Editor's note: This originally was written to MU Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin and submitted to the Missourian.
Dear Chancellor Loftin,
Your recent email about implementation of diversity and inclusion training is a step in the right direction, but it is not enough.
In order to continue to press forward in the right direction, as a “Mizzou Family” all demands submitted to administration going back to 1969, and even before that, need to be acknowledged and addressed. All of those demands made by concerned students, faculty and staff need to be tackled in a way that is not a "knee-jerk" reaction to external/internal pressures. I would also caution you and your staff on the use of your language in email messages like these. Your language projects the image that administration crafted these strategies for change 1) out of their own concern and 2) as a result of the recent racial slur incident with LBC homecoming royalty court. This is incorrect and problematic for two main reasons:
The first reason is that administrators are not the originators of these strategies for diversity and inclusion. These strategies started with Lloyd Gaines back in 1935 as he pursued a law degree here at MU and was faced with racism and hate. It continued in 1939 with Lucille Bluford fighting for her right to an education. It continued in 1969 with black students fighting for their rights and demanding increases in black faculty and staff. It continued in 2014 with the creation of MU4MikeBrown by three black queer women who wanted to ignite change at Mizzou and put an end to the racist culture on campus. Even today, in 2015, with the #BlackLivesMatter movement you have students, especially those doing grassroots organizing (and aren't in formal organizations) who have purposefully, strategically and consistently brought these concerns to the attention of your administration. This is why your language that attempts to adopt strategies like diversity and inclusion training as “new strategies” without acknowledging where the ideas/strategies came from is disrespectful and false. These issues and the strategies that brave individuals have brought to the attention of administrators is not new to MU and also not new to you and your staff specifically. So to not acknowledge the protesters, organizers, students, faculty and staff who have taken of their time and energy to hold you and your administration accountable is very disrespectful and paints a false image of the work that your administration has been doing on this campus.
The second main reason this message is problematic is because it continues to only highlight incidents at Mizzou that involve student organizations or people with social platforms, like the MSA President. Acknowledging their experiences is very important but by only highlighting those experiences you implicitly erase the hundreds, if not thousands, of marginalized students at Mizzou who face incidents of racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, transphobia and every other "ism" and "phobia" you can think about every day at Mizzou. I think about how, recently, a friend of mine was faced with racist students outside of the J-school and I did not see any messaging from you or your staff showing any kind of public concern or care for her situation, which happened prior to the LBC incident. These "unheard" stories are worth your time and attention; their lived experiences are worth acknowledging and their humanity worth fighting for. This constant lack of acknowledgment to the struggles of oppressed individuals reinforces the notion that administrators only react to incidents on campus that happen to people in organizations or positions of social power. This also signifies that administrators are highly selective in their "concern and care" for members of the student body, both undergraduate and graduate, which I personally believe to be a true, yet unfortunate, fact.
As I said in the beginning, I acknowledge that diversity and inclusion strategies are a step, but it is not enough. You and your staff will be on the wrong side of history if you continue to erase the voices of marginalized students who fight for their lives and the lives of their friends every day. I hope that your staff puts out an additional statement acknowledging these facts because otherwise your words will end up being another shallow message that is not beneficial to the student body.
The struggle continues.
Jonathan Butler is a graduate student at MU.