COLUMBIA – A week after a racist act struck MU, students gathered at the Gaines/Oldham Black Culture Center to prove the community wouldn’t be defined by one incident.
Early in the morning on Feb. 26, cotton balls were scattered in front of the center, an act which was thought to be a hate crime by authorities.
The community was invited to the center Friday between noon and 3 p.m. to demonstrate their solidarity, and attendees were encouraged to wear blue. According to the event's Facebook page, light blue represents unity, healing, tranquility and understanding; dark blue represents knowledge, power, integrity and seriousness.
At the event, attendees signed several “Pick Unity” poster boards. Among the signers were University of Missouri System President Gary Forsee and Chancellor Brady Deaton.
Forsee said the gathering at the center was an opportunity for him to show support for the students. He views the university system and MU's campus as a family.
“It’s important that family rallies together, especially in what has been a difficult week,” Forsee said.
Deaton said the gathering allowed the community to come together.
“It reflects a genuine concern to not let an ugly act mar the progress we’ve made over the years,” Deaton said.
“(Deaton and Forsee's actions go) beyond professionalism,” said Nathan Stephens, Director of the Black Culture Center. “It shows people caring, and that’s remarkable.”
Stephens said although a terrible event occurred last Friday, there was a silver lining.
“Everyone has come to the realization there is work to do,” Stephens said. “To see so many people across different demographics roll up their sleeves and get to work is amazing.”
MU junior Hannah Greene attended the town hall meeting Monday at the center in order to discuss the incident as well as other diversity issues. She said she came to Friday's event to continue to show the hurt from the crime wasn’t specific to one group.
“I wanted to do my part to show support against this racist act,” Greene said.
Kristen Andrews, Activities Chair for the Legion of Black Collegians, said the event was put together to show appreciation for those who have demonstrated their support.
“We decided to have a little reception to thank those who supported us,” said Andrews, adding that she was glad MU police had made an arrest.
Two MU students were arrested Tuesday night for the incident. Sean Fitzgerald, 19, and Zachary Tucker, 21, were arrested on suspicion of tampering. Their attorneys said in a release Friday that the two planned to personally apologize for their action.
Andrews said she was excited to see MU’s student organizations come together after an event of this nature. Organizations who supported the event included the Legion of Black Collegians, the Missouri Students Association, MU’s chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and Four Front, a minority student organization.
“Something like this could have divided our campus if we let it. To see student organizations come together is really impressive,” Andrews said.
Another event is planned: “United We Stand,” a demonstration to encourage unity, will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. at the front steps of Jesse Hall.