Frustrations at the university have been rising after recent incidents in which racial slurs were directed at black students and one in which someone used feces to draw a swastika on a residence-hall wall.
COLUMBIA, Mo. — Student protests over racial incidents on the University of Missouri campus escalated over the weekend when at least 30 black football players announced they will not participate in team activities until the school’s president is removed.
President Tim Wolfe gave no indication he has any intention of stepping down but agreed in a statement Sunday that “change is needed” and said the university is working to draw up a plan by April to promote diversity and tolerance.
For months, frustrations at the university have been rising after recent incidents in which racial slurs were directed at black students and one in which someone used feces to draw a swastika on a residence-hall wall.
The frustrations flared during the homecoming parade Oct. 10 when black protesters blocked Wolfe’s car and he would not get out and talk to them. They were removed by police.
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The incident at Missouri, an overwhelmingly white, 35,000-student campus, comes at a time of escalating racial tensions at college campuses across the United States.
Last month, the president of the University of Louisville in Kentucky apologized to students after he and a dozen friends were pictured wearing ponchos, sombreros and bushy mustaches as part of a Mexican-themed Halloween costume that critics called offensive to Latinos.
And at Yale University, tensions over culturally insensitive Halloween costumes and accusations by black students that a fraternity held a “whites only” party led its president, Peter Salovey, to tell minority students last week that the university had “failed” them, according to a report in The Washington Post, citing several students who were in the room and taking notes.
The Missouri players’ boycott reflects a newfound willingness among black college students to speak out against racial antagonism on campus, in line with a broader movement that arose in response to a string of fatal police shootings of unarmed black civilians.
On Saturday night, black members of the Missouri football team joined the outcry.
The athletes did not say explicitly whether they would boycott the team’s three remaining games this season. The Tigers’ next game is Saturday against BYU at Arrowhead Stadium, the home of the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs, and canceling it could cost the school more than $1 million.
“The athletes of color on the University of Missouri football team truly believe ‘Injustice Anywhere is a threat to Justice Everywhere,’ ” the players said in a statement. “We will no longer participate in any football related activities until President Tim Wolfe resigns or is removed due to his negligence toward marginalized students’ experience. WE ARE UNITED!!!!!”
Head football coach Gary Pinkel, a former Washington Huskies offensive coordinator, expressed solidarity with the black players on Twitter by posting a picture of the team and coaches locking arms. The tweet read: “The Mizzou Family stands as one. We are united. We are behind our players.”
Sixty of the 124 players on the Missouri football roster are black, according to The Columbia Missourian. Many of them are starters and second-team players. Thomas Wilson, a safety, told the newspaper that the players would discuss their boycott Monday.
The campus has been on edge since the fatal police shooting of an unarmed teenager named Michael Brown last year in Ferguson, about 110 miles from Columbia. A number of the black students enrolled at Missouri come from Ferguson, which is predominantly black, to Columbia, which is predominantly white.
The players’ boycott follows a black graduate student’s decision to go on a hunger strike over what he said in a letter to the board of curators were “a slew of racist, sexist, homophobic, etc., incidents that have dynamically disrupted the learning experience” at Missouri.
The student, Jonathan Butler, a candidate for a master’s degree in educational leadership and policy analysis, cited incidents in which black students were called racial slurs, the removal of graduate-student health-insurance subsidies, Missouri’s decision to cancel contracts with a local Planned Parenthood clinic, and the swastika drawing.
A group called Concerned Student 1950, named for the year the university began admitting black students, has been staging demonstrations, including protests over the weekend. The group started a change.org petition calling for Wolfe’s resignation last week that had gathered more than 3,500 signatures by Sunday afternoon. The petition contained a letter addressed to Gov. Jay Nixon, the board of curators and Wolfe.
Nixon responded to Sunday’s demonstrations in a statement, saying: “Racism and intolerance have no place at the University of Missouri or anywhere in our state. Our colleges and universities must be havens of trust and understanding. These concerns must be addressed to ensure the University of Missouri is a place where all students can pursue their dreams in an environment of respect, tolerance and inclusion.”