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Mizzou Protests Remind University Alumni Of Other College Race Experiences

Tyler Adkisson
Protests on the University of Missouri-Columbia campus this month led to the resignation of UM System President Tim Wolfe, who student activists accused of ignoring concerns about racism on campus.

Recent racially charged protests at the University of Missouri-Columbia have stirred up memories of the hostility toward blacks that Kwame Thompson says he saw and experienced at the university.

Thompson, a 1995 Mizzou graduate, describes his transfer to the University of Missouri as “culture shock,” explaining the campus had few black faculty members at the time.

“I can only remember ever being called (the N word) twice in my life,” Thompson tells us. “Both were at Mizzou.”

Credit Courtesy photo / Kwame Thompson
Kwame Thompson
Kwame Thompson attended the University of Missouri-Columbia's College of Arts Sciences in the 1990s.

Thompson shared his experience with us via our Tell KCUR network, where we regularly email surveys directly to people who opt into the network.

This particular survey, part of a collaboration with St. Louis Public Radio, asked university alumni: What’s your college experience with race?  We also shared the question on social media.

We heard back numerous accounts of violence and struggle from university alumni. Fifteen years after Thompson attended Mizzou, another graduate had a similar experience.

An African-American woman who left a message on our Tell KCUR phone line said she “threw in the towel” after many attempts to start a professional minority organization on the University of Missouri-Kansas City campus.

She said she was met with a lot of resistance that she attributed to racism. Other people shared experiences outside of the UM system.

Others responding to our question wanted to react to the recent events at Mizzou.

Terry Smemo, who attended Mizzou in the mid-1970s, connected the recent protests in Columbia to protests in Ferguson, Missouri.

“Being as it is Missouri, where there is PLENTY of ongoing racism, it may be that it has been ‘business as usual’ for decades (and generations and centuries),” Smemo writes us.

“Then again, since Ferguson, it is possible that the collective tolerance of such poor behavior has decreased, and the students (often the lightning rods for social growth) have said ENOUGH. I hope that is the case.”

Credit Courtesy photo / Terry Smemo
Terry Smemo
Terry Smemo attended Mizzou in the mid-1970s.

On Facebook, Ben Hyde, a 35-year-old said he experienced little to no racism while getting his master’s degree at the University of Kansas in 2013. He says he feels a lot of what’s happening now is tied to generational differences.

He said the protests are in “reaction to poor policies in the urban cores all over the country and a byproduct of children raised during the 70s and 80s to attack anyone that does not fit the urban culture. …”

Leah Robinson, who graduated from KU in 2000, had had little reaction to the resignation, but more to the actions leading to it.

Credit KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
Join our Tell KCUR source network and help inform our reporting. Click on the link at the bottom of this story.

“A hunger strike was apparently not taken seriously, but when the winningest coach in Mizzou history stands behind his team in not taking the field, that's when things get real for the president,” Robinson tells us.

“It's very telling, especially in light of high-stakes college and pro-athletics sometimes being compared to modern-day slavery.”

Many of these alumni shared their stories as part of a Tell KCUR survey in collaboration with St. Louis Public Radio. Tell your story here.  Or become a source for our TellKCURnetwork and help inform our reporting. Tell KCUR is part of an initiative to engage the community and shine a light on your experiences and opinions.

Alyson Raletz is KCUR's social media editor. She can be reached at alyson@kcur.org or follow her on Twitter, @alysonraletz.

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