Missouri president’s resignation prompts TCU reaction

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The resignation of the University of Missouri System President Tim Wolfe Monday morning generated reactions from the TCU student body, as student and faculty protests over racial tensions at both the University of Missouri and Yale University in recent weeks have reignited discussions of race relations at universities nationwide.

Wolfe’s son is a junior at TCU and did not respond to interview requests.

The University of Missouri’s Chancellor, R. Bowen Loftin, also stepped down Monday. Loftin will transition into “director for facility research and development” starting January 1, according to a statement from the UM System website.

There have been a series of student protests at the University of Missouri this fall, ranging from the cutting of health care for graduate students to the removal of hospital privileges for the only Planned Parenthood doctor providing abortion services in Columbia, Missouri – where the University of Missouri’s main campus is located.

But Wolfe’s resignation comes on the heels of protests that Wolfe’s administration did not adequately respond to issues of racism on campus.

A highly publicized hunger strike from graduate student Jonathan Butler escalated the movement, as the Missouri student government called for the removal of Wolfe Monday morning and faculty and staff canceled class in favor of a teach-in based on race relations.

Up until Monday morning, Wolfe had issued statements of concern over Butler’s health and said he wanted to create conversations about issues of race on campus to bring about change.

After Wolfe’s resignation, Butler wrote on Twitter that his hunger strike had ended.

  TCU Reaction

Jeff Ferrell, a TCU professor of sociology who specializes in social movements and protests, said these protesters succeeded in their cause because of the larger movement at hand. “I think often when you see a successful protest, it’s tapping into and making visible some undercurrents of unrest or injustice,” Ferrell said.

The national spotlight was also on Missouri last fall after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Ferguson is less than two hours away from Columbia. Ferrell added that the student protests at Missouri show students realizing the power of their own voice and taking risks in an effort to enact change.

“In some ways, students have only as much power as they’re able to take, and some students generate that power by making their concerns visible,” Ferrell said. “I think a successful protest, in a way, makes a statement that says we’re willing to put our lives, or our education…on the line because this matters so much to us.”

TCU senior religion major Mitchell Simmons said the protest movement showed students demanding more than just tolerance of diversity.

“The students at Mizzou are not asking to be tolerated, but demanding equality,” Simmons said. “They are demanding that the University recognize all students as being equal.”

TCU alumna Racquel McBay asked how this movement will move forward now that Wolfe has stepped down. “Way to go Mizzou…the president has resigned,” McBay said. “What does the campus do now? What actions proceed forward beyond removal of the leader? How does equality begin?”

TCU is no stranger to issues of race relations on its campus. A series of racist posts on the anonymous messaging app Yik Yak last April in response to the Baltimore riots prompted a reaction from the TCU administration.

“First, I hate Yik Yak because the people saying these things are not just racists but also cowards,” Chancellor Victor Boschini wrote in an email response.

Kathy Cavins-Tull, vice chancellor of student affairs, said the university viewed the posts last April as evidence “we are not where we need to be as a community and as individual educators of students.” She added that the posts were “disappointing” and “not a good example of the mission that brings us together as a community.”

Football team forces Wolfe’s hand Despite the ongoing student protests, the involvement of the University of Missouri football team may have driven both Missouri administrators to step down. Missouri’s Legion of Black Collegians posted on its Twitter account Saturday night that “athletes of color on the University of Missouri football team…will no longer participate in any football related activities until President Tim Wolfe resigns.”

Missouri football coach added a tweet of his own Sunday, this time featuring the entirety of the football team.

KOMU reporter and Missouri student Luke Slabaugh was in the Mizzou Athletic Training Complex when more than 30 players gathered for a meeting Sunday. He said it was difficult to tell the attitude and sentiment of the meeting because he and other reporters could not be in the room.

Slabaugh said it was hard to sense whether or not the boycott was unanimous, but the group was largely concerned for the health of Butler.

Slabaugh added that despite the demands of the students and football team, Wolfe is well regarded in Columbia.

“Wolfe is an interesting case because obviously he’s had a couple things that put him under fire and said some things he shouldn’t have said,” he said. “We all make mistakes, and his leadership and reaction to the incidents on campus were criticized by the protesting students. Wolfe, at least in Columbia proper, outside the university, is very well regarded professionally and personally.”

First-year TCU student and communications major Abbey Widick said that in talking to her friends at Missouri, the football team may have been a catalyst for further student involvement.

“I think the football team getting involved is what got students to pay attention,” Widick said.

Widick’s parents both attended the University of Missouri and she said she’s been to every Missouri homecoming parade. That includes this year’s parade, where members of the student protest group #ConcernedStudents1950 stood in front of Wolfe’s car to protest. Widick said she was at a different part of the parade route and did not see the demonstration.

TCU professor Ferrell said the decision of the football team shows college athletes becoming aware of their power and influence.

“College athletes are increasingly aware of their role in a multibillion dollar industry,” Ferrell said. “I think they’re also increasingly willing to take a stand as part.

Widick added that TCU does a “great job of creating a no tolerance policy” for racism through the “More Than Words” presentation in Frog Camp, one of TCU’s new student orientation programs.

TCU360 reached out to Cavins-Tull and Student Body President Maddie Reddick for further comment, but they have not yet responded.

TCU360’s Sarah Breuner and Adam Kelley contributed to this report.

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