Students at the University of Missouri say they were personally blocked by school President Mun Y. Choi on Twitter after complaining about COVID-19 precautions on campus.
Two students told BuzzFeed News they're frustrated and disappointed that a school that boasts about its highly ranked journalism program would silence those who are speaking out.
A spokesperson for the university confirmed that Choi does have a personal Twitter account @munychoi4545 where he's taken matters into his own hands, adding that the president "has been on the receiving end of messages/tweets that were disrespectful and not constructive [and] some contained profanity."
Mike Olson, a third-year PhD student at Mizzou, said he was blocked by Choi after tweeting concerns about what he called a "half-baked" and irresponsible reopening plan. In several tweets, he asked the president and chancellor to implement ongoing coronavirus testing and screening on campus.
"I'm asking him to do the right thing by the students that are essentially entrusted to the university's care," Olson said. "He's refusing to do so, so I am calling him out on it until he either does the right thing or he resigns."
In mid-August, Olson was following news of the uptick of positive COVID-19 cases at the University of North Carolina and was concerned for his own school.
In response to UNC's reports, Olson tweeted, "This is what will be happening at Mizzou very soon. Students are already on campus, parties every night in the neighborhoods around campus. What's it going to take for Choi to back down?"
He provided BuzzFeed News with about 16 of his tweets that addressed or tagged the school and Choi, urging them to come up with stricter policies to help contain the spread of the coronavirus.
"Dorms are filling, departments insisting on in person training, admins insisting on in person classes. We're so screwed," he tweeted on Aug. 17.
Then, this week, Olson discovered Choi had blocked him on Twitter. He's just one of many Mizzou students who discovered that they too were blocked by Choi and screenshotted the Twitter notification. There is now an active and growing thread from users who say they were recently blocked.
Christian Basi, the director of media relations at Mizzou, told BuzzFeed News in a statement that Choi "is always open to respectful conversations with students."
However, Basi said Choi felt the messages students were sending were "disrespectful," and provided several screenshots of tweets as examples. One of the tweets said "Mun Choi is directly responsible" for "COVID numbers in Columbia." Another was a photoshopped meme that read "Fuck Mun Choi."
Cannon Summers, a fourth-year junior, told BuzzFeed News he was one of the students who tweeted "Fuck Mun Choi," but he never tagged the president. He was blocked recently after complaining that one of the school's bathrooms had no running water to wash his hands.
"There was a sign above [the sink] saying to make sure you wash your hands to prevent the spread of COVID," Summers said. "So I tweeted at him, Mizzou, and the VP of student affairs asking how I was supposed to wash my hands if half the sinks on campus don’t even seem to work."
Shortly after publishing his tweet, he was blocked.
"I felt very disrespected," Summers said. "I pay a lot to go to this school, and not only were my concerns not addressed, but my voice has been stifled. Our school boasts having the country’s first and best journalism school, yet has silenced student journalists and failed to acknowledge the COVID concerns."
The online issues are among a growing list of concerns from Mizzou students who feel desperate and are turning to social media to raise awareness. Those who are on campus and forced to quarantine say that, like the NYU debacle, they're not receiving sufficient meals.
Rachel Adeline Cook, an 18-year-old first-year student who's been quarantining in a hotel the university organized to house students since mid-August, said her meals have been "nasty ... cold and bland, usually soggy, and tiny portions."
On Monday, she tweeted a photo of her dinner that comprised two ravioli with some broccoli.
"I’m glad I brought my own dishes and groceries to the hotel because I would starve if I didn’t bring them," Cook said. She was recently moved from the dorms to a hotel that she described as "super sketchy."
Cook, like many other students on campus, also has serious concerns about how Mizzou is testing and monitoring COVID-19 cases.
"We can’t get tested unless we get a referral from our home physician or pay $60 for a Mizzou telehealth fee," she said. "Once they put students in quarantine, they give us no medical attention — and I was very sick. This is a very serious health concern and Mizzou is not tending to their sick students."