Eric Johnson is the principal of Hickman High School. He made this announcement to students on Wednesday regarding the events occurring at MU and their impact on the Columbia community as a whole.

In the wake of the recent protests on Mizzou's campus, the events surrounding them and the subsequent actions taken, the concept of voice has been a common theme used in both a literal and metaphorical sense as we've observed, engaged in dialogue about and attempted to understand what is happening in our own backyard.

Mizzou students have spoken about feeling voiceless and invisible on a campus they see as their academic home. Some people express that the issues they've voiced have been silenced by the heavy hand of bureaucracy when expressing displeasure and concern. The silent voices of school officials on topics that the students and faculty they serve felt should have been addressed has also emerged as a point of contention. And finally, the collective voice of a student body advocating for change has found itself at the center of national news.

The events surrounding Jonathan Butler, an MU graduate student who went on a seven-day hunger strike and called for the dismissal of the UM System president, was the impetus for the protests. Student organizations, a group called Concerned Student 1950 and additionally Mizzou football players joined in support to express students' feelings of concern regarding racism, sexism, gender bias and other issues of social injustice that have occurred on the Mizzou campus. The events have spurred a national conversation about student activism, social inequality, politics, racism, allyship, First Amendment rights and a host of other topics that have personal, professional and social implications for many.

While there are many specific details that prevent a clear picture from being painted of the role that past events, current realities and larger societal concerns play in this act of protest, one statement that is unarguably true is that these conversations are not isolated to our Columbia community. In fact, there are national discussions regarding social injustice that can be very beneficial to our progress as a nation.

However, instead of making progress, we can run the risk of these discussions further tearing at the social fabric of our nation if we take binary stances on topics and present them as not only personal truths, but erroneously as universal truths. We have to seek to understand one another and our own positionality.

I am reminded that Hickman High School does not exist in a bubble, and you too have been engaging in similar dialogue. As we continue to have conversations among ourselves, I want us to remember that we all have varied social experiences that influence our stance on these topics. Let us remain respectful of one another's thoughts, make the issues the focal point rather than the person you're conversing with and frame and present your thoughts as your own personal beliefs because we can only truly speak for ourselves. Angry commentary does not yield positive progress. Feelings of guilt immobilize us and are therefore futile, and two mouths speaking simultaneously often means no ears are listening.

Hickman students, you are a powerful, creative, thoughtful group of young people, and I encourage you to discuss issues with an open mind. Seek first to understand and do not invalidate anyone's experiences. Understand that although it can cloud the waters of what once seemed to be previously clear thoughts, it is possible for two seemingly paradoxical statements to be true at the same time, depending on the looking glass through which you view the topic. 

Also remember that people, their lives, their livelihood and their loved ones are attached to these events. The goal should never be to celebrate any one person's misfortunes. Instead, the dialogue should center around how to continue to make progress in this society we live in. Ultimately, it is our responsibility as citizens to discuss these topics as brothers and sisters who coexist in an imperfect world. I chose education as a professional field because there are things about how we treat one another, view one another and experience this world alongside one another that need to change. I invest in you because you are the people I trust to change it. Have a wonderful day, Hickman.

This story is part of a section of the Missourian called From Readers, which is dedicated to your voices and your stories. We hope you'll consider sharing. Here's how. Supervising editor is Joy Mayer.

Recommended for you

Join the conversation

When posting comments, please follow our community guidelines:
• Login with a social account on WorldTable.
• Don't use obscene, profane or vulgar language or engage in personal attacks.
• Stay on topic. Don’t hijack a forum to talk about something else or to post spam.
• Abuse of the community could result in being banned.
• Comments on our website and social media may be published in our newspaper or on our website.