COLUMBIA — Student leaders and administrators spoke about finding unity after an incident Friday in which cotton balls were strewn across the front entrance of the Gaines/Oldham Black Culture Center, an act that was described as hostile, divisive and deplorable.
Students, teachers and community members spilled out of the packed room where a town hall meeting was held at 5 p.m. Monday at the Black Culture Center.
Legion of Black Collegians President Anthony Martin started the meeting by calling the incident a “threat to minorities' well-being on this campus.” Martin explained the historical context of cotton; black slave labor was used to harvest the crop in pre-Civil War times. Nathan Stephens, the director of the center , said that though the incident did not involve physical violence, it was an act of symbolic violence.
MU Police Chief Jack Watring said the Columbia Police Department is treating the crime as a "racist incident." Watring said video camera footage has not been helpful in identifying suspects. There is no camera that directly focuses on the Black Culture Center. The police are also following leads from looking at cotton ball purchases in the area, residence hall swipe-ins and Twitter posts.
The original 15 minutes allotted for questions and comments had to be extended to cater to several audience members who wished to speak. Commenters expressed disappointment in the lack of diversity courses at MU and the need to examine solutions to combat situations like the cotton ball incident.
“So many people think we live in a post-racial society but we don’t,” sophomore Lakeisha Williams said. Williams said that having truly diverse conversations would involve including people outside the black community.
The audience at the town hall meeting was mostly comprised of black people.
Chancellor Brady Deaton said MU needs to continue the dialogue and support the diversity cause.
“Fear has no place in a citadel of learning,” Deaton said.
If anyone has any information concerning the incident they can post an anonymous message online to mupolice.com or call Crime Stoppers, 875-8477.