COLUMBIA — One week after cotton balls were strewn in front of MU's Gaines/Oldham Black Culture Center, MU students and community members who gathered for an anti-hate rally said they wanted to forgive and move on.
Forgiveness and unity were the main themes of the Legion of Black Collegians’ anti-hate observance Friday night.
Participants were not reluctant to be vocal about how they felt, but their reactions were mixed.
“When I first found out about the incident, I was angry, but now I am just saddened," said Kristen Andrews, activities chairwoman for the Legion of Black Collegians. “Hearing that they issued an apology helps, but only if it was sincerely given. It is in my nature to forgive.”
Two MU students were arrested Tuesday in connection with the incident. They were charged with second-degree tampering, and police are classifying the charge as a hate crime. Earlier Friday, the students issued a statement through their attorneys apologizing for their actions.
Lisa White, a junior and vice president of the Legion of Black Collegians, said the organization would meet with the two students, Zachary Tucker, 21, and Sean Fitzgerald, 19, to discuss their actions.
“I’m really religious, so I would like to forgive them, but I would like them to know it still resonates with me," White said. "I hope the university takes their actions into account, as well as take into account the student voices on this matter."
The student voices are not just those of the Black Collegians, but students across campus from all backgrounds.
“All facets of diversity are feeling the impact,” she said.
Many participants wanted to send a message that this kind of behavior will not be tolerated at MU.
“This is a good event to follow up what occurred at the Monday town hall meeting. Problems still exist, but it is a surprise when they surface,” MU Deputy Provost Ken Dean said. “I thought we were moving along at a progressive pace. It’s disheartening."
It is important to react and respond, to show that this is not an acceptable thing to do, he said.
“We are going to continue working to make sure everyone feels good, safe and welcomed at MU,” Dean said.
For some it was not just about forgiveness, it was about learning a lesson.
“They were being ignorant,” MU freshman Stacy Ike said. “But I am forgiving them because that’s what it’s all about it. They have to learn from this. The suspensions and learning from it is more important than jail time.”
Tim Noce, president of the Missouri Students Association, said the incident brought about renewed student interest in promoting diversity.
“We’ve got to follow through with all of the ideas that were brought to the table this week, whether we’re students, staff or faculty," Noce said. "This is a beginning of a new era, not the end just because time has progressed.”
Earlier in the afternoon Friday, students gathered at the Gaines/Oldham Black Culture Center to show the community wouldn’t be defined by one incident.
The community was invited to the center Friday between noon and 3 p.m. to demonstrate its 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” posters. 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 UM 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,” Andrews said, adding that she was glad MU police had made an arrest.
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.