We’ve written about the news that some members of the University of Missouri football team have said they will not play another game until the university system president steps down.
The players were backing a student movement that has for months called on the university to address what they say is systemic racism on campus.
We wanted to share with you two personal statements that help explain some the feelings on campus.
The first one is a personal statement from Alexis G. Ditaway, a Missouri student majoring in journalism and minoring in black studies. She wrote about what she says was a racially-charged campus experience.
A warning: both statements include a racial epithet.
To Whom It May Concern:
The University of Missouri has held itself true to four central values. Respect, Discovery, Excellence and Responsibility can be seen heavily displayed around our university’s campus. From hanging on our iconic columns, to being the names of four of our residence halls, Mizzou markets these ideals and states that they will “pledge ourselves to act, in the totality of our life together, in accord with these values.”
It is with great disappointment, however, that I am writing this statement to express how these ideals were, once again, not reflected due to the actions of my fellow students.
On Friday, November 6th, 2015 at approximately 11:15pm, Amber Letbetter, a current United Ambassador and 2015 Legion of Black Collegians Homecoming Royalty Court Member, and I were walking to the Mizzou Rec Center for the LBC Freshman Action Team’s annual dodgeball event. After attempting to enter through the main entrance and seeing that it was locked, we decided to take the walking trail located inbetween the Rec Center and the HawLeWood Residence Hall area in order to enter through the entrance closest to the sand volleyball courts.
As we were walking, we see four young Caucasian men, who looked as if they could be freshmen or sophomores, also walking along the trail and approaching us. They were all wearing white buttondown dress shirts and neckties. Amber and I quickly noticed that they were intoxicated, as one of them was being held up by two of his friends. The fourth one was wearing a backwards baseball cap and was walking behind the other three.
As we began to grow closer in proximity to the group of young men, I noticed the most heavily intoxicated of the four was recording a Snapchat video. Seeing us walk by, he takes a look at both Amber and I. Then, he proceeded to look back towards his phone camera and said loudly “You’re a nigger.”
There was a silence among all six of us, as Amber and I stopped walking out of shock that the young man would boldly make such a statement. The young man that was walking behind them quickly slapped his friend’s shoulder and said “Hey, you can’t SAY that.” Then turned to me (at this point, we were right in front of each other), said “He wasn’t talking to you guys.” and the entire group proceeded to walk off.
Amber and I stood there for a few moments afterward, in anger and disbelief that something like this could happen, especially in light of the protesting currently occurring on our campus. After discussing what to do next, Amber contacted MUPD, who told her they would patrol the area in search of the suspects and would contact her for further information. After settling down after the emotion of the situation, I made a follow up call with MUPD and was told the same information.
To be a student at an “elite” university and be disrespected in such a way is disappointing. To know that just a month ago, a similar event occurred in which the LBC Homecoming Royalty Court, of which I was selected as Royalty Duchess, were also called “niggers” is disheartening. And to have this event occur in the midst of the protesting and action being taken by #ConcernedStudent1950 , yet we are still questioned as to why we continue to fight against administration is absolutely insane.
What hurts me the most, however, is that no matter how much I fight to make this university better by involving myself in organizations, taking on leadership positions, and aspiring to becoming one of Mizzou’s notable alumni, the fact that the university I love does not love me back is constantly thrown in my face. My experience is far too similar to the experiences of many other AfricanAmerican students on this campus. Yet, Mizzou continues to overshadow these issues with well written PR statements, campus wide movements and initiatives that never tackle the issue head on, and endless emails that acknowledge our struggles but never give action to them. We walk around this campus knowing that on any given day, there will be another racial issue. We go to classes with our white peers knowing that not only will they never understand our struggles, but many of them will refuse to try. We go to a university where the only place many of us feel comfortable is in a Black Studies class. This is unacceptable, and the university has made very little progress towards changing the racial climate here.
I don’t have all the answers as to how to create a bigger change here. I’m not certain as to what plan can be followed to ensure that these incidents never happen again. What I do know, is that ALL of Mizzou, from students, to staff and faculty, to administration, needs to understand that the AfricanAmerican population is important to this campus, and just as worthy of feeling comfortable here as anyone else. I, and the rest of my fellow black students, refuse to allow the ignorance on this campus to discourage me from receiving the education I need and deserve. We have earned our spot here, and the university needs to recognize that ALL of its students need to feel included and safe. We aren’t going anywhere.
Respectfully, Alexis G. Ditaway
P.S. To the young man who so proudly informed me that I am a Nigger. I want you to know that that term is something that stems from my ancestor’s past. In this present time, there are so many other labels you could have referenced me with, such as member of the National Association of Black Journalists, Programming Coordinator for your Mizzou Residence Hall Association, Student Success Center Ambassador, or, quite simply, my actual name. However, if knowing all of this still doesn’t keep you from allowing the term “nigger” to escape your mouth, I’m more than willing to meet with you in person during my office hours on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays to discuss why you feel the way that you do. Perhaps me showing you some Respect and taking the Responsibility to show you black Excellence, will lead you on a Discovery of becoming a better person.
The next one comes from Dr. Cynthia M. Frisby, who teaches strategic communication at the Missouri School of Journalism. She wrote a long post on her Facebook feed, which we have re-printed here with permission:
I have been silent on FB about the racial situation on the Mizzou campus for a variety of reasons, but the main one is this: some of my friends say and post updates that are really hurtful and offensive when it comes to race and offending people of color and I keep quiet because I just don’t think Facebook is the place to hold arguments or candid discussions of race. Think about it: No one changes their attitudes or beliefs after seeing offending posts and respond to the post by saying: “Oh my God,Thank you for showing me that I am a racist” or “Oh my God, because of you, I just realized that I am so privileged.”
However, after many events on and off campus over recent months, I feel I have to say something and say it here. (You know this is going to be long, right? LOL)
I have lived in Columbia and been at the University for almost 18 years. During this time, I have been called the n word too many times to count. Some of you may recall my most recent experience while jogging on Route K in May of 2015 when I was approached by a white man in a white truck with a confederate flag very visible and proudly displayed. He leaned out his window (now keep in mind I run against traffic so his behavior was a blatant sign that something was about to happen). Not only did he spit at me, he called me the n-word and gave me the finger. Of course, I responded with “Oh yea, get out of your car you coward and say that to my face.” He then raced off. Typical. Others of you may recall that after the Zimmerman trial, I wrote about my experiences being called the n word twice while I was on my jog. And yes, I have had a few faculty call me the n word and treat me with incredible disrespect. Yes, faculty. I have had a student who said he couldn’t call me Dr. Frisby because that would mean that he thinks I am smart and he was told that blacks are not smart and do not earn degrees without affirmative action. Yes, true story. I have so many stories to share that it just doesn’t make sense to put them all here.
What I am responding to is the frequent question I have been asked all week: How have I endured these many hateful experiences for over 17 years? I endured because God allows me to see the good and cup half full. I endured because I know my life is in God’s hands and I do not walk alone. I endured because I find these to be teachable moments that I use in my classroom with my students. I endured (or better yet endure) because I have an amazing support system. I endure because there are far too many of my white friends that have a heart of gold, love people of any color with a passion and who have a strong trust in and love for the Lord. I endure because I have friends who are white and daily show me that there are people who can hurt when I do and who sincerely want to make this culture a better place. I endure because I look to the Lord to help me grow and be the best person I can be. I endure because I CHOSE AND CHOOSE to endure and overcome and I choose to overlook ignorance. Choosing to overlook these idiots doesn’t make me a “sell-out” or be an uncle tom. I choose to endure because my mom and civil rights leaders taught me to never run but stand straight, tall and do not run. Racism is alive and it’s everywhere. I endure because what I have gone through is nothing like what my mom went through in the 50s and 60s nor is it even close to what my Lord and Savior had to endure while on the earth (he, too, was spat at, made fun of and even nailed to a cross simply because He loved us/me that much). Yes, we are better off now than we were in the 50s but to some extent we are taking many steps backward by ignoring or not talking about the racial issues.
We need to have open discussions where people share their ignorance and learn from people who are different (I do this in my classroom every day and we learn and I learn so much.) So where am I going with this post?
I understand the anger. I understand that we’ve had enough. I also understand and agree with my friend Traci Wilson-kleekamp when she wrote “Jonathan L. Butler and #ConcernedStudent1950 please give space for mistakes, listening, learning and dialogue. This on the job training thing is powerful because it is SO VERY PUBLIC.” I not only see this as on the job training for our administrators at MU, but I also see it as training for some of my very educated white friends.
The saddest of all things for me is to see how a few of my white friends are responding to these events and basic conflicts in race relations in our nation (i.e., police shootings, the President, etc). It hurts my heart when I see posts from these friends that make fun of us because we find things hurtful like dressing up in black face costumes or confederate flags flying high in my neighborhood. What bothers me is that the few of my white friends who feel this way have not taken time or energy to reach out to me and ask me why these things hurt or to understand what is going on or even send an email saying they are confused. For the two friends that have in the recent days, thank YOU. That speaks volumes of your openness to understand. You are not even saying that you agree, you just want to hear from me and my thoughts and experiences. Kudos to being open. Unlike my “other” so-called acquaintances. Instead they take to social media and make jokes of the students, say things like “oh my God, what else are these people going to find offensive?” or even dumber things like “i guess next year I will dress up as nothing.” By the way: The Halloween costume event is not about not dressing up like someone, but it is about dressing up as characters not as a race of people. It is the heart and intent of a person.
I write this post to ask if those folks who find that the situation on campus is ridiculous to please be a little more open minded. Ask questions. Do your research. Heaven forbid you will put yourself in their shoes. Maybe you should dress up in black face and spend a month walking around in that costume and maybe then you will understand how we feel when you walk in a room or a store and get treated like a second class citizen. Maybe then you will understand that our feelings about being constantly referred to as niggers is more than “just getting over it.” Maybe then you will understand why telling the students to get their “a@&S” in class because they are making much a do about nothing hurts and doesn’t solve the problem.
I am much more than the n word. I am an educated black woman who happens to have worked hard for my PhD. I am a mom. I am a grandmother. I am a daughter. I am a sister. I am an auntie. I am a cousin. I am loved by my family and friends. I am smart. I am funny (or so I think). I am a Christian who loves the Lord Jesus with my whole heart. I would die for Him as He died for us. I am YOUR FRIEND! Yes, I am all of these things. There is so much more to me than the n-word implies. Please consider that when you criticize the events on campus. yes, I am silly. yes, I am a drama queen who thinks I should have been born a celebrity. But what I am not is a nigger! Let me just say that. Consider that you have a friend who deserves and simply wants to be treated equally. You have an know a friend who jogs on route k and wants to do that without fear that some kids in a car will think it is funny to yell at me and pretend that they will run me off the road. Know that you have a friend who wants to walk out every day with confidence that she will not be spat on or yelled euphemisms simply because of the color of her skin. To make things better in our world, that would be a start. Does this make any sense?