Thursday, March 23, 2017

Student Activism at MU: Voices of Change

Students at the University of Missouri have a long history of gathering together to affect change.  This exhibit reviews some key moments in the history of student activism at the University.  It will be on display in the Traditions Lounge on the second floor of the MU Student Center through the end of April.  Come visit!

Demonstrating for Peace
In 1940 MU students marched for peace (Savitar 1994). 

“Gentle Saturday,” a demonstration for peace in 1968 (Savitar 1968).

Anti-War Protests

Students protest the Vietnam War (Savitar 1970).
Students for Progressive Action staged a protest against the Iraq War at the Boone County Courthouse in 2002 (Savitar 2002).

Advocating for Better Treatment of Minorities and Women at the University

After seven years of fighting MU in court, Gay Liberation won out.  The struggle began in 1971 when the Gay Liberation group sought approval for their organization, which was denied by the Board of Curators.  Courts ruled in favor of the Gay Liberation group citing that the Board of Curators denied the members’ rights to freedom of speech and association (Savitar 1978).

Members of Delta Gamma show their support for women’s liberation in 1972 (Savitar 1994).

More than 700 students marched in 1974 in protest of the lack of minority faculty on campus (Missouri Alumnus Fall 1993).

Women protested peacefully in Peace Park in 1987. They were advocating for a woman’s right to bear their breasts and were fighting against the commoditization of women’s bodies (Savitar 1987).

In 1989 students protested the fact that the University of Missouri did not honor Martin Luther King Jr. Day (Missouri Alumnus Fall 1993).

During Homecoming, 200 students from the Legion of Black Collegians staged a peaceful protest to call attention to insensitivity towards minorities at the university (Savitar 1991).

In the wake of the Rodney King verdict in 1992 students joined protests in Columbia numbering 900 strong (Savitar 1992).

The National Pan Hellenic Council organized a sit in at Jesse Hall.  This was in reaction to an article written in the MU Student News by a student of the Zeta Tau Alpha Sorority accusing black sorority members of tearing down philanthropy banners in Greek Town (Savitar 2003).

The 2015 movement “Concerned Student 1950” is in reference to the year that black students were first admitted to the University.  Several instances of racism on campus sparked a series of protests in the fall of 2015.  A Homecoming Parade face-off between student protesters and MU System President Tim Wolfe heated up events.  Graduate student Jonathan Butler began a hunger strike in response to Wolfe’s reaction to racism on campus and the treatment of graduate students when their health insurance was suddenly revoked. Students camped out on the Quad in support of Butler.  Eventually both UM System President Tim Wolfe and MU Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin resigned from their posts (MIZZOU Spring 2016).

Advocating for Campus Issues

In 1968 Professor William Allen organized a chalk-in where 1,500 students gathered to protest three students who were arrested and sentenced 45 days in jail for writing peace slogans in chalk on the sidewalk (Savitar 1994).

Students, faculty, and administration worked together to change the rules of intervisitation at the university so that guests of the opposite sexes could be allowed in student rooms between 12-5 pm any Saturday or Sunday and from 8-11 pm on Friday and Saturday nights.  However, the Board of Curators shot down this proposal.  Students protested with a sleep-in at Memorial Union (Savitar 1969).

Rallies began in 1970 against the War in Cambodia, the Kent State Massacre, and Vietnam, but by the end of May it had boiled down to a clash between students and administration. Chancellor John Schwada warned students that those who took part in such demonstrations were liable to discipline by the University. Thousands of students gathered in front of the Chancellor’s residence to protests and Dr. Bill Wickersham, pictured above, delivered students’ demands of the chancellor: they wanted him to make a statement explaining his position on the Vietnam War and Kent State. Dean Jack Matthews delivered a statement from the Chancellor demanding that students disperse. They did not and campus police was called in and students were arrested.  Eventually students and the administration got together and agreed on a resolution that left it up to professors whether students could be released from courses to work for peace (Savitar 1970).

Throughout the late 1980s students protested against University’s investment in companies that supported apartheid South Africa.  The issue quickly escalated to become also about freedom to protest on campus.  In protest to the University’s unwillingness to fully divest, students erected wooden shanties on the Quad, which became known as “Shantytown.”  The University responded by removing students and the shanties, via campus police, and students in turn rebuilt their shanties and continued protest. In 1988 the Board of Curators voted to fully divest in these holdings (Missouri Alumnus Fall 1994).

Hundreds of graduate students and faculty members protested throughout the 2015-2016 academic school year.  Resistance began after the University revoked insurance subsidies from the graduate students with only 12 hours notice. Graduate students then began a fight to unionize that is currently tied up in the courts (MIZZOU Spring 2016).

Blogpost authored by Lauren DiSalvo, Curator of Public Arts at the University of Missouri Student Unions