COLUMBIA, Mo. – What should have been a triumphant day for the members of the Student Concerned 1950 movement was slightly soured Monday when a series of combative encounters with the media and ill-advised tweets marred the group's powerful message.
Protesters, led by grad student Jonathan Butler and members of the Missouri football team, which helped bring national attention to the movement, finally evoked some of the change they were seeking with the resignation of UM System President Tim Wolfe. But when the media that helped make the plight a national story tried to continue its coverage, several members of the protests, including some of Missouri’s faculty, turned slightly hostile.
Since the rally was on public property, the photographer, a student working a freelance assignment, had every right to be there and take pictures of what was going on.
Members of the protest had camped out on the Carnahan Quadrangle in the middle of Missouri's campus. The students put up signs saying the area was a media-free zone and asked for their area to be respected.
The request was reasonable, but it doesn't carry much weight on public property. While protesters wanted to exercise their First Amendment rights of free speech and the ability to peacefully assemble, they were seemingly ignoring the First Amendment rights of others.
As Butler went towards his car after speaking to more than 1,000 students in the middle of the day, people tried to shield him from cameras and he refused interviews despite doing one with CNN via phone following Wolfe's resignation. The media attention that helped him get what he wanted was suddenly the enemy.
The hostility continued throughout the day. Media members, including university students, were asked to leave from gatherings related to the protest.
As football players entered the campsite Monday afternoon, media was asked to leave once again. After the players made their statement from the campsite, the Concerned Student 1950 Twitter account fired off this series of ill-advised tweets regarding a campsite that, again, is on public property in the middle of a state-run university:
It's typically white media who don't understand the importance of respecting black spaces.— ConcernedStudent1950 (@CS_1950) November 9, 2015
If you have a problem with us wanting to have our spaces that we create respected, leave!— ConcernedStudent1950 (@CS_1950) November 9, 2015
Black people and our true allies, we love you and will continue to fight.— ConcernedStudent1950 (@CS_1950) November 9, 2015
Concerned Student 1950 protesters have focused on a platform of systemic oppression and inequality at the university – including sexism and homophobia, not just racial inequality. Butler's statement when he started his hunger strike referred to a "slew of racist, sexist, homophobic, etc., incidents that have dynamically disrupted the learning experience for marginalized/underrepresented students at the University of Missouri.”
The stand the students have taken is incredibly brave and noble. And it should be commended. However, with ill-advised tweets and aggressive attitudes, the platform could crumble underneath the bravado.
And if it does, it'd be a massive shame. The protesters got what they wanted with Wolfe's resignation. But life on campus won't be dramatically different Tuesday morning. The change that members of the Concerned Student 1950 movement want takes time, a willingness to work together and continued national attention to a cause that could have a profound effect on campuses nationwide.
It's now the students' turn to make sure they don't abuse their voice.
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