It is nearly 50 years after Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream Speech” and 60 years after the Brown vs. Board ruling that desegregated all schools in the United States and we nor have a President with African descent. With all of this, who would think that racism could still be a problem? An even better question is who would think that racism would be a problem here at Missouri Western? However, a lot of students, advisors and campus faculty begged to differ and have a lot to say about this issue.
Center for Multicultural Education (CME) Director Tay Triggs expressed her views on campus racism.
“I haven’t been confronted with many issues on racism,” Triggs said. “However, I have become aware of and tend to see some kind of antagonistic relationship between some students of color and some of the Missouri Western Police Department. Many of the students believe it has to do with race. However, this is just coming from the student side. But, the antagonism between these two groups is historical.”
Former Public Safety Enforcement and sophomore Rodney Roberts also adds an example of the campus police enforcement creating a possible antagonistic approach to campus students.
“When I worked public safety I used to be told to do rounds around Beshears because those kids usually smoke and threw their blunts in the grass,” Roberts said. “Why are you profiling certain kids when you get a new batch of kids every semester? Why is walking around just Beshears necessary?”
Triggs also gives an example of one of her students and how she felt pin-pointed in a racial way.
“I had a student who had one of her faculty members who was grading some of her academic work assume she was an English Second Language (ESL) student,” Triggs said. “This for her was a put down. She was really hurt by it. It probably had to do with the fact that she’s Mexican.”
This example brings up another concern. Can assumptions ultimately be considered racist? Missouri Western junior Katlin Elrod believes that assumptions do play a small part in racism.
“I think [assuming] is a very small percent of racism but it’s definitely discriminatory,” Elrod said. “Assuming is discriminating because you are labeling somebody by how they look.”
Kent Heier, assistant director of Public Relations (PR) and Marketing, also feels that assumptions lead to numerous racial problems as well.
“I think anytime assumptions are made about people it’s a problem,” Heier said. “We make first impressions based on our encounters with people. Problems are made when we assume off of a first impression.”
Elrod also explains her example of possible racism that occurs with Missouri Western students.
“I’ve definitely seen it at a party,” Elrod said. “I’ve seen a couple of black guys walk into a predominately white party and there is always a comment. Something like ‘Well the room just got a little darker.’ But I think it goes both ways. I also hear black people saying stuff about white kids.”
Heier also provides an example of a racial issue that occurred two years ago and involved The Griffon News.
“There was a racially insensitive editorial that pinpointed a certain race,” Heier said. “The students read it and responded. However, it was a healthy exchange. It ultimately led to some progress.”
Another Missouri Western student also explains how she was offended by a professor. Junior and Missouri Western National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) President Michelle Allen described the incident.
“My sophomore year one of my teachers called me colored,” Allen said. “I had to go through matters and imply suing for discrimination before I got an apology.”
However, some students don’t see racial issues on this campus. Senior Dakotah Bass expresses that he doesn’t see racism and if a student were to see racial issues, then it is probably a personal issue.
“I don’t see it here,” Bass said. “From school to social activities, everyone seems to be on the same page. If someone sees racism as an issue, it’s probably a personal conflict with some race.”
Though racism is a controversial issue, what measures can truly be taken so that everyone is on the same page? The Center for Multicultural Education is a center that’s goal is to bring more unity by educating students about diversity and multiculturalism. Triggs explains how other measures could also be explored.
“We are teaching students what they can do,” Triggs said. “Multicultural Institute (MI) is a program that brings together students of different backgrounds who are interested in other cultural backgrounds. It teaches students what their role is in this fight for social justice.”
Upon joining MI, which does not require affiliation with the CME, other personal matters could also be considered. Elrod states how a student’s mindset must be changed before anything else.
“I think everyone needs to change their own mindset before they change someone else’s. The labels have to stop. We have to stop labeling people as black and white,” Elrod said.
Allen believes that proper education is the leading factor in truly changing racial issues.
“I don’t think some of our teachers instruct students properly,” Allen said. “It starts in the high schools. How many people know about the Latino civil rights movement? We don’t even have a black history class [at Western].”
Though racism has made an impression on Missouri Western from many different perspectives, there are many ways to overcome this particular struggle. One thing that is obvious is that a change needs to occur. Even though we have changed our title from a college to a university, have we been able to overcome racism and erase it from our future?