Before Syracuse, There Was Mizzou

A group of University of Missouri students forced their president and chancellor to resign in an unprecedented feat of student activism — including a headline-grabbing football team boycott after racist incidents on campus. Four years later, here what’s changed — and what hasn't.

So strong is the collective summoning power of F.L.Y.’s 2009 sleeper hit “Swag Surfin’” that right in the middle of our conversation, University of Missouri senior Sydney Walton gracefully excused herself and rushed into the throngs of students gathered in the parking lot of the campus’s Gaines/Oldham Black Culture Center (GOBCC) to joyfully swag and surf with her classmates.

It was a gorgeous Saturday afternoon in mid-October — homecoming weekend — at Mizzou (as the university is fondly referred to). Various students and alumni had congregated outside for the center’s annual tailgate, where volunteers doled out plates of macaroni and cheese and a DJ blasted hip-hop from a speaker in a blue tent set up in the parking lot.

The tailgate had been billed as a “family reunion” on the flyer put out by the GOBCC, which seemed apt. Folks greeted each other with easy familiarity, giving hugs and daps and taking selfies. Members of the victorious Delta Sigma Theta sorority, who had won their category in the campus step show the previous night, strolled to “Knuck If You Buck.”

Abigail Hollis, a graduate student getting her master’s degree in counseling, and Maxwell Little, who graduated with a master’s in education in 2016, stood nearby. Hollis still lives in Columbia, Missouri where the university is located, but this was her first time at any homecoming event since 2015. Little lives in Chicago with his partner and their daughter.

“How does it feel to be back here?” I asked them. They exchanged looks. Neither one had seen the other in a while.

“This is the first homecoming I’ve been to since I was a student,” Little said.

“Homecoming isn’t really celebratory for me,” said Hollis.

Their reticence was understandable.

Four years ago, in October 2015, Little, Hollis, and nine other students interrupted the homecoming parade, forming a human chain that blocked then–university president Tim Wolfe’s car, demanding that he address a series of racist incidents on campus. Those incidents included multiple instances in which black students had been called the n-word by white students, and the general sense that, as the Black Lives Matter movement gained momentum and protests over the murder of Mike Brown raged in Ferguson, a two-hour drive away, the administration was not taking the concerns of black students seriously.

“I had been involved in campus activism really off and on my whole undergrad career, but things kind of sped up after Mike Brown in 2014,” said Hollis when we first spoke on the phone in May. “A lot of our students are from that area; my family’s from that area.”

“We were dealing with our own individual issues in the classroom — microaggressions and macroaggressions — and then you had events where [multiple students] were called ‘nigger’ on campus,” said Little.

During the parade, Wolfe’s car brushed up against one of the protesters and Wolfe appeared to do nothing — which, to the students protesting, was a perfect encapsulation of his lack of interest in their concerns and an indication that he needed to resign.

That initial homecoming demonstration would be the impetus for a subsequent series of extraordinary student-led actions over the course of the next month. Graduate student Jonathan Butler went on hunger strike a few days after someone painted a swastika made out of human feces in one of the dormitory bathrooms. Other students constructed an encampment of tents on the university’s main quadrangle, boycotted university services, and held protests in the student center and other parts of campus.

The protesters, who called themselves Concerned Student 1950, after the first year a black person was admitted into the university, had eight demands. They included a formal apology from Wolfe admitting “his gross negligence, allowing his driver to hit one of the demonstrators, consenting to the physical violence of bystanders,” his resignation, the hiring of more black faculty, and more funding for mental health services and social justice organizations on campus.

Eventually, and most astonishingly, black members of the school’s Division 1 football team decided not to participate in any football-related activities until the president stepped down or was fired. (Then–football coach Gary Pinkel expressed his support of the players in a tweet and press conference.) On Nov. 9, 2015, two days after the football team announced their boycott, Tim Wolfe resigned and the university’s chancellor, R. Bowen Loftin, announced that he would be stepping down at the end of the year.

“I take full responsibility for this frustration, and I take full responsibility for the inaction that has occurred,” Wolfe said in his resignation speech. “I ask everybody — from students to faculty to staff to my friends, everybody — use my resignation to heal and to start talking again.”

“This was really a historic moment that should be celebrated every year.”

“This was really a historic moment that should be celebrated every year,” Amalia Dache, a former Mizzou professor who taught Hollis and Little among other Concerned Student 1950 members, told me in a phone interview in October. Dache now teaches in the higher education division at the University of Pennsylvania’s graduate school and studies the history of student activism. She also coedited a recently published anthology, Rise Up! Activism as Education, that includes accounts of the Ferguson and Mizzou protests.

But not everybody thinks the protests are worth celebrating. The resulting media coverage, especially when the football team got involved, put the university at the center of a national firestorm. Presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump weighed in; the latter called the protesters “disgusting” and “disgraceful.” A professor named Melissa Click, who linked arms with the original 11 students at the homecoming parade and was filmed asking for “muscle” to help move student journalists away from the tent city, was eventually fired after becoming the target of conservative ire.

Media coverage quickly fixated on the protesters’ supposed anti-press stance, a controversy that continues to brew today at college campuses around the country. Black students received death threats on the social media app Yik Yak in the days after Wolfe announced his resignation. (Two of the perpetrators were eventually arrested; one was sentenced to five years probation, the other to 30 days in jail.) Enrollment at the university decreased by more than 35% from 2015 to 2017, although it’s difficult to determine the extent to which the protests contributed to the decline.

The reverberations of the 2015 protests weren’t just felt at Mizzou. In the following weeks, other schools like Yale and Kansas State University staged their own protests against racism on campus, and 73 colleges and universities signed petitions in support of the University of Missouri students. And as recent events at the University of Alabama and Syracuse University show, racist incidents are still a recurring problem on many predominantly white college campuses throughout the country.

In the four years since the protests, most of the original 11 students in the human chain have graduated. So what happens to a student movement after its leaders have left campus? And what has — or hasn’t — changed for black students and faculty on campus since 2015?

Over the course of six months this year, I talked with black professors, alumni, and black students about their experiences at the University of Missouri — their own encounters with racism on campus and their thoughts on whether or not the university has sufficiently responded to Concerned Student 1950’s demands. Some of the students involved in the protests, particularly football players and Butler, who initiated the hunger strike, never responded to repeated interview requests.

“They have more at risk,” said Storm Ervin, a founding member of Concerned Student 1950, of the football players — some of whom, like former defensive end Charles Harris, now play in the NFL. (Through a Miami Dolphins spokesperson, Harris declined to comment for this story.) Little told me that Butler, who was thrust into the spotlight in a way other students were not, is “still healing.”

I also spent four days in Columbia for homecoming weekend, immersed in what black alumni lovingly call Black Mizzou. “It’s like the same concept of Black Twitter, where you know enough black people — where you associate with mostly black students,” one current student, Armaja LaRue-Hill, a fifth-year documentary journalism major, explained to me. An RA with calm maternal instincts to match, LaRue-Hill would prove indispensable that weekend, checking in daily and providing helpful context, like pointing out where the “black hole” in the student center is, where black students hang out and study. Not every black student is part of Black Mizzou, but it is at the epicenter of black life on campus — which, I learned, is thriving.

"The chancellor [Alexander N. Cartwright] and his leadership team are committed to a university that is inclusive of all students.”

From the administration’s perspective, the time that has elapsed since Wolfe’s resignation has offered the school a fresh start. “Mizzou is a changing institution,” wrote Liz McCune, a University of Missouri spokesperson, in an email. “In fact, most of our current leaders in the administration were not here during 2015 and most of our students that were here have graduated. The chancellor [Alexander N. Cartwright] and his leadership team (most of whom have been here or in their positions less than three years) are committed to a university that is inclusive of all students.”

But it’s also clear that some problems have persisted at the school. While the administration has created a new office of diversity and inclusion, and enrollment is again on the rise, the university is still struggling to increase faculty diversity and to retain black professors. In late October, the Mizzou Athletics department was in the news again for a since-deleted tweet implying that black student athletes aren’t as ambitious as their white teammates. Additionally, two students I talked to said they’d recently been called racial slurs on campus and had filed formal complaints that they say didn’t result in any meaningful action from the administration.

But the students I interviewed also made it clear how much they love this school. “We wouldn’t critique Mizzou if we didn’t love Mizzou,” said Teanna Bass, who was active in protests her first year and graduated in May. “It’s an accountability thing.”

Homecoming is a big deal at a lot of universities, but especially at Mizzou, which claims to have invented the concept. According to Mizzou lore, which is spelled out in a display for visitors in the middle of the campus student center, in 1910, Mizzou football coach Chester Brewer called on all alum to “come home” to support the team in their game against the Kansas Jayhawks. “The idea was a complete success and Mizzou’s model of Homecoming has since become a standard for schools around the nation,” reads the bulletin.

Today, homecoming is a protracted affair that’s really more like a monthlong festival of activities. Starting in late September, there’s a homecoming 5K race, a blood drive, a talent show, a spirit rally, a food festival, and of course the homecoming parade and football game itself, complete with a homecoming court where seniors run for king and queen and the winners are announced during the halftime show.

But parallel to these sanctioned celebrations, which are listed on the university’s official website, are another series of events, organized by and for Black Mizzou: a brunch, a business fair, a masquerade ball, a step show, and a family reunion tailgate on game day. There’s even a separate homecoming court for black students, run by the Legion of Black Collegians, the black student government on campus, which was founded in 1968.

As sophomore Caleb Sewell, a dual education and black studies major, explained to me while he was manning the drinks at the tailgate, “It’s self-preservation.”

“We wouldn’t critique Mizzou if we didn’t love Mizzou. It’s an accountability thing.”

“We have two separate homecoming traditions,” said Walton, who is a senior journalism major and the president of Mizzou’s NABJ chapter. She described making friends with a white student while working on a class project who invited her to tour the house decs, annual themed campus decorations designed by the Greek organizations on campus. “I had no idea what she was talking about,” Walton said. “And she had to explain it to me, and I had to explain to her that, ‘Oh, I’m going to a step show.’ And she was like, ‘What’s that?’”

The step show on the Friday night of homecoming weekend was, notably, the only black event listed on Mizzou’s official schedule of homecoming events. LaRue-Hill, a Delta who was in the show last year, advised me to get there early since the show routinely sold out. She also told me that the dress code would be casual on account of the cold, info she gleaned from Grape, a GroupMe chat for Black Mizzou that has 706 members.

The auditorium began to fill as the first dance group, comprising girls from local elementary and middle schools, did cartwheels to Beyoncé’s “Countdown.” By the time the first fraternity performed — the Kappas in their first step show ever, whose group did include a white Kappa (but not the white Kappa) — people had begun to sit in whatever seats were available, prompting members of the university police to temporarily pause the show while people were forced to get up and find their assigned seats.

That strange tense moment aside, the step show was truly a memorable night of what the writer Kiese Laymon calls “black abundance.” Members of the student production of The Wiz sang a rousing rendition of “Brand New Day.” Each organization screened a short video they’d made before they went onstage; the videos were often endearing and occasionally ingenious. One dance group designed their own Netflix opening credit, dubbing it Blackflix, and then performed as clips from black classics like Love Jones and Drumline played in the background. The Alpha Phi Alphas did a seated step routine that was so precise, so immaculate, that the audience broke into deafening cheers and applause before they’d even finished.

During the intermission and in between acts, students would break out into spontaneous dance, urged on by the MCs and the DJ who played regionally-specific hip-hop.

By the end of the night, I was overcome with emotion at how beautiful and vibrant the show had been. But as I filed out of the auditorium, left campus, and headed toward downtown Columbia, I noticed how few black people there were around me. A group of white girls in tank tops shivered in the 30-degree weather as they lined up to enter a country bar called Nash Vegas. The cultural contrast was jarring to witness. But such segregation isn’t an accident; it’s by design.

“You’ve got to understand: Missouri has a history of racism, discrimination, and frankly resentment toward blacks,” William Robertson, a professor emeritus who taught urban planning told me. We met at the family reunion tailgate on Saturday, where Robertson, a tall, impish man with the eyes of a mischievous child, was holding court at the center table inside the black culture center. Robertson, 84, was only the second black faculty member at Mizzou when he was hired in 1970 (“The first black faculty member never let me forget it”) and still lives in Columbia.

The University of Missouri is the state’s largest publicly funded research university and was founded in 1839. It is the flagship school of the University of Missouri system, which has four campuses. Before the first black student was admitted to the school in 1950, black students hoping to go to college in the area were expected to attend the all-black Lincoln University. In 1923, a black janitor at Mizzou named James T. Scott was lynched before standing trial for allegedly raping a white professor’s daughter.

“The crowd that watched James T. Scott hang was filled with laughing and cheering students from the first public university west of the Mississippi River,” reads an AP story about the incident. (Scott insisted it was a case of mistaken identity, and in 2010, state officials amended his death certificate to note that he was never tried for rape.)

“You’ve got to understand: Missouri has a history of racism, discrimination, and frankly resentment toward blacks.”

The black culture center on campus is named in part for Lloyd Gaines, who, with help from the NAACP, sued the University of Missouri law school in 1938 for denying him admission because he was black. The case was later taken to the Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of Gaines, but Missouri lawmakers schemed to exclude him by creating a separate black law school, and he disappeared under mysterious circumstances in 1939.

That same year the journalist Lucile Bluford, who went on to edit the influential black newspaper the Kansas City Caller, sued the University of Missouri’s journalism school for denying her entry into the program, which is still considered one of the most prestigious in the country. In 1941, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled in her favor after multiple suits. The journalism school temporarily shuttered its program in response, citing World War II as an excuse.

Even after the university began admitting black students in 1950, the campus remained deeply impacted by more than a century of racial division. At football games in the ’60s, the crowd would sing the Confederate song “Dixie.” That tradition led 1968 alum Mike Middleton — who would later become interim university president when Wolfe resigned in 2015 — to form the Legion of Black Collegians in his senior year, as he recounts in 2 Fists Up, Spike Lee’s 2016 documentary about the 2015 protests. (Middleton did not respond to interview requests.)

“Segregation happens involuntarily, almost automatically,” said Felicia Hinton-Ramey, a 1985 graduate of Mizzou who came down for homecoming weekend with her friend and fellow alum Roberta McWoods. A first-generation college student from St. Louis, she struggled academically when she was at Mizzou and said that having more resources for first generation students at the time would have done wonders. “Friends of ours, acquaintances — they were flunking out left and right,” she told me. “The retention rate was just awful at Mizzou and I don’t know who’s to blame for that.”

When it came time for Hinton-Ramey’s daughter to consider where she’d like to go to school, she thought about Mizzou but ultimately chose an HBCU in another state. And Hinton-Ramey wasn’t surprised when she heard about the 2015 protests in the news. “I love the fact that young people are determined to make things right — not that we weren’t. I think that we didn’t know where to begin,” she said. “But at the same time, I was like, ‘You mean in 2015, they still have these problems?’ That’s your first reaction. They still have these problems going on?”

Professor Emeritus Anand Prahlad, a soft-spoken man with gray dreadlocks whom I met on the plane ride home, told me that in his first decade of teaching English at Mizzou, where he was hired in 1990, many of his white students from different parts of rural Missouri had never had any direct interactions with black people before. “I had experiences in classes, for example, where students would write the n-word in their papers,” he said. Other students taking a course in African American literature expressed in class that “they didn’t think black people had written anything that was worth studying, but they had to take the class because it fit their schedule,” Prahlad explained.

In more recent years, the university has weathered a number of racist scandals. In 2010, two white students threw cotton balls on the lawn of the black culture center (they were later charged with littering and both gave public apologies). In 2015 Payton Head, the first black president of the student body, wrote a viral Facebook post about being called the n-word twice by drunk white students. Then black students preparing for a homecoming event in 2015 were called the n-word by some white students.

As of fall 2019, there are 2,012 black students enrolled at the university, out of 30,046 graduate and undergraduate students total — or 6.7% of the student body, which is in line with statistics at other large research universities in the US. (Missouri’s population is 11% black.) Mizzou’s legacy of racial exclusion is still something a lot of the black students and alumni I spoke to could recite by heart.

“It’s Little Dixie,” Little told me. When he was driving down from Chicago with his father and uncle to start his master’s program, he said his uncle told him: “Stay away from white women down there.” Little figured this was mostly a joke, but he knew there was some seriousness behind his uncle’s words. “I knew the history of Little Dixie and the University of Missouri being this hotbed of racist events,” he said. He mentioned Lloyd Gaines and Lucile Bluford as well as Jon Burge, the former Chicago police chief, who attended Mizzou for one semester before returning to Chicago, where he was later accused of torturing hundreds of brown and black people in the ’70s and ’80s. (Though Burge was fired from the force in 1993, he was never prosecuted for the alleged crimes because of the statute of limitations.)

"‘You mean in 2015, they still have these problems?’ That’s your first reaction. They still have these problems going on?”

Little Dixie is the name for a region of several Missouri counties along the Missouri River — which includes Columbia — where settlers from Kentucky and Virginia moved to farm hemp and tobacco with slave labor before the Civil War. Between 24% to 37% of residents in that part of the state were slaves — more than any other part of the state. The infamous 1857 case of Dred Scott v. Sandford, which resulted in the Supreme Court arguing that black people, whether enslaved or freed, were not citizens of the United States, originated in Missouri.

Because Missouri shares a border with Kansas, Illinois, and Iowa to the east and north and Arkansas and Tennessee to the south, its politics embody the sometimes conflicting influences of both regions. “Navigating Mizzou is tricky,” Hollis told me. “It’s Southern in some respects and Midwestern in others.”

Walking through Columbia’s downtown on the Friday afternoon of homecoming weekend, I witnessed that political mutability firsthand. On my way to a coffee shop to meet Hollis, I passed a Planned Parenthood clinic. A solitary old white man walked slowly back and forth in front of the building, carrying a sign that read “Pray for abortion to end,” although abortions aren’t actually performed at that particular branch. The state’s sole abortion clinic, currently at risk of closing, is in St. Louis.

As I was crossing the street, a small group of white people holding Bernie for President signs chanted, “Bernie Sanders not for sale!” while some bros in a car yelled back: “Trump! Trump!”

“I just want to get rid of all of them,” a woman said to her walking companion.

A student, standing in one of the encampments on campus set up by protesters in 2015, applauds following the announcement that Tim Wolfe was stepping down.

Jeff Roberson / AP

Homecoming-related decorations adorn Carnahan quadrangle, where members of Concerned Student 1950 set up tents to protest racism on campus in 2015.

Danielle A. Scruggs for BuzzFeed News

On Saturday morning, before the tailgate had officially started, I ended up chatting with some current students who were lounging by the couches in the GOBCC. When I told them I was working on a story about Black Mizzou, they were eager to talk.

Kayla Pettis, a sophomore journalism major wearing big hoop earrings, said that when she spoke with older black students here, she felt like the media exaggerated the racism at the school. “A lot of people were discouraging me [from going] to Mizzou, but I just know … there’s going to be racism everywhere, it could happen at any PWI,” she said, referring to predominantly white institutions.

“I went to PWIs and it’s much better here; they’re more of us,” said Notiya Valley, a first-year psych major with an auburn bob. Her friend Jas Simmons, a first-year student majoring in journalism, was more measured: “I was skeptical at first. My first choice was Clark Atlanta.”

“Well, you’re thinking about that incident that happened in the summer,” Valley interjected.

“Yeah…” Simmons said.

I asked for elaboration. Simmons said that she was a part of the CASE Scholars program, which aims to make the transition from high school to Mizzou smoother for low-income students. Over the summer, incoming first-years stay at the dorms on campus and take a few classes. She was hanging out with some friends in their dorm hall when a drunk white student called them a racial slur.

Another friend who was present that night, Anissa McGinnie, provided more context when we later talked by phone. She said that she and some friends were having a game night when a white student, clearly drunk, asked for help getting into his room. After she and some other black friends helped him, he said, “Thank you, nigger bitches.”

"A lot of people were discouraging me [from going] to Mizzou, but I just know … there’s going to be racism everywhere, it could happen at any PWI.”

“I thought I didn’t hear him correctly so me and my roommate were kind of like, just ‘what did you say?’” McGinnie told me. “And then he ended up saying it again. My friends were across the hall and we started yelling and stuff and it was just all bad.” She said that a week or maybe two weeks later, during a commotion in the hallway, he called her a “nigger bitch” again, and that she lodged a formal complaint. Since meeting with school officials a few weeks later, however — McGinnie recalls a Title IX officer and the leader of diversity and inclusion being present — no one has reached out to her. The last she heard, the student had been moved to another dormitory across the street.

“We did a thorough investigation into this incident and worked with the University of Missouri Police Department and the Office of Civil Rights and Title IX to review the situation,” university spokesperson McCune said in an email. “Due to FERPA restrictions, we cannot share the outcomes of those investigations or provide details about discipline, but this situation was addressed and resulted in actions.”

The casual use of racial slurs against black students by white students has been a recurring complaint. In Concerned Student 1950, a 2016 student documentary about the 2015 campus protests, there’s a clip of a young woman interrupting an event for women alumni, who sit awkwardly listening to her, avoiding eye contact as she shouts: “November 6, 2015, two black female students, myself included, were called niggers by four white males while being recorded outside of the rec. A rec that I pay for, a rec that they pay for. I can be smart, I can have a high GPA, but at the end of the day you still see us as just a bunch of niggers.”

In the immediate aftermath of the 2015 protests, Mike Middleton, the Mizzou law school graduate and civil rights attorney, was appointed interim president of the University of Missouri system. (Former engineer and University of Connecticut provost Mun Choi is the university system's current president.) The Board of Curators, who appoint the system president, held a listening session with members from various student groups including Concerned Student 1950.

The university also hired Edelman PR, the same crisis PR firm Penn State hired in the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse case. According to documents obtained by the Missourian in 2017, the firm suggested avoiding answering tough questions about the protests directly and to limit university spokesperson access. (“We have worked with Edelman and our leaders have been a part of ongoing conversations related to the events of 2015 and the progress made since, locally and at the national level,” said McCune in an email.)

“Although progress never occurs in a straight line and we have areas to grow, we’ve made a lot of progress.”

According to Prahlad, the former English professor, a communications office was planning on publishing interviews it had conducted with black and white students about their thoughts on the protests, but in the summer of 2017 the office was shut down. But according to McCune, the layoffs of several marketing team staffers that summer weren’t related to the documentary they were making, but “part of approximately 500 position eliminations due to budget shortfalls.”

Post-protests, the university also created the Division of Inclusion, Diversity & Equity, installing Kevin McDonald as the school’s first vice chancellor for the office. McDonald, who had previously held a similar position at the Rochester Institute of Technology, is now vice president for Diversity at the University of Virginia. While the university searches for his replacement, NaTashua Davis, who oversees the university’s McNair Scholars program, is the interim vice chancellor. (Neither responded to interview requests.)

In an exit interview with the Missourian earlier this year, McDonald, who said he saw the job as a growth opportunity, was candid about the work that still remained. “You strive for utopia, which is inclusion," McDonald said, "recognizing you may never reach it, right?"

Dache urged McDonald, whom she knew from graduate school at Rochester, to consider the job when it opened up in 2015. In his role, Dache says McDonald was appreciated on campus for his work, which included starting leadership programs for undergraduate students of color and providing funding for student travel and cultural events. “Kevin tried, he was more visible,” she said. “But ultimately,” she contended, “it’s not a position for a radical,” meaning the wholesale change that some students and faculty wanted wouldn’t come to pass.

“Kevin, as part of a dedicated team of professionals throughout the university, made tremendous progress,” McCune said in an email. “When Kevin McDonald announced he was leaving the university, he said that the university must retain its urgency around diversity and inclusion. The university’s administration agrees 100%. Although progress never occurs in a straight line and we have areas to grow, we’ve made a lot of progress.”

Current students I talked to seemed neutral on McDonald’s impact. “The only reason I know about [McDonald] is because I did a project for my convergence in reporting class about faculty demographics at Mizzou,” said Walton, the senior journalism major. “Other than that, I would not have known who he was. I feel like a lot of black students who were looking for support go to the black culture center.”

Starting with the class of 2016, all students are now required to take a mandatory diversity and inclusion workshop called Citizenship@Mizzou, though not all current students I spoke with recalled taking this workshop.

“I remember we did things more dedicated to sexual harassment and consent, but I don’t really remember anything about race,” said sophomore journalism major Jada Page.

“I think that black faculty in general on college campuses in the Midwest or in the South already have some reservations to living and working on these types of campuses.”

The university has made some strides in the past few decades to help attract and support black students on campus. Many of the students I spoke with chose to attend the university because they had received great financial aid packages or had been the recipients of diversity scholarships. But the black faculty retention rate has been an issue for both current students and professors. Less than 4% of faculty at Mizzou are black. Among Concerned Student 1950’s initial demands was to see that number jump to 10% by 2017, which has not happened.

“I think that black faculty in general on college campuses in the Midwest or in the South already have some reservations to living and working on these types of campuses,” Dache explained to me. “The racial climate is something we all think about.”

Prahlad explained it another way. “Black faculty often have a much heavier student advising load. And some of that is because we usually end up doing a lot of unofficial advising to support black students,” he said. “So black faculty end up doing often more service than their white colleagues because they have a sense of responsibility to mentor black students, and a lot of that is, let’s say, beyond the call of duty.”

McCune mentioned that the university has made a $1.3 million investment to recruit and retain diverse faculty, and also noted that the university’s minority faculty rate is higher than public universities in neighboring states, according to a 2017 survey from the Department of Education’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System.

But one thing is clear: The administration’s handling of the 2015 protests did not make Mizzou a more appealing place for black faculty to work. Both Dache and Prahlad expressed disappointment with how the university had responded to the protests and Concerned Student 1950’s demands. “It’s all PR,” said Prahlad.

“In an ideal world, I would have liked the university, the administration, to be willing to have ongoing, open dialogues about race,” Prahlad said. “I think those two things would have put Mizzou on the map in a way that would have actually attracted a lot of students.”

University of Missouri football fans fill the seats at Faurot Field at Memorial Stadium during the homecoming game against the University of Mississippi on Oct. 12.

Danielle A. Scruggs for BuzzFeed News

University of Missouri’s 2018 homecoming queen Jalyn Johnson hugs newly crowned king Clayton Johnson during halftime at the homecoming game against the University of Mississippi on Oct. 12.

Danielle A. Scruggs for BuzzFeed News

On the Carnahan quadrangle, where the encampment constructed by student protesters once stood, there was only one tent set up on Saturday morning: the kind of bougie contraption you’d see at a fancy wedding. (Students are now banned from camping on the quad.)

“Truthfully, I feel like it’s beginning to fade,” Alaina Kent, a sophomore business major, told me about current students' memories of the 2015 protests. “This is the largest black class since the protests,” she said, “and a lot of them don’t even know about it. It’s starting to become a thing of the past.” LaRue-Hill said she thinks the fact that student leadership graduated dampened enthusiasm for pursuing Concerned Student 2015’s demands. “Once the people who were pressing on the movement left,” she said, “there’s [nobody saying] ‘don’t forget.’”

“This is the largest black class since the protests,” she said, “and a lot of them don’t even know about it. It’s starting to become a thing of the past.”

Jada Page, the sophomore journalism major, was hesitant about attending Mizzou at first after 2015. “It was weird when I would tell other people where I intended on going because I would get a lot of negative energy,” she said. Page also admitted that she didn’t really understand what exactly had happened to spark the 2015 protests. One of her friends had witnessed the students’ actions firsthand, and ”I got their perspective on it versus the perspectives that I would see in the media.” She said she felt like media coverage was biased against the students.

Sophomore Caleb Sewell only heard about the protests when the football players got involved and his mother became nervous about him attending the following year. “I would say once I got to Mizzou, though, I definitely got a bigger appreciation for what happened in 2015,” he said. “When I got here and was talking to students who were part of that original protest group, I became more appreciative of what they did.”

In many ways what happened at Mizzou feels singular. The football team boycott drew outsize national attention to the university, and combined with the fomenting anger over the highly publicized deaths of unarmed black people, Mizzou was ripe for a reckoning. But it appears as if some of that potent anger, that clarifying rage, has since simmered down — even as recent protests at the University of Alabama and at Syracuse University have made clear that racism on college campuses still persists, as do student movements agitating for change. (Concerned Student 1950’s Twitter account has even been tweeting in solidarity with Syracuse; the owner of the account did not respond to my interview request.)

Still, it’s obvious that there is a genuine, noteworthy black community at Mizzou. “If you were to just take a snapshot of the students in the parking lot, dancing and having a good time — that never happened when I was there. That’s what you would see at an HBCU homecoming,” Roberta McWoods, another 1985 alum, told me.

In the student center, the timeline of homecoming over the years prominently displayed in the middle of the hall does not reference the 2015 protests. Instead, the bulletin notes that in 2015, the Legion of Black Collegians went on a memorial walk to “remember those who lost their lives to violence.” Whose lives were lost, and at whose hands, is left unclear.

“I don’t think there’s really a group that’s taken its place,” said Hollis, when I asked her about the legacy of Concerned Student 1950. “There’s not really anyone who’s serving in the ways that Concerned Student did. It was a unique moment.” ●


Mun Choi is the president of the University of Missouri system and former provost of the University of Connecticut. An earlier version of this article implied he was the president of the University of Missouri-Columbia campus and misstated his title at UConn.

University of Missouri's 2018 homecoming queen, Jalyn Johnson, was misidentified as current queen Bri Dinwiddie in a photo caption.

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