What’s happening at the University of Missouri to cause its football team to stand in unity with coaches and its athletic director to boycott practice? Apparently the team is voicing its concern about injustices at the university dealing with how the university is failing to take allegations of racism seriously. Does that mean the university has done something wrong? Well, so far what I gather is it means there are many who believe so. Exactly what injustice has been done, I’m not sure but I’m doing my best to gather factual data and see if I can get an understanding of the totality of circumstances. This is something many fail to do because they often believe what they read without truly knowing the full extent of a story.
Back in 2004 New York Magazine published an article about “Sex & Silence” in which Naomi Wolf detailed allegations of sexual harassment which some readers felt made “an intense argument for meaningful, effective regulation and punishment of faculty members who molest students.” Many readers also expressed Ms. Wolf managed to shine a spotlight on an injustice at Yale University and said that alumni and the public should take action by issuing a boycott for it not having not dealt with the “ongoing problem” by not donating money. Although some might have withheld their support of the university after reading about the allegations of injustice, chances are many alumni went on supporting their alma mater. While many readers seemed to support a boycott, the odds of it actually happening seemed unlikely. One of the problems in effecting change might have been due to timing. Wolf was addressing issues of concern well beyond the time that the alleged problems occurred. Similar to allegations that have been made against Bill Cosby, her account of injustice at Yale came several years after the alleged incidents occurred. If I remember correctly, it was almost twenty years that had gone by since a certain faculty member had committed the horrible acts. Still some felt it was better late than never when it came to telling on the professor.
What’s happening at the University of Missouri is apparently happening now and appears to be something that many believe is an ongoing problem. According to several news sources a faculty group at the university has called for professors and other staff to walk out of classes on Monday and Tuesday to protest against the university president’s failing to address “a series of racially charged incidents.” On Twitter, using their account @MSUmizzou, The Missouri Students Association expressed support for a “teach in'” to be staged. Yet its not as though reports are always accurate and just like any one-sided story we should allow the details to unfold and do our best to keep an open mind before we assume that the University of Missouri is guilty of inaction. It’s not that I’m saying its not, nor am I suggesting the collective soul of the students should be questioned, but its important to remember that we are not aware of the actual circumstances that have prompted the boycott except through media sources that can at times have a sort of inherent bias. What is going on at the University of Missouri that would cause students to call for the president to resign? Additionally, is that the only recourse? Perhaps, but could the matter be resolved any other way? It’s going to be interesting to see how the matter unfolds. At the very least it’s good to see students having a comfort level to voice their concerns in a timely manner.
“We the concerned faculty of the University of Missouri, stand in solidarity with the Mizzou student activists who are advocating for racial justice on our campus and urge the MU faculty to demonstrate their support by walking out,” said a statement from Elisa Glick, an associate professor and spokeswoman for The Concerned Faculty.
One can only wonder what would have happened if Naomi Wolf voiced her concern during a time when social media was part of the normal means of communicating. Would concerned faculty at Yale been supportive or would her allegations of sexual harassment and misuse of power by a faculty member been met with deaf ears? Do we care more about supporting allegations of racism and expressing our empathy for black lives than we do about women’s lives? Do we tend to believe students who allege racial injustice more so than we believe allegations of gender bias? Who can say?
It’s not as though I blame Ms. Wolf for waiting and she described in her article that she had tried to get the university to pay attention to her call for corrections but supposedly her efforts were not taken seriously. Should Ms. Wolf had done more to correct the alleged problems she thought were so wrong when she was a student? Who can say? Besides chances are that had Ms. Wolf wanted to do something more at the time the alleged incidents had taken place she might not have been applauded and perhaps she might have been ousted. Always easier to play ‘Monday Morning QB’ with these sorts of things and think we know best, especially when we are sitting comfortably on the outside looking in. Whenever someone is facing a situation where power is being misused the extent of the stance one chooses to take can have tremendous consequences, and it’s often hard to know exactly what’s happened unless we are actually wearing the shoes of another.
Last night during the Sunday Night Football I received several tweets and texts asking for my opinion about the collective action that was taking place by players on the Missouri Tigers football team that were in direct response to allegations of racism. Did I support what was taking place? Quite frankly, at the time I received the tweets and texts I knew very little about what was taking place at the University of Missouri. In fact, I was on the heels of writing about a young man who also played college football who had died on Friday night in a one car collision with his father while both were headed to watch a high school football game. Additionally, I was in the midst of watching the SNF game between the Eagles and the Cowboys, and was focusing on Demarco Murray’s performance, Greg Hardy’s demeanor, and what seemed like apparent bias by the long-time announcers at NBC. Even now I’m still attempting to grasp the full totality of the circumstances that have taken place at the University of Missouri with regard to the strike by its college football players amidst the allegations of injustice by the university.
Of course I applaud anyone who stands up for injustice and of course any allegations of racial injustice should be taken seriously. For someone to stop eating in order to get attention to a matter is commendable. Yet still we must remember that just because someone makes an allegation does not mean its true. Just because someone takes a stance and stops eating does not mean that person is incapable of being extreme or dramatic and we must remember that it is very important to allow those accused of injustice to be able to defend the allegations. After all, isn’t that what our justice system is supposed to stand for and are we not supposed to allow for innocence until proven guilty?
Should a student at a university carry on a hunger strike to evoke change? The answer to that question most likely can be found in the heart of the student who perceives an injustice. Evaluating the potential consequences makes sense whenever anyone looks to make a stand that defies authority. That being said sometimes it’s the heart of the matter that matters most and if someone believes that the injustice is real, then by all means standing up for oneself and/or any group might be all too important and the only path.
When the game I was watching ended last night, the local news showed a clip about the boycott. It was unclear all that had happened to cause the perception of injustice although I did learn how the coach and athletic director had issued a statement that the Tigers would not continue to practice until one of the students who was on a hunger strike to draw attention to lack of consideration by faculty for perceived racism at the university resumed ended. I have since read further reports including a post by ESPN which included an article suggesting not everyone on the team is in alignment with the strike. In fact it goes so far as to state. “Not everyone agrees with the decision [ to stop all football activities ],” the player said. “Most people are pissed, including the black guys [on the team].” This report quoted an anonymous player.
One of the questions that came to me last night asked me if I knew how the players on scholarship might be affected for taking action and refusing to play. Although I did not, since coaches are in support of the solidarity, it could be that those on scholarship would be treated in a manner that was understanding. It’s a good question, though.
One thing that seems to me to be of interest is how many people seem to automatically believe something based on face value. For example, when there is a report of racism or rape, its as though the alleged victims are sided with before the full extent of the situation is known. People seem to be afraid that they might be thought to be racist just because they have not joined a side. It’s always good to be cautious when reading about allegations of injustice, because just because they are claimed to be true might not make it so. Sometimes reporters slant stories, and sometimes the facts about something are very mis-stated. By the way I am not suggesting that is the case here, and of course the photo showing a group banding together to support a cause can be telling, yet it might also be that if those in the photo were polled they might not be in alignment only perhaps afraid of going against the popular side for fear of retaliation. When it comes to something that involves allegations of racism, people seem reluctant to be willing to reserve their consensus and form an opinion because he or she might be seen as racist, or supporting a racist if they do not join the ‘right side.’
While I continue to gather information which will be solely from what I read via social media and news media outlets, in addition to radio and television reports, I find it of interest how so often many seem so willing to believe a story just because of what’s been written before they even have time to delve into the matter to obtain a totality of circumstances. So for now, all I can say is I’m gathering facts about the matter, as best I am able with an open mind and a desire to unearth the truth. So far, I am not sure I truly understand what’s been going on to cause such an emotional outcry. It’s no disrespect to the NY Times, or ESPN, but I like to get the ‘True Story’ before forming an opinion.