A mere 24 hours ago, I was impressed by the determination of the University of Missouri football team. Not that they were in bowl contention, but that they made the decision to take a risk, a huge risk, and put some skin in the game. The black players decided to strike, to refuse to play ball, and they had the support of their coaches and white players.
Their grievance? “Systemic racism,” they said. Their demand?
“The athletes of color on the University of Missouri football team truly believe ‘Injustice Anywhere is a threat to Justice Everywhere,’” the tweet read. “We will no longer participate in any football related activities until President Tim Wolfe resigns or is removed due to his negligence toward marginalized students’ experiences. WE ARE UNITED!!!!!”
The “injustice” wasn’t quite as clear. There were instances of claimed racism, but that’s not a basis for a claim that it’s systemic. It appears that the heart of the problem was that Wolfe acted too slowly in condemning the instances. They felt he failed to “respect and value” their voices, whatever that means.
So they demanded his ouster. Among other things.
The idea that Mizzou would succumb to the demands seemed improbable yesterday morning. By midday, not only had Wolfe resigned, but so too Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin. Whether it was the financial hit the school would take by failing to produce a football team to play BYU, which had a direct price tag of $1 million with an indirect cost of $3-5 million, or the lack of support among faculty and administration, isn’t clear. But they gave in.
Was Mizzou a hotbed of racism? The students and faculty thought so, sufficiently to risk their own welfare to fight it. You can’t fault people who are prepared to suffer consequences for their beliefs should they fail to prevail. That there was a significant aspect of silencing voices and ideas they didn’t share was a disturbing, and overlooked, aspect to their claims. But speech isn’t fashionable on campus these days. At least not nearly as fashionable as the vagaries of entitlement to demands that voices be respected and valued, whatever that means.
Having done what would have rationally seemed impossible, the ouster of top administrators, one might have suspected the next move would be a big party, followed by the next day’s hangover. But the protest group, calling itself “Concerned Student 1-9-5-0,” for the year black students were first admitted to the University of Missouri, was filled with its mighty power. They toppled a king! They could not be stopped.
Do they read Lord of the Flies at Mizzou?
The problem with “winning” a revolution is that it’s then left to the inmates to run the asylum. And as expressed by one of the original founders of the protest group, this wasn’t over until “the totality” of their demands were met, which largely meant that Missouri create a big safe space for “marginalized” students that met with their approval, curriculum and teaching staff included.
Then things went from bizarre to worse.
Students at Missouri are similarly unwilling to handle criticism, feedback, or really anything other than validation. In the wake of Wolfe’s resignation, reporters flooded the campus, but students formed a human shield around the black activists who had achieved this victory to rescue them from being interviewed.
“You don’t have a right to take our photos,” said one student to a photojournalist, according to this video taken by another journalist, Mark Schierbecker.
The fuzziness of the clash of empty rhetoric on the part of students and faculty who supported them was astounding.
Not only did this serve to undermine thoughts that maybe, just maybe, things at Mizzou were bad enough to justify what happened, but call into question the outrage that purportedly gave rise to it. The insanity of the claims of entitlement rendered the cause incomprehensible, with the students and faculty fabricating some entitlement to their fantasy rights to respect their childish wishes.
As support, or at least acceptance of the notion that the protesters’ cause was more than hurt feelz, and demands made of people who failed to “value their voices,” depended upon the efficacy of their claims, in revealing themselves to be in favor of their own entitlement to non-existent rights at the expense of anyone else’s rights, they gave away any claim to the moral high ground they might otherwise have had. As explained about their treatment of student photographer, Tim Tai, on assignment to ESPN:
The protesters accused him of acting unethically and disregarding their requests for privacy.
“What is so hard about respecting our wishes?” one protester asked.
And with one inadvertent, foolish question, that encapsulated the grievously wrong expectation that their “wishes” trump everyone else’s rights, interests, wishes, the protestors at Mizzou have tainted their cause.*
The coda comes by way of mass media professor Melissa Click, who takes it from Animal House to Animal Farm:
As the video nears its end, the person taking the video, Mark Schierbecker, emerged from the scrum and approached a woman, later identified as an assistant professor of mass media, Melissa Click, close to the tents. When he revealed that he was a journalist, Ms. Click appeared to grab at his camera.
She then yelled, “Who wants to help me get this reporter out of here? I need some muscle over here.”
Maybe the outrage and indignation of the football team, of hunger striking grad student Jonathan Butler, were justified. Their voices are as worthy of being heard as anyone else’s. But no more worthy. What began as claims that the University of Missouri was a hotbed of systemic racism ended with entitled students and faculty expecting hegemony over Mizzou, to the exclusion of any “wishes” but their own. Just another hot mess of infantile feelz on another college campus.
*After an aid informed Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill that there was media attention at Mizzou (and explained to her that Missouri, indeed, had a university system), she put on her finest TV frock and made herself available for a media opportunity. No one cared.