N. Tru Bass: Tokenism at the University of Missouri

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University of Missouri

Scribe: N. Tru Bass

Email: ntb@thethinkering.com


Racism is not a foreign concept in North America – and certainly not exotic in the country that began as 13 English Colonies.   People of color were never meant to be full-fledged citizen in this place and that fact is evidenced down to the fabric of our society even today, nearly than 240-years since the countries official birth. 

The American workplace has been the vanguard for racial attacks.  Racial harassment has refused to remove itself from disparate impact.  While disparate treatment is illegal it’s almost impossible to prove. 

Schools in the United States have held the position of one of the last bastions of white supremacy.  In recent days we have seen protests at American universities including Yale and the University of Missouri. 

In Columbia, Missouri at the University of Missouri protest forced the resignations of system president Tim Wolfe and the reassignment of Chancellor of the Columbia campus of the University of Missouri, R. Bowen Loftin on 9 November.  Concern Student 1950 has vowed to continue their activism and has vowed to stand steadfastly to secure a list of demands that suggest simply - `they want to be done right. 

Former Assistant Professor Dr. Bryana French said on Tuesday, “For several years there was a movement {the faculty council was promoting} the option of having a diversity required class of undergraduate students, and making that part of the general education requirement.” she continued, “and both times it was prevented, faculty voted down that request.”

The demands include increasing the percentage of Black faculty to 10 percent within two years. Blacks currently make up about 3 percent of the faculty.  The addition would mean hiring 400 new Black faculty members to adhere to the demand, which again I believe is a reasonable request. 

If the students are dealing with racism and bias, what then are the instructors who are being paid to be there dealing with?

Former faculty has chimed in on why they refused to remain and the recurring theme centers around the campus being a hostile work environment.  To offer clarity, former faculty recently penned an open letter placing racial Bias Square in the university's wheelhouse. 

Dr. French said, “Microaggrssions, being called the N-word for example, our competency being questioned, being challenged in the classroom, or facing hostility from students when talking about race and racism are a few of the more subtle experiences we face.”

Often when it comes of racist matters, racists’ people often speak of the complication of solving the problems that it creates.  While the same matter in the eyes of non-racist people seem simple.  When one doesn't have appreciation for another because of the color of her/his skin – then that has to be considered wrong thinking.

When Dr. French compares the racial climate to other schools in the U.S. She says,” I think that what happens at the University of Missouri is not unlike what happens across the country.  It’s the feelings of marginalization - students who have never been exposed to people of color and come to campus with these racists ideologies, I believe that happens across the board.”  Although, she admits the political climate in the State of Missouri is likely a contributing factor in racists’ attitudes on campus being tolerated.

A dozen former faculty members all agree the racial climate played an integral part of their leaving the university.  Interestingly, their first point the letter to be brought to attention is 'tokenism.'

“What we end up seeing are ways that faculty of color is recruited for committees, or asked to be spokespersons for diversity related issues, and there are so few of us that it gets exhausting.  And not having a lot of support from white faculty allies, but then, seeing how that tokenizes faculty of color, being representative on certain committees without changing the policies.  Doing the same behavior and practices and that's not going to change anything if you have a few people of color in the room.”

--Dr. Bryana French

Right on cue the University of Missouri appointed Mike Middleton as interim president of the University of Missouri System and Chuck Henson as interim vice chancellor for inclusion, diversity and equity.  Both appointees are African American men.  Will this prove to be more tokenism or a sincere attempt to make a change?

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