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Former Yorker witnesses UM protests
A former Red Lion resident this week has had a front-row seat from which to watch racially charged drama unfold at the University of Missouri.
Greg Bowers, an associate professor at the University of Missouri's school of journalism for the past decade, has witnessed an uprising at the school that resulted in the resignations of two university leaders.
Many members of the university's community feel system president Tim Wolfe failed to address a number of racist incidents on campus. Groups fighting for equality sought his resignation. The chancellor of the flagship Columbia campus, R. Bowen Loftin, also announced he would be stepping down to take a smaller role at the university.
"This has all been going on over the last couple of months," said Bowers, formerly the sports editor of The York Dispatch.
"It started small, like most things do ... The crowning incident, it seems, was when someone drew a swastika on the side of a building with human feces," he said. "A lot of people were unsatisfied with the response of the administration."
Protest: Other reported incidents include student body president Payton Head and members of the school's Legion of Black Collegians being subjected to racial slurs from other students. They said that while campus security had been present, they took no action.
"Students began camping out on the quad, and a grad student began a hunger strike," Bowers said, adding that at any one time there are hundreds of students protesting in the quad — and many more spread out across campus.
Jonathan Butler, a member of Concerned Student 1950 — the student group that spearheaded the protest and was initially designed to fight racial hostility on campus — on Nov. 2 took to the social media site Twitter to announce that he would not eat until the president stepped down.
Football: The movement quickly gained momentum and seemed to explode when football players on Saturday announced a boycott, Bowers said.
"The incident really boiled over when the football team said they would not play football until the president was removed from office," he said. "I don't know if you can say that the football team forced the resignations, but they certainly brought a lot of pressure. When they got involved it was suddenly a national news story."
Some professors joined the protests and others canceled classes, Bowers said.
The president's resignation followed quickly after the football team's boycott was announced — eight days into Butler's hunger strike.
Journalism: Bowers said he did not personally participate in the protests.
"I'm a journalist; it wouldn't be appropriate," he said. "We cover the news.
"We definitely had this discussion in class. Journalists are people too, we have feelings, we have opinions like other people, but we can't display them because that could affect how people talk to you in an interview or how your work ends up being perceived. So while you have that feeling, you can't display it."
Bowers said the protests and consequential string of events presented the university's journalism students with a unique learning opportunity.
The Missourian, the student-run paper, supervised by faculty, has been covering the incidents in their entirety from the start, Bowers said.
Protesters even tried to bar a student journalist from the quad on Tuesday where they were celebrating. In a video posted to YouTube that captured the altercation, the student cites both reporters and protesters being protected under the same First Amendment right.
"It's been an interesting time," Bowers said. "There have been a lot of interesting stories to help young journalists. They're learning the ethics and how to behave, and you couldn't be learning any quicker or any better — the students are learning journalism in doing the journalism."
— Reach Jessica Schladebeck at firstname.lastname@example.org.