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UMKC To Hold 'Listening Session' In Wake of Mizzou Protests

In the immediate aftermath of Monday's events at the University of Missouri's Columbia campus, other local universities have taken notice — campus leadership needs to listen to student and faculty voice.

The University of Missouri-Kansas City is starting that process now, mere hours after both UM System President Tim Wolfe and MU Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin resigned, chastened by student-led protests and faculty complaints that they were insensitive to a tense and frequently racist campus climate. 

The University of Missouri-Kansas City, in the same statewide university system as Mizzou, will hold what campus leaders are calling a 'listening session' at 9 a.m. Wednesday in Room 401 of the Student Union. 

"If we look forward and think about what improvement may look like we have to ask, 'What will that look like?' We can identify some of the initiatives we haven't started that we need to start in order to ensure we have that better day in the future," UMKC Chancellor Leo Morton told KCUR's Up To Date Tuesday. 

"I believe listening is the right way to make that happen," he said. "We will make sure not only that we listen but give feedback to the folks who are there what we heard and identify the actions we can take together to improve our situation." 

UMKC has not seen the types of student-led demonstrations that have rocked Mizzou's campus repeatedly this fall. Student leaders say the climate at UMKC has been more productive between administration and student groups. 

"We have our issues, but we are further removed from our sister school," says Rakeem Golden, president of the African American Student Union at UMKC. "When I met with Concerned Student 1950 [at Mizzou], I summed it up in one word: accountability. Whenever there is a plan we hold people accountable to make sure whatever is taking place we are implementing it and this is now going to be worked on." 

That seems to be the thrust of the upcoming listening session. In a news release, university officials said it will be "an opportunity to share [sic] thoughts about how to ensure that UMKC is a place where all students, faculty and staff feel respected and valued." 

Despite what Golden calls a "more comfortable" campus climate than Mizzou, issues related to race and diversity at UMKC persist. 

There are longstanding complaints that the university's Black Studies Program is underfunded and facing declining enrollment. There also have been anxiety about increasing the number of minority faculty members. 

Morton says all these issues are on his mind but says UMKC has made great strides since a scathing campus climate report in 2006.

"We have been doing everything we can supporting that effort [to fund Black Studies Program]. And we have also started Latino/Latina Studies. We are trying to support every group on campus that we can with declining support from other sources," Morton said, making a reference to a decrease in public funding from the state. 

Morton indicated Wednesday's listening session will be another opportunity for  students and faculty to voice their concerns about these issues and more. 

"If we can get specific on what's needed, we will do everything we can to address it," he said. 

Kyle Palmer is a morning newscaster and reporter for KCUR. You can follow him on Twitter @kcurkyle.

KCUR is licensed to the University of Missouri Board of Curators and is an editorially independent community service of the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Kyle Palmer is the editor of the Shawnee Mission Post, a digital news outlet serving Northeast Johnson County, Kansas. He previously served as KCUR's news director and morning newscaster.
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