MU Police investigate incident at Black Culture Center

Cottonballs at the Gaines/Oldham Black Culture Center

COLUMBIA – MU police are conducting an investigation after cotton balls were scattered in front of MU’s Gaines/Oldham BlackCulture Center early Friday morning.

MU Police Capt. Brian Weimer said it’s too early to say whether the incidentwould be considered a hate crime.

Talk of the incident spread via text message, Facebook, Twitterand word-of-mouth later in the morning. Many comments on the subject said it was an example of continuing racism.

Before the Civil War, many enslaved African-Americans were forced to work on cotton plantations.

Outside of the center Friday afternoon, MU senior Gerald McLemore said it is sad that things ofthis nature are still happening in the 21st century, especiallyduring Black History Month.

“For it to happen in February, the month when African-Americansget to celebrate our history, is totally disrespectful,” McLemore said.

Weimer said a witness saw twoindividuals running away from the area between 1:30 and 2 a.m. There are no security cameras at the center, but there arecameras in residential halls and parking garages, which Weimer thinks couldhelp.

Director of Student Life Mark Lucas said it is unfortunatethat there are still people who would commit this type of act.

“Everyone will learn something from this, and hopefully we’llbe a better and stronger campus moving forward,” Lucas said.

People gathered around the display during the earlyafternoon, taking pictures and holding conversations around the center.

The cotton balls were left in front of the building until2:30 p.m.

There was some debate about when to clean the area. Lucassaid after some talks with his staff, it was decided that the cotton balls should be left where they were for a  portion of the afternoon as a way to get the message out about theincident.

MU sophomore Melanie Seaton saw the cotton balls around noon and said she wanted them removed sooner.

As far as the act itself, Seatonsaid she doesn’t understand the mindset of whoever scattered the cotton balls.

“It’s really petty for someone to take the time to sit outhere and do something like this,” Seaton said.

Chancellor Brady Deaton issued a statement, which was also e-mailed to the MU community, saying MU celebrates diversity and the act offends the university.

"This university is fully committed to tolerance and respect for every one of its members, and this kind of conduct will not be tolerated at MU," Deaton said.

Roger Worthington, MU’s assistant deputy chancellor andchief diversity officer, said this incident affects everyone at MU.

“This incident is a hostile act against the entire MUcommunity,” Worthington said. “A campus-wide response is the most effective wayto show we won’t tolerate these kinds of acts.”

Worthington leads the Chancellor’s Diversity Initiative. Theinitiative’s goal is to enhance diversity and present a welcoming campus.

“No university is ever completely immune, no matter how hardwe try to educate or prevent these types of things from happening,” Worthingtonsaid.

The Legion of Black Collegians will hold a campuswide townhall meeting at 5 p.m. Monday at a location to be determined. MU administratorswill be in attendance.

The LBC might also hold a protest early Monday, President Anthony Martin said in a statement released Friday.

"We are too progressive of a nation and a university to still see issues of this nature still taking place," he said in the statement.

Students who want an outlet to be heard by MU on racialissues can contact Noel English, director of MU Equity, submit a bias incidentreport online or inform MU Police.

Anyone with any information about the incident can contact the MU Police Department, 882-7201, or Crime Stoppers via its Web site or phone number, 875-TIPS.

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