The destructive effects of the Concerned Student 1950 protest at our university two years ago are obvious and quantifiable. Enrollment is down. State support has diminished. Public perception is negative.
The positive effects are only now emerging. Whether they will, in the end, outweigh the negatives is the important question that only time can answer. Well, time and lots of hard work.
In trying to understand those enduring effects, negative and positive, I turned first to my Journalism School colleague Berkley Hudson, who chaired the Faculty Council committee that led the institution’s early response to the protest and to the systemic racism that brought about that protest.
Berkley has stepped down from that chairmanship, but he retains his passion for the cause of pursuing what he calls the “Missouri Miracle.” That miracle, as he explained it, would be the achieving of genuine understanding and mutual respect among all the disparate groups that make up the university community.
The biggest obstacle that must be overcome on the way to that goal, he told me, is the persistent skepticism among many faculty, students, alumni and policy makers that we really have a serious problem of racism.
To overcome that obstacle, above all, “We need to listen to each other’s stories,” he said.
Prof. Stephen Montgomery-Smith, who now chairs the Faculty Council committee, was, when he joined the committee, one of those skeptics.
“I’ve been converted,” he told me. Since his conversion experience, he has come to realize that many of our fellow whites still don’t see that the problem is real. A small percentage of the skeptics, he thinks, are themselves racist. Most, however, just haven’t yet been converted.
So what must be done?
“The solution is to get to know non-white people and have serious conversations,” he said. He suggests at least three approaches.
One, which the committee is working on, is a series of videos in which non-whites relate their experiences on campus and in the community. “Listening sessions,” he calls those.
Another would be structured conversations across racial lines, probably at the school or department level. A third would be more emphasis on the research that has shown the reality of “implicit bias,” which may go undetected but which shapes attitudes and actions.
Both professors credit the new campus and system leaders with understanding the importance of tackling the issues related to race.
“You have to have a lot of faith to believe good will come of this,” Prof. Montgomery-Smith told me. “I have that faith.”
Reuben Faloughi’s experience at Mizzou and back home in Georgia has left him a little short on faith but hopeful. He remembers being told, when he was a walk-on to the University of Georgia football team, that his dream of graduate school was just that — a dream, for a black student-athlete.
Now he’s a year or so from finishing his Ph.D. in counseling psychology and teaching the course in social justice that has been required of all College of Education students since the protest two years ago. He was a member of Concerned Student 1950.
“Things have definitely changed,” he told me, “and things have stayed the same.”
So far, he sees more emphasis and more progress on the public relations of changing the university’s image than on changing the substance of race relations. The institution as a whole clings to a “victim consciousness” and crouches in a “defensive stance,” he thinks.
But he agrees with the professors that President Mun Choi and Chancellor Alexander Cartwright are pushing in the right direction.
The point man for that push, of course, is Kevin McDonald, who holds the dual jobs of “inclusion, diversity and equity” officer at both the campus and system levels.
He points to “substantial steps forward,” including the new two-hour “Citizenship@Mizzou” course required of all new undergraduates, broad-based advisory committees at campus and system levels and an attitude at the top, also new, that “nobody wants to sweep it under the rug.”
My conversations with all four of these leaders left me thinking that, two years on from 2015, our university is at last addressing the problem that Kevin McDonald put this way: “How to own that history and move forward.”
We can’t change the history, but we can — and must — change direction. We still have a long way to go.