Badass Black Queer Women Paved the Way for the Mizzou Movement

#ConcernedStudent1950

+ After months of student protests over racist incidents and a slew of other issues that deeply impact women and minority students, everything came to a head this week at the University of Missouri as student and faculty demonstrators were successful in forcing the president of the university, Tim Wolfe, to resign and the school’s chancellor, R. Bowen Loftin, to step down to take a smaller role.

There isn’t just one incident that fueled students’ and staff’s dissatisfaction with Wolfe’s administration but a culmination of events throughout the semester. The university’s newspaper, The Maneater, outlines the events in this handy timeline. It began in August when the university cut health insurance for graduate teaching and research assistants. The graduate students created a list of demands, demonstrated by walking out and protesting over the changes and began to unionize. In early September, student body president Payton Head, who is queer and black, wrote a viral Facebook post about racial slurs that were yelled at him near campus and the microaggressions and racism he’s dealt with while attending MU. Later in the month, the university cut ties with Planned Parenthood, which stripped services from the campus. Also in that month, students organized the first “racism lives here” rally where they spoke out against Loftin, who took six days to respond to the discrimination described in Head’s post. A followup “racism lives here” rally called for “administration to take a serious stance on racism present on campus.” In early October, the Legion of Black Collegians’ 2015 Homecoming Royalty Court was harassed during their rehearsal by a drunk man yelling racial slurs at them, which led to a sit-in to protest the administration’s inaction regarding the incident. There was a slew of other events in October, including a swastika drawn in human feces found in a residence hall, which led the group The Concerned Student 1950 — a nod to the year when black students were first admitted to the university — to issue a list of demands including a call for Wolfe’s removal, the hiring of more professors of color and diversity training.

On November 2nd, graduate student Jonathan Butler, who was already protesting the cuts to graduate student healthcare, wrote a letter saying he was on a hunger strike until Wolfe was removed from office.

“Since Mr. Wolfe joined the UM system as president in 2012, there have been a slew of racist, sexist, homophobic, etc., incidents that have dynamically disrupted the learning experience for marginalized/underrepresented students at the University of Missouri…(S)tudents are not able to achieve their full academic potential because of the inequalities and obstacles they face… In each of these scenarios, Mr. Wolfe had ample opportunity to create policies and reform that could shift the culture of Mizzou in a positive direction but in each scenario he failed to do so.”

Butler garnered support from students who demonstrated and camped out on campus, and from faculty who spoke up and encouraged students to not attend regular classes but to attend a “teach-in.” Undoubtedly the most influential support came from black Missouri football players, who refused to practice or play any games until Wolfe was removed from office. The university could have lost about $1 million if they had forfeited their game this Saturday. Wolfe resigned yesterday and Loftin will step down from his position at the end of the year to take a smaller role on campus. The Board of Curators unveiled new initiatives to address racial issues including hiring a diversity, inclusion and equity officer for the entire University of Missouri system, creating a task force to create plans for improving diversity and inclusion, and requiring diversity and inclusion training for all faculty, staff members and incoming students.

All these “diversity trainings” and throwing the word “inclusion” around is perhaps a a step in the right direction but it will take a lot more effort from all sides of the university system to address racism on campus. As evidenced by this one semester, so many incidents make it unsafe and unwelcoming for students of color to learn at the University of Missouri. It is deeply ingrained in their university culture, and it will take every ounce of energy of everyone at the university system to make it at least an ok space for students of color to step on campus.

What’s most interesting and empowering about these student demonstrations was that it was inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement happening in nearby St. Louis and Ferguson, Missouri. And just like the Black Lives Matter movement, the #ConcernedStudent1950 group was led and organized by queer black women, according to Butler. He gave a shoutout to them on Twitter and talked to the The Washington Post about it.

“…The Black Lives Matter movement, in terms of what that means and the symbolism of reaffirming black existence, black humanity, and so in that realm with what we’re doing with our education sessions, what we’re doing with our rallies, what we’re doing on campus is definitely bringing about this awareness that we deserve to exist in these spaces on campus and we deserve to have our lives valued. And so in that sense, it’s a part of the Black Lives Matter movement. But in another sense, this is really unique to campus just because of the example that we got from some of those who were organizing in Ferguson. There are three queer black women, who used their knowledge from Ferguson organizing in creating an organization called MU for Mike Brown. And from that, that’s really where a lot of what has been going on on campus has been morphed from. So, it is part of the Black Lives Matter movement, but not necessarily in the cookie cutter way.”

Law and Order

+ Elizabeth Koke, a former staffer at a CUNY-related feminist publishing house called The Feminist Press, is suing her former boss Jennifer Baumgardner for unjustly firing her. Koke says she was fired for being “too lesbian” and that Baumgardner wanted to put out more “mainstream” material. Koke started working at the press in 2010 and claims ‘there was a drastic change in work environment’ when Baumgardner became the executive director in 2013. Baumgardner cut a YA lesbian book called Therese and Isabelle in favor of books with more “mainstream appeal,” the suit claims. In 2014, the suit also claims she “terminated or forced” out two other lesbian colleagues who are also on the suit. Koke was fired in December 2014 after speaking out on the changes being made.

+ Five years after they separated, a Mississippi Supreme Court narrowly granted a lesbian couple a divorce, through a 5-4 decision and with two state justices still denying the legality of marriage equality.

+ Kim Davis is just so good at filing appeals to dodge issuing same-sex marriage licenses that she should put it on her Twitter profile. Good thing judges keep rejecting them. This time around she argued U.S. District Judge David Bunning’s decision of issuing licenses should only apply to the four couples who sued her (who all have gotten married by now) and not all same-sex couples seeking licenses.

+ The Supreme Court made a decision that supported a police officer who shot and killed a fleeing suspect, Israel Leija Jr., from a highway overpass in Texas in 2010.

+ Here’s Feminista Jones with a Twitter resource list to follow the Daniel Holtzclaw case, the police officer who sexually assaulted many black women while on duty and is now being tried with an all-white jury.

Local Politics

+ Unlike Houston, Dallas is making moves to strengthen their LGBT protections. Dallas has had an LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination protection, similar to the one that was struck down in Houston, since 2002. However “gender identity” was erroneously put under the definition of “sexual orientation.” Dallas city council is set to vote today on a proposal to list “gender identity and expression” separately from sexual orientation, and clearly define the terms.

+ The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services will soon list the names of both same-sex spouses on their children’s birth certificates, although they haven’t revealed how that change might look. The AP reports: “HHS spokeswoman Leah Bucco-White on Thursday confirmed that the agency has begun the process to list both a child’s biological parent and the parent’s same-sex spouse on the child’s birth certificate. Until the process is complete, the state’s current birth certificate form — which does not include a place for same-sex spouses — will be used, Bucco-White said.”

Grab Bag

amayaamericangirl

+ 11-year-old Amaya Scheer was featured in American Girl Magazine for her work in her family’s charity giving toiletries to foster kids. She was in foster care until she was adopted by her two gay dads, Rob and Reece Scheer. Conservative group One Million Moms lashed out about the article, calling homosexuality a sin and the usual bullcrap. The Scheer family appeared on a local morning talk show where Amaya told One Million Moms, “This is none of your business.”

+ #BlackLivesMatter activist Deray Mckesson took the stage at a gala hosted by GLAAD to talk about the complexities of being black and gay.


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Yvonne S. Marquez is a lesbian journalist and Autostraddle senior editor living in Dallas, TX. She writes about social justice, politics, activism and other things dear to her heart like Selena and tacos. She graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in journalism and has since written and edited lots of gay stuff for the internet. Yvonne calls the borderlands home, strongly identifies with her Scorpio moon sign, and really hopes to crush the patriarchy soon. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter.

Yvonne has written 191 articles for us.

35 Comments

      • I’m a Yale student in Silliman college myself, and basically what happened is that an intercultural student and faculty council sent an e-mail about Halloween costumes reminding people that blackface, yellow face, and other appropriative costumes are deeply offensive to minorities and asking students to think whether their “funny” costume is funny or hurtful.

        The wife of the Master of Silliman College sent out an e-mail in response, basically saying she felt the e-mail was inappropriate censorship and that students should either engage people or “just look away” if their costume was offensive. (The Master lives in the residential college and is basically in charge of helping the community bond, organizing events for the college and serving as the person students go to when they’re having a problem. The residential colleges are student’s homes for all 4 years at Yale in most cases, and they end up as really important spaces for students.) A lot of Silliman students and Yalies from other residential colleges were understandably upset, since a minority student can’t “just look away” from things making Yale an unsafe place for them. The Master of the college responded to students’ anger mostly by retweeting articles from the Atlantic on the coddling of college students.

        On the same weekend, a fraternity party (allegedly, but all evidence says actually) turned away some women of color from a party, saying “white women only.” Between these two incidents, it prompted women of color and students of color in general to protest, tell the Yale community about the lack of welcome they’ve often felt and their anger over the racism many have experienced at Yale, and rally together to protest. A protest against systematic racism on campus yesterday drew 1200 or more people, pretty much the largest group of Yale students I’ve ever seen.

        Slate’s article about it is the most accurate one to what I’ve seen on campus:

        http://www.slate.com/blogs/xx_factor/2015/11/10/yale_student_protests_why_they_are_the_campus_pc_wars_at_their_best.html?wpsrc=sh_all_dt_tw_top

  1. I really didn’t get that Supreme Court ruling.

    Seems like you have some especial laws and rules for cops, that “qualified immunity” crap, but you almost don’t have any control on how a cop acts, considering that he’s a professional using weapons.

    Justice Sotomayor dissent is an amazing reading. But I was really surprised, and not in a good way, with the ruling from the rest of the “liberal” Justices.

  2. It saddens me so much to see this going on at my alma mater, but it is needed. I attended Mizzou from 2009-2013, and there were high-profile incidents of racism throughout that time (and surely before)–the one that comes to mind was when two students threw thousands of cotton balls onto the lawn of the Black Culture Center (http://www.themaneater.com/stories/2010/2/27/cotton-strewn-front-black-culture-center/). And that was when we were still part of the more midwest-leaning Big 12, and not the SEC. I have to wonder if there is more of a culture of racism in the SEC due to geography that is now seeping into Mizzou, which is located right on the mid-western/southern border.

    Anyway, I’m so happy to see some success coming from the protestors’ actions. Hopefully it’s the start of positive change.

  3. Thank you so much for this. I’ve been reading so much Mizzou coverage and nothing has mentioned women or queers, not to mention black queer women! Thank you for this rundown and this coverage and putting this up here on AS. You continue to be the best at everything.

  4. I work at Mizzou, and I have lots of friends that are leading Concerned Student 1950, so this has been interesting to watch happen up close. I’m pretty frustrated that the football team, with their fabulous history and current issue of unapologetic and condoned rape culture, was the end agent of change in this situation. But I digress. I’ll be interested to see what happens next…for all marginalized groups.

        • I enjoyed my time at UMKC (I lived in the business school, though, which just weathered its own scandal). Chancellor Morton has been supportive of discourse on campus and even encouraged faculty to use their classes yesterday to discuss the issues raised in Columbia. I think, though, that because it’s mainly a commuter campus, it’s not nearly as insulated and sealed-off as CoMo. I hope that the Board of Curators takes their time to choose a new Chancellor and President (but I’m not holding my breath). Once you get out of St. Louis and Kansas City, Missouri’s a very scary place.

          • Yep, a lot of people didn’t go to class today. I don’t work directly on campus (we’re a Mizzou building a two minute drive from campus), so it didn’t really affect my day, but a lot of practicum students that I work with (one of whom heads Concerned Student 1950) didn’t set foot on campus at all today.
            I heard there was a lot of chaos last night on campus/downtown, but I was there and I didn’t see anything. So some of it is confusing.

    • for sure it is super sad to think that money is the motivator, however STILL if it wasn’t for the work that organizers put in behind the scenes even the football players wouldn’t have been motivated to act. This, I feel, is still the work of badass organizers, not the football team.

  5. University of Missouri alum here! So you’re aware, the abbreviation for the University of Missouri / Mizzou is “MU,” not “UM” as published in your coverage. In addition, Ferguson and Saint Louis are not “nearby,” they’re over 120 miles away from Columbia.

    • UM would be appropriate when talking about Wolfe; it’s referred to as the “UM system” not the “MU system.” But yeah, if we’re talking about Loftin or the events specifically on Mizzou’s campus, than yeah, obviously, MU and/or Mizzou.
      I also don’t think St. Louis/Ferguson are really all that far away relatively. Half the people in this town (CoMo) are from there. Columbia was pretty affected by the events. Idk.

      • There’s a lot of people from St. Louis here, but it doesn’t make St. Louis nearby to Columbia. There’s also a lot of people from Kansas City and different cities in Texas living in Columbia. Boonvile is nearby. The lack of big cities in Missouri doesn’t make St. Louis any geographically closer to Columbia.

        • Eh, I think it’s a matter of opinion. Purely semantics and life experience. I’m not from here (I’ve lived in massive metro areas and places four hours away from the nearest grocery store, and New England, where an hour is a light year away), but I live here and have for a hot minute now. Duh, obviously there are people from all over that live here, but it’s safe to say St Louis is most represented…partially because of population numbers and partially because of…wait for it…distance.
          Whatever. “Close” and “nearby” are relative terms, not some concrete things.
          But this is all beside the main point of this situation. I think there’s probably way more important things to talk about re: Mizzou than how fucking far away St. Louis/Ferguson are.

  6. I am merely a Missouri resident who moved here after finishing my education. While some of the proposed new actions by MU administration may be useful, the basis of racism at MU remains Missouri has been and is a racist state, and not surprisingly in a school with largely in-state students, a large number of students will be actively racist. After all, 18 year old boy away from home, with access to alcohol = recipe for Dumb Actions like shit swastikas (???? the mind boggles). The “some student was a rude a**hole”and yelled the n word, or even “someone not connected to the university but just driving through town was a rude s**hole and yelled the n word” – this is hard to prevent. It’s not a crime, as opposed to making concrete threats. One has to have some proof to avoid the “he said – she said” wheel of unending arguments. In the old days of in loco parentis, one could penalize bad behavior, now there is no middle way between “no action” and “suspension”. Suspension of a student for speech offenses (not involving threats or vandalism) is not a case the public university lawyers want to see – the university is bound to lose. “Diversity training” preaches to the converted and tends to make the racists more racist rather than stimulating some reflection on their part. I can’t decide if the recent student action will have made it easier or harder to recruit good minority faculty to MU, which after all is in the back of nowhere, like most land grant colleges/universities. An optimistic candidate might say,”look at these enterprising students at least trying to change things”, the pessimistic candidate is likely to say “anywhere but MU”. The non-university job market is lousy (very pertinent for those with spouses), the amenities are few for those used to urban life, the local social/dating scene for older-than-college-age minorities is slim just due to the demographics – Columbia MO is not well placed to compete for the top candidates.

    TL;DR: The MU racism problem isn’t going to be solved in a day, and the administration has limited power to change the culture by punitive measures.

    • Agreed, and these are all issues that need to be addressed. I think it should begin at orientation; that’s where I had it in undergrad. (Ideally, it begins much earlier than that, but that’ll never happen.) The online Title IX training all UMKC students (and, I assume, all students in the UM System), may be a good place to start.

      One of the things auditors are trained to examine is “tone at the top” – basically, if management promotes and models a culture of compliance, there may be a decrease in fraudulent activity. A new system president and chancellor for the Mizzou campus that emphasize diversity in all forms can start the process of cultural change. It won’t be a panacea, but if they demonstrate that they’re serious, it may start to have an effect.

    • Re: the free speech issue. I thought the protesting students were clueless and naive about shutting out journalists – not a great example of planning ahead to get your message out there. If they had been savvy and able to get some consensus in the group, they would have said, “Here is our spokesperson” and present the journalists with a level headed, not-camera-shy person who is well rehearsed in talking points.

      So says the armchair strategist, definitely camera-shy. I am pretty impressed with the students in general, but it is clear that they are inexperienced, and they flubbed that particular media opportunity.

      • The journalist was a photographer who wanted to take pictures of the tent camp, students felt like they had already been misrepresented by the media and probably, I’m guessing, also wanted to protect the identity of some of the people taking part in the protest. Giving the journalist a spokesperson would’ve done absolutely nothing to change the situation.

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