COLUMBIA – MU police are conducting an investigation after cotton balls were scattered in front of MU’s Gaines/Oldham Black Culture Center early Friday morning.
MU Police Capt. Brian Weimer said it’s too early to say whether the incident would be considered a hate crime.
Talk of the incident spread via text message, Facebook, Twitter and word-of-mouth later in the morning. Many comments on the subject said it was an example of continuing racism.
Before the Civil War, many enslaved African-Americans were forced to work on cotton plantations.
Outside of the center Friday afternoon, MU senior Gerald McLemore said it is sad that things of this nature are still happening in the 21st century, especially during Black History Month.
“For it to happen in February, the month when African-Americans get to celebrate our history, is totally disrespectful,” McLemore said.
Weimer said a witness saw two individuals running away from the area between 1:30 and 2 a.m. There are no security cameras at the center, but there are cameras in residential halls and parking garages, which Weimer thinks could help.
Director of Student Life Mark Lucas said it is unfortunate that there are still people who would commit this type of act.
“Everyone will learn something from this, and hopefully we’ll be a better and stronger campus moving forward,” Lucas said.
People gathered around the display during the early afternoon, taking pictures and holding conversations around the center.
The cotton balls were left in front of the building until 2:30 p.m.
There was some debate about when to clean the area. Lucas said after some talks with his staff, it was decided that the cotton balls should be left where they were for a portion of the afternoon as a way to get the message out about the incident.
MU sophomore Melanie Seaton saw the cotton balls around noon and said she wanted them removed sooner.
As far as the act itself, Seaton said she doesn’t understand the mindset of whoever scattered the cotton balls.
“It’s really petty for someone to take the time to sit out here and do something like this,” Seaton said.
Chancellor Brady Deaton issued a statement, which was also e-mailed to the MU community, saying MU celebrates diversity and the act offends the university.
"This university is fully committed to tolerance and respect for every one of its members, and this kind of conduct will not be tolerated at MU," Deaton said.
Roger Worthington, MU’s assistant deputy chancellor and chief diversity officer, said this incident affects everyone at MU.
“This incident is a hostile act against the entire MU community,” Worthington said. “A campus-wide response is the most effective way to show we won’t tolerate these kinds of acts.”
Worthington leads the Chancellor’s Diversity Initiative. The initiative’s goal is to enhance diversity and present a welcoming campus.
“No university is ever completely immune, no matter how hard we try to educate or prevent these types of things from happening,” Worthington said.
The Legion of Black Collegians will hold a campuswide town hall meeting at 5 p.m. Monday at a location to be determined. MU administrators will be in attendance.
The LBC might also hold a protest early Monday, President Anthony Martin said in a statement released Friday.
"We are too progressive of a nation and a university to still see issues of this nature still taking place," he said in the statement.
Anyone with any information about the incident can contact the MU Police Department, 882-7201, or Crime Stoppers via its Web site or phone number, 875-TIPS.