Press Releases

November 11, 2015


CHICAGO, Nov. 10 – I woke up this morning with my mind set on the brave students at the University of Missouri who have been struggling hard these last few weeks and days of protests and demonstrations, demanding social and racial equality for all at their prestigious institution.

Black students, including black members of the football team, heroically lead the protests after a series of ugly, racially charged incidents on the Columbia campus, dating back to the start of the school year and beyond.  By the time the university’s president, Tim Wolfe, and its chancellor, R. Bowen Loftin, stepped down under mounting pressure on Monday, there was truly a rainbow coalition of students and faculty, calling for justice and fairness for all.

These young people and their allies, including the white head football coach, Gary Pinkel, who supported his black players in their decision not to play football until Wolfe either resigned or was fired, fit squarely into the proud, non-violent protest tradition of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Protest leader and graduate student, Jonathan Butler, went on a week-long hunger strike, refusing to eat until Wolfe was gone from power. Like so many before him in the long struggle for justice and equality in America, Butler was willing to die for his beliefs.

I wholeheartedly support and applaud these student freedom fighters. But there is still much work to be done in Missouri and across the country.

Students of color have long complained that they have not felt welcome on the university’s Columbia campus, which has a student population of 35,000 students. African Americans make up about eight percent of the student body.  In September, according to CNN, Student Government President Payton Head complained on Facebook about bigotry and anti-homosexual attitudes at the school after people riding in a pickup truck shouted racial slurs at him.

“For those of you who wonder why I’m talking about the importance of inclusion and respect” he wrote, according to CNN, “it’s because I’ve experienced moments like this multiple times at THIS university, making me not feel included here.”

It was Wolfe’s lukewarm response to complaints about racial tension on campus that sparked the student uprising and the strike by the black football players that ultimately lead to his resignation. Chancellor Loftin also apparently failed to react swiftly enough. A coalition of Jewish groups, according to The New York Times, told the Chancellor that they were “dismayed” by his lack of action after a swastika was drawn on a dormitory wall in human feces.

But it’s not just the top of the university, but the entire infrastructure that must be examined, including the admissions policy, contracts and racial makeup of the faculty. This crisis has been festing for years. So, I am encouraged to hear that the university’s governing body, the Board of Curators, announced a series of new initiatives, seeking to address and ease racial tensions.

These measures, the Times reports, include hiring a diversity, inclusion and equity officer for the entire University of Missouri system.

What happened at the University of Missouri was an example of disciplined, focused, non-violent direction action.

The whole country should be proud.


Media Contact: John Mitchell | .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) | (773) 255-9067