall discussion at the Gaines-Oldham Black Cultural Center last night.

Najeebah Hussain, chair of the Social Justice Committee in the MSA Senate, said she was at the town hall last night, and that it was a space for healing and for expressing frustration.

“It’s stuff you don’t see on social media, you know it’s raw,” Hussain said. “You get to see what people are dealing with firsthand and how it’s been affecting them, and I think that’s really powerful. It was great to see so many people there just to listen and learn.”

Representatives from MU’s Interfraternity Council and Panhellenic Association, MU police, faculty and administrators also attended the meeting, including the interim president of the university system, Mike Middleton.

Since last year’s protests garnered nation-wide attention, the university has launched multiple diversity initiatives and pledged more than $2 million dedicated to recruiting and retaining faculty of color.

Nonetheless, students like Earl believe this incident is a reminder that race relations at MU could still use some work.

“We have to realize that certain people just do it out of ignorance, to get attention, some people do it because they don’t know any better,” Earl said. “That’s our job as a community to reach out and educate each other and put that on our administration and faculty to make sure they’re educating the student population on these facts as well.”

Students at the town hall discussion said that Greek life needs to be held accountable for racist incidents.

The Legion of Black Collegians say they are working with the administration to develop policies to eradicate these instances in the future.