Mizzou Race Relations Committee debates inclusivity vs free speech

The Mizzou Race Relations Committee has released its progress report, which says white people “don’t get” or “don’t see” racism experienced by their non-white counterparts.

The report begins with a letter from the committee chairman, journalism professor Berkley Hudson, who acknowledges that although the committee focused on race relations, they were told “by some faculty members that [the committee] needed to consider [its] work more broadly in terms of diversity, intersectionality, and inclusion.”

Hudson writes that some of Mizzou’s white faculty “did not understand the problem of race relations at Mizzou.”

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The report also contains insights and reflections from committee members. Stephanie Hernandez, coordinator of Mizzou’s Multicultural Center, insists that “people of Color understand how racism impacts their lives. And as much as we explain it, many of the White people in the group did not seem to get it or even believe it.”

Camila Manrique, a professor in the School of Medicine, writes that “racial aggressions” can occur under an “umbrella of blissful ignorance” and that perpetrators should be made aware of it.

One committee member, Agricultural Economics professor Ray Massey, had a slightly different take.

“White people don’t know want [sic] to talk about racial issues because missteps are likely to bring the charge of racism against them,” he says. “One of the worst accusations that can be leveled at someone today is to say that they are racist. The judgement of ‘racist’ stops communication and entrenches people in their positions.”

Massey adds that he’s “unconvinced” that institutional racism is a problem at Mizzou, but says he is aware that incidents of discrimination occur on an individual level.

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A transcript of a podcast by plant sciences professor Craig Roberts is also included in the report, in which he says, “When good whites see these extreme incidents, they become upset and demand that justice be done. After the racist perpetrators are arrested, good whites breathe easy. . . . The fewer overt incidents mask the thousands of subtle incidents, which make up the ‘way of life’ racism. . . . The subtle racism is difficult to detect for white people.”

Though the group has existed for sixteen months, its members have not come to a uniform conclusion on how to address racial tensions at Mizzou.

Leigh Neier, from the College of Education, suggested a Center for Teaching Excellence that would allow professors from different disciplines to collaborate on strategies for addressing race issues, but former Mizzou Multicultural Center director Stephanie Hernandez went even further by declaring that faculty need “intensive education,” not merely “training,” to help them promote inclusivity in the classroom and in their curricula.

Massey and Law School president Mike Middleton, conversely, emphasized the importance of free expression on campus as opposed to a training-oriented “top down” approach.

“We must recommit to the university as a marketplace of ideas and refuse to indoctrinate. During student and employee orientation training, we should have debates between people who cogently represent multiple perspectives—even those with whom we, as a whole, disagree,” Massey argues. “Good arguments are more effective than one-­sided arguments in changing minds.”

Similarly, Middleton cited the importance of “honest personal interactions between people of different backgrounds with a greater population on campus to provide perspective and open dialogue.”

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Journalism graduate Corie Wilkins, one of the original students on the committee, was more blunt with his answer, demanding the school hire more black faculty members because he is “at a point now where I actually get angry because I feel like my intelligence isn’t being respected.”

“You simply need more black faculty,” he states. “Move with a sense of urgency and do whatever the hell it takes to get these professors and faculty members.

“Let me tell you guys something you already know: Mizzou is the laughing stock of academia across the country,” he adds. “It’s disgusting, and we need to do whatever it takes to get this stain off our leger [sic]. It’s ugly, and it stinks.”

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