When do we decide that enough is enough? Do we have to wait until a person of color is violently attacked before we take notice? The students of the University of Missouri have made it clear it is time to put a stop to all hateful comments and activity.
Each time we ignore it when someone is bullied or marginalized, we offer our tacit approval. There was a saying that became popularized in the 1960s: "If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem." Racism, whether personal or systemic, is now a problem for everyone.
What happened at the University of Missouri? People grew tired of waiting for their concerns to be addressed. For a long time, students of color have complained that they felt unwelcome on campus. In the absence of a dramatic, violent incident, school administrators demonstrated no sense of urgency. Yes, they responded to e-mails and promised that diversity training would start some time in the future, but nothing changed.
Between 2012 and 2015, nine hate crimes were reported on campus and countless others went unreported. Racial slurs have been painted on walls and yelled at individuals and groups. Minority students have been teased and threatened via social media. Students of color are often taunted with an accusation that without affirmative action, they would never have been admitted. Swastikas have been burned into a ceiling.
In a stunning video, former President Tim Wolfe was captured saying that there is no systematic oppression and the problem is that students just don't believe that they have equal opportunities. This casual belittling of the students' concerns is at the core of the protests. It is not enough for those in authority to address each individual problem as it arises. They must recognize when discrimination and harassment are present and take action to change the system.
When chaos erupted in Ferguson following the death of Michael Brown last year, Mizzou students begged the university administration to take aggressive steps to eliminate the racially hostile environment. Not truly believing the problem was significant, administrators made little or no progress. It wasn't until an individual student decided that enough was enough and went on a hunger strike that people began to pay adequate attention. It wasn't until the African-American members of the football team refused to practice or play that it became a national story, leading quickly to the resignation of the president.
Community matters. When students pulled together to be heard, they were able to effect change. We should all learn from their courageous efforts.