I want to thank the people who are advocating for mandatory diversity classes at MU. As your peer and fellow Tiger, you have my full support, and I hope this is a change we see in the near future.
I also want to thank the leaders of the Legion of Black Collegians, the Columbia branch of the NAACP and everyone else who was offended by what our fellow students have done. There are many who chose to be calm and composed in the face of these infuriating acts of ignorance.
The immediate response from students painting signs that say "one love" and "peace," instead of displaying anger and hatred, is truly inspiring.
I just wish I could feel the same way.
The latest race-related vandalism at MU has convinced me it's going to take a lot more than diversity classes to fix MU's crumbling reputation of "zero tolerance" for hate crimes.
Like many students, I was angry, appalled and embarrassed by the barbaric use of symbolic speech last February when cotton balls were scattered in front of the Gaines/Oldham Black Culture Center.
After Zachary Tucker and Sean Fitzgerald were arrested and charged with the crime, I experienced a range of emotions while the university and the legal system decided what to do with them.
At first, I was relieved when they were apprehended, and I was hungry for justice. I believed they should have been prosecuted to the utmost of the law's ability. Expulsion, fines, hate-crime charges — throw the book at them.
Heck, if they were sentenced to wear the letter R made from cotton balls on their shirts for the rest of their lives, I would not have batted an eye.
After some time, I calmed down a bit, and, as a result, I softened. As I thought about it, I made an effort to put my emotions aside and look at the situation more objectively. I tried to put myself in the shoes of their parents, friends or siblings.
Maybe, I reasoned, just maybe, those two kids (and I use the word purposely) really did just get blackout drunk and made an incredibly unfortunate decision.
Maybe they didn't mean to send a deeply condescending message to our school's black population. The fact that it was on the Black Culture Center's lawn and happened during Black History Month could have been a terrible coincidence.
I even went so far as to feel a little sympathy for the guys. If they were expelled and charged with a hate crime — and I was sure they would be — it could effectively ruin their lives.
How far could they go in a career before their criminal records would hold them back? Could they pursue a long-term relationship without disclosing this part of their past?
I guess the university softened, too. Apparently, MU decided 80 hours of community service and a laughable "littering" charge did a sufficient job of reflecting its "zero-tolerance" policy.
But alas, another February and another hate crime.
This time, student Benjamin Elliott admitted he spray-painted a direct insult about Black History Month outside Hatch Hall.
Again, alcohol was cited as the accomplice.
Again, the administration sent a mass e-mail apologizing and promising the "zero-tolerance" policy would patch everything up.
I'll believe it when I see it.
If anything, the recent incident has only proved last year's application of the "zero-tolerance" policy is just as responsible for the painted slur as the guy holding the spray paint.
Last year, MU chose to protect two warped, thoughtless students rather than speak up for the thousands of students who were offended and targeted by what has become universally known as "the cotton-ball incident."
I hate to be the "what iffer," but I can't help wondering whether I would be writing this column today if the vandals had been slapped last year with a "zero-tolerance" policy.
Enough is enough. The university has no choice but to treat this recent act of racism as a prelude to what I fear may become an annual event.
If the first instance hadn't taught me a few lessons, the softer part of me might hold onto the possibility that Elliott isn't as monstrous as his admitted drunken actions make him out to be.
But why risk it? MU can't afford to take that chance again.
It's no secret MU lacks diversity. In this area, I think mandatory classes would be quite eye-opening to a lot of incoming and continuing students.
I think it would be even more meaningful if these classes could cite the outcome of the recent incident as an example of the real, hard consequences of such crimes. I can only hope to see these classes materialize before I leave MU.
For the record, I was reporting for the Missourian at the time of the "cotton ball incident," but I didn't cover the story. I am still at the Missourian and I am not covering the recent incident either.
Right now, I am writing this column about how I feel as a student at MU.
Call me an idealist, but I still have an expectation MU administrators will begin to do a better job of upholding the reputations of the best of us — not the worst.
Anne Christnovich is a senior at MU and currently reports for the Missourian's public safety beat.