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The president of the University of Missouri system resigned and the chancellor of the university’s main campus in Columbia announced he’s stepping aside. Their moves are in response to student protesters who charged that the university failed to adequately respond to recent racial incidents: racial tensions on campus and debate over a university administration’s response
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Yesterday, the president of the University of Missouri system resigned. The chancellor of the university's main campus in Columbia, Missouri, is also stepping down. Tensions have been escalating on campus because some students, including the football team, were dissatisfied with the university's response to recent racial incidents.
MS. DIANE REHMHere to talk about what's happening at the University of Missouri and it's wider implications, Juana Summers of Mashable, Jamelle Bouie of Slate, Robby Soave of Reason.com and Krishnadev Calamur of The Atlantic. Throughout the hour, I'll welcome your questions, comments. Do join us, 800-433-8850. Send your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. And welcome to all of you.
MR. KRISHNADEV CALAMURThank you.
MR. ROBBY SOAVEThank you.
MR. JAMELLE BOUIEThank you for having us.
MS. JUANA SUMMERSThanks for having us.
REHMThank you all for being here. Before we begin our conversation, let's hear what the university president, Tim Wolfe, said yesterday.
MR. TIM WOLFEWe need to use my resignation -- please, please use this resignation to heal, not to hate. And let's move forward together for a brighter tomorrow.
REHMKrishnadev Calamur, talk a little about what lead up to his resignation.
CALAMURStarting in the fall of this year, there were a series of incidents on campus. The head of the students association whose name is Payton Head, he was called racial slurs by a group riding in a pickup truck and he wrote a Facebook post about this, which went viral and there were a couple of other incidents following that in which students were called the N-word and the university's response to these events was inadequate or at least the students saw it as inadequate.
CALAMURAnd the protests that followed resulted in a hunger strike by a graduate student Jonathan Butler, a faculty walkout eventually and a threatened boycott by the school football team. And once that happened, 36 hours later, Tim Wolfe announced his resignation.
REHMAnd what had been his response prior to this resignation?
CALAMURWell, previously, his comments were mostly muted. He did meet with the protestors as well as the graduate student who was protesting, but the things that he said did not placate the protestors. And I think things came to a head on Saturday night, I believe, when he was in Kansas City and he was asked about what he understood by the definition, by the term systemic oppression. And his response, which was something, I'm paraphrasing here, he said something like it's when you perceive that there is bias against you and that provoked the students even more.
CALAMURAnd then, the football team announced their boycott and he was out.
REHMJamelle Bouie, how important was that football boycott?
BOUIEI think that football boycott was pivotal. The football players, as should've probably among them was invaluable laborers on that college campus and on many college campuses, by deciding or by saying that they would not play or practice, they jeopardized millions of dollars in revenue for the college, millions of dollars in revenue for Columbia and even just a million dollars in fines Mizzou would have to pay for foregoing its game with Brigham Young University this upcoming weekend.
BOUIEAnd so that, I think, was the lynchpin that ended up forcing something to happen on the part of the administration. It's very easy to imagine a situation where they don't say anything and this keeps on going on, or I don't want to understate the extent to which the football players doing this in a climate of activism and protest also put pressure on the administration.
BOUIESo you can also a scenario where there is no hunger strike or at least the hunger strike ended a little earlier and there isn't as much outrage at the very incident and the football players go on strike and the administration still has some leverage to kind of push back.
REHMAnd to you, Robby Soave, the football team, as opposed to the hunger strikes, one had a lot more power than the other?
SOAVEThat's true. And it suggests that students have a lot -- particularly students involved in sports have a lot more institutional power on campus than I think that they were aware of and that I think commenters in the media have ascribed to them. I think, you know, it's worth asking is there some loftier aim they could use this power and activism to kind of achieve.
SOAVEI mean, I would like to see maybe student athletes striking for pay or in some sense, students not on the athletic program should be striking for having some kind of semblance of equality with the student athletes, who get, you know, the football programs just kind of running these universities and draining them of their financial resources. The fact that this came to a head over, you know, disgusting comments and inappropriate comments that I'm not sure what the university president could have done about anyway and met with the students over and is apologetic about, but is a little -- is odd to me that this is the thing that's kind of brought this activism forward.
REHMJuana Summers, you're actually a graduate of the University of Missouri back in 2009. What was it like for you while you were there?
SUMMERSDiane, one of the things that's been really interesting to me as I've listened to this debate is that everybody traces the racial tension of the University of Missouri back to the incident that Krishnadev mentioned, where the head of the Missouri students association, the government there, had racial slurs hurled at him on campus. But I think that that's a little bit short-sighted and it neglects a long history at Missouri of racial tensions dating back to as early as the 2000s.
SUMMERSI wrote about that at Mashable, talking about experiences of hearing people hurl the N-word around somewhat casually on campus, talking about the fact that in 2010 white students were charged with littering after they threw cotton balls on the grounds outside of the Gaines/Oldham Black Culture Center. So to suggest that the roots of racism and racial issues at Missouri, which, I should note, is a very great journalism school that I'm proud to have gone to, but to suggest that those just started earlier this year lacks quite a bit of foresight.
REHMAnd you actually graduated in 2009.
SUMMERSThat's right. I graduated in 2009 and I lived in the area after that. I'm a native of Kansas City, Missouri, and witnessed a lot of these things both firsthand and from students that I worked with. I also did some graduate coursework there as well.
BOUIEI want to underscore Juana's point here. One of the things I think it's important to realize about when these racial incidents happen on college campuses -- and I went to UVA, which, in a lot of ways, is not dissimilar to Mizzou -- is that the headline racial incidents are often just punctuation points on an underlying climate of racial hostility. And so when schools have that underlying climate of racial hostility, and that was the case at the University of Virginia during the time that I was there, when administration figures are silent, it is genuinely upsetting to students and faculty.
BOUIEAnd I have a very clear memory and I was reading up on some news reports from the recently of a series of quite similar racial incidents that happened at UVA in 2005 and there was silence on the part of the then president of the university, John T. Casteen III. And the complaints of students and faculty, black and white, are identical to the ones of the students at Missouri over the past few months, that it does mean something and it means something significant when the figures of authority aren't at least vocally speaking out, even if they can't do much materially.
BOUIESimply saying forthrightly that these things are unacceptable does mean something quite a bit.
SOAVEBut I mean, these people presenting these, you know, demands for action and saying, we've -- people are saying insensitive, horrible thing about us, it -- often on campuses, it's almost always the case that they do then get an audience with the president. I mean, this -- Tim Wolfe met with them. I write about higher education issues. I see this at campus after campus that they do talk to them. If students are only looking for someone to say, you know what, I understand your pain and that's really awful, and we're sorry, that seems to be happening, to me.
SOAVESo I don't know what they want -- what we can actually do for them beyond that. And if that's all they want, it's a little strange, I mean, to think -- these are adults. We're expecting students to be adults now. And, you know, part of being an adult is kind of, you know, sticks and stones don't break my bones. I mean, that's like something I would say to everyone who is hearing insensitive things yelled at them on campus.
REHMKrishnadev, you are also a University of Missouri graduate.
CALAMURYes, I am.
REHMIs that what these students want? I'm sorry for what's happened for you. I feel your pain. I'll do my best or what do they want?
CALAMURYou know, I think it's a very difficult question to ask and answer because primarily, as an international student who went to the university, I did not experience a lot of the things that many native born minorities feel. But even when I went -- when I did attend in 1998, it was pretty clear there were racial differences at the school because, you know, you had black students and white students sitting separately.
CALAMURAnd as someone who came from India at the time, it was pretty telling. Having said that, I think the university's response has been bizarre to say the least. Tim Wolfe, this is not a new thing with him. The fact is that he -- the faculty and students have been upset at him for quite a long time and not just about racial issues. There were issues dealing with -- first of all, he didn't come from academia. He was from the business world and he came into the school to try and reform it and ran it like company, which is a mandate.
CALAMURBut some of the things that he did ruffled a lot of feathers. He closed the MU academic publishing house. He let ordinance pass that removed Planned Parenthood. These upset a lot of people.
REHMKrishnadev Calamur, senior editor at The Atlantic. Short break here, we'll be right back.
REHMAnd welcome back. We're talking about the incidents at the University of Missouri where yesterday the president of the University of Missouri system, Tim Wolfe, resigned, as did R. Bowen Loftin, the chancellor of the University's main campus in Columbia, Mo. That came after escalating student protests over the University's response to a series of racial incidents. A couple of questions from our listeners, Juana Summers. Kathleen says, it's reported the black football players boycotted. Did the white football players not boycott? Or are there no white football players?
SUMMERSKathleen raises a great question. If you look at the roster of the University of Missouri's football team, there are a large number of black players, I think, in the 50. They're a large proportion of the football squad. And that's kind of stark compared to the reality of on-campus, where 75 percent of the University of Missouri's more than 35,000 students are white.
SUMMERSThe football players who boycotted, originally it became -- as my understanding is -- that it was black football players. But if you look at the photo that was tweeted out by the legion of black collegians that made traffic on social media, they were joined by their white counterparts and notably also had the support of head coach Gary Pinkel, who's been with the program for a long time, who is also white.
REHMAll right. And here's a Facebook comment from Mike. Tim Wolfe makes $459,000 a year. The school would have to forfeit $1 million just for missing this weekend's game against BYU. In other words, math was not on Tim Wolf's side and he was as good as gone. Do you agree with that Jamelle?
BOUIEI couldn't say it any better. It would be one thing if, just, there just weren't these titanic sums involved. But collegiate football, and especially at that level, is extraordinarily lucrative. And I mean, quite frankly, it even puts the program -- jeopardy is going to force action from stakeholders in the University.
REHMAll right. And here's a question from Tony in Tamarac, Fla. He says, I'm disturbed by the ouster. Seems this is just malicious application of power for its own sake. If the University fostered the climate of hostility, I can see with the protests. But to remove a university president because he was not as incensed as they would like him to be, sets a dangerous precedent. Krishnadev, what could or should the president have done that would have made it better for those students and avoided a resignation?
CALAMURThere are a couple of options. One thing he could have done was, right off the bat, say I'm very disappointed, instead of waiting after the student association president was offended. He could have -- Tim Wolfe could have just gone in and he could have protested with the students. He could have announced (word?) commission with eminent people from the state of Missouri, including students, to look at systemic -- complaints of systemic oppression.
REHMWhat did he do?
CALAMURHe met with them and he made -- he put out statements saying that he was also offended by what happened and that they would look into it. But nothing quite came off it and those comments didn't strike the students as enough.
REHMWas that enough for you, Robby?
SOAVEWell, I mean, I'm not a Mizzou student, so I'm not in a position to say, here's what he should have done. And I would never tell students that they shouldn't be active in demanding the kinds of changes they want. I'm not at all saying that. And I think there are important questions to consider. I certainly think there are huge racial inequities in society that students are well equipped -- they're studying, they're learning something about history -- to kind of tackle and advocate for change. But it's just -- I mean, it seems dishonest to me to like pretend that Mizzou is more of a racist place than the country at large.
SOAVEI mean, when I think of spaces that are truly unsafe for people of color, I'm thinking about, you know, the streets of Baltimore. I'm thinking about our prison systems. I'm thinking about all these weighty issues that students -- radical students of, think of the '60s and '70s taking on the Vietnam War, taking on desegregation, you know, really substantial issues. Here, and it sounds dismissive to say this, but it -- but people just -- a couple insults. Like, I understand their pain and I'm sympathetic to it and they have every right to be incensed about these things, but to equate these with the kind of actual systemic oppression in society seems like it lacks perspective, to me.
REHMJuana, how much did Ferguson, Mo., have to do with what happened at the University?
SUMMERSDiane, I want to get to that in a second. But I also want to respond to something...
SUMMERS...that Robby just said, as somebody who both went to the University of Missouri and also happens to live in Baltimore, Md. I think that this is little bit different than talking about sticks and stones, when we're talking about people who are actually having racial slurs hurled at them. That's hate speech, it's not an insult.
BOUIEAnd to -- I took that as well. What makes racial slurs distinct from just bad language speech -- someone just calling you a curse word or a nasty name -- is that it comes with an implicit threat of violence. And it's just something I think is hard to understand, if you've never been the subject of slurs or attacks based on some aspect of your identity. But women who are catcalled, you know, Latinos, Asian Americans, black people who face racial slurs, they come implicitly and explicitly, too, with this message that you do not belong and that your presence here should not be tolerated.
REHMNow let's go back to the question of what the president could have done, Juana.
SUMMERSWell, what we saw after the resignations is there was a taskforce announced. The University is going to appoint its first chief officer for diversity, inclusion and equity. They've pledged to work toward a more diverse faculty and staff, which has been a glaring issue on that campus for years now. Why wasn't any of that done earlier on? Why did Tim Wolfe not take on these things on its head, back when these issues first started coming up anew scores of months ago? And I think that that's something that, I think, possibly, could have placated these activists, who I won't presume to speak for myself. But I think that seeing some more action rather than just paltry statements that -- saying that we need to hear both sides, might have rang a little bit less hollow.
REHMAll right. We've been concentrating on the University of Missouri, as well we should. Jamelle, you said you went to the University of Virginia. How much racial bias did you perceive or feel or experience?
BOUIEIt's interesting. UVA, like, Mizzou was pretty big but not as big. And like any big school, you can kind of arrange your life to avoid circumstances or scenarios where you know you will encounter something that you just don't want to, and that, specifically, racial hostility. At the University of Virginal, when I was there, for me, that meant essentially avoiding large parts of Greek life at the University. My first semester at UVA, I was called the N-word. I was called the N-word several times during my time at the University.
BOUIEAnd those are experiences that lead you to circumscribe your life, right? Both because it is hurtful and painful to hear those sort of things, it is genuinely hard. And I have, I mean, I have -- I've been writing on the Internet for a while now. I have a pretty thick skin. But someone saying something like that to you, to your face in real life, is a bit different. And as a college student, even if you are not from a particularly sheltered place, it can still be difficult.
BOUIEAnd I think where it matters for a school administration is that it is a problem when you have a population of students who feel that they have to circumscribe their experience of the university in order to avoid racial hostility. That is not just a burden on their personal lives, it is a burden on their academic performance. It is a burden on their ability to reach their potential as students. And so to dismiss this, as Robby did, I appreciate Robby's comments. But they were dismissive. To dismiss this as sticks and stones, I think, really does understate the extent to which, if you leave it to fester, it becomes a genuine problem for the school.
BOUIEAnd I will add, real quickly, that UVA has seen a decline in its total African American enrollment over the past six years, since I've been there. And there's a real question among faculty at the University about whether this has something to do with the climate around race at the school.
SOAVEWell, leave it to fester, of course not. You know, we should talk about whatever we can do to make the campus a more welcoming, hospitable place for everybody. But I mean that's exactly the issue because even, I mean, even if you knew who these people are -- someone mentioned hate speech -- but, you know, I mean hate speech even in public spaces is protected to a good degree. So I mean, it's not even clear to me you could expel or punish if it was a student saying that hateful thing and they were caught on the campus, that you could even take punitive action against them from a legal standpoint.
SOAVESo, I mean, there is like a dearth of tangible solutions to this beyond just -- we should be listening to students' pain. And that seems to be what they want most from their administration is just, again, someone saying, yeah, you're right. This sucks. But I don't know why -- it seems wild to actually take the step of having him, you know, resign because he didn't do that.
REHMA dearth of tangible solutions?
CALAMURI mean, I think part of the problem is that the people who are not in power have a concern, and those that are in power don't see it as a concern. I think when you have those two issues coming to a head, it's very difficult to find a solution. And as Juana brought up, the, I think, faculty at Missouri is 2 percent African American and to try and -- and the students wanted to raise to around 10 percent or higher. Having a higher proportion of minority faculty members might certainly help in addressing some of these issues. Because I think, in many cases, the power structure doesn't quite understand the concerns that are being raised.
REHMAnd the issue of bringing in a non-academic to head up a university system because that non-academic is presumably brought in to raise money, find greater donors and that sort of thing. Does that make that person even less sensitive to what's going on on campus?
CALAMURI mean, I think it might vary by individuals. Various companies have taken steps to make diversity a centerpiece of their companies, you know, Target being one of them, after protests that were raised.
CALAMURSo it's -- I'm not sure that it's that black and white. However, I think it, you know, in this particular case, I think the -- I mean, not everything is -- not every solution is economic. I think there are certain things that are far -- that are social issues which you can't just throw money at and make go away.
REHMJuana, you actually began dating a white man.
REHMAnd did you feel the heat there?
SUMMERSAbsolutely. I -- throughout the course of my college career and being in interracial relationships at the time, I certainly felt the heat. I remember one incident when I was leaving an off-campus party -- and this was something I wrote about in my piece -- having a beer bottle hurled at me by some white students leaving a party. And it was just kind of glaring to me. You know, I went -- I grew up in Kansas City. I went to a nearly all white, all girls Catholic high school. So it's not like I -- the experience of being the only person in the room, of being otherized was new to me.
SUMMERSBut the amount of malice at someone who was simply choosing to date who they liked and walk out of a party with them, that a beer bottle and racist epithets were the reaction to that was really shocking to me.
REHMWeren't you actually rushed for a white sorority?
SUMMERSI did and I became a member of one.
REHMAnd how did you feel within that group?
SUMMERSI was very lucky that the sorority I joined, Alpha Chi Omega, was a chapter filled with women who, I would say, by and large were open and respective and embracive of others' experience. They do a lot of great work with philanthropy involving domestic violence. That said, I felt very shut out of the experience of rushing or going through formal recruitment, writ large. You go on the streets of Greek town and you stand in a line with all these other girls who are decked out in their best clothes and matching t-shirts and you see these groups of women burst out of these houses, chanting songs, telling you about their sisterhood.
SUMMERSI remember standing near the first couple houses and you look around, it's like, nobody here looks like me. And it was just really, really, really shocking to me. And most of the other women rushing didn't look like me either. Most of the houses I entered had largely white members, maybe a black member, maybe a Hispanic member, maybe an Asian member. But the -- one of the biggest places on that campus -- and I would venture in other campuses, perhaps UVA as Jamelle noted and others around the country with strong Greek traditions, rather -- it's one of the areas where you most see that self-segregation and self-selection. There are also historically black sororities and fraternities on campus, too.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." But that begs the question, why did you not think about joining a black sorority?
SUMMERSNo one ever gave me information about them. I didn't know many other black students who were going to Mizzou.
SUMMERSThey don't rush at the same time. It's two very, very different systems. I didn't know any better. I didn't know any different. I had a great experience in Greek life at Mizzou. But it's still really troubling that an area that can be so robust -- and I think it's 30 percent of the campus now is Greek -- is still so black and white defined.
REHMAll right. Let's open the phones. And first we'll go to St. Louis, Mo. Shanara, you're on the air.
SHANARAThank you, Ms. Rehm. It's an honor to be on your show.
SHANARAI'm a great supporter and believer in the power of protest. But I think there's an element that can't be overlooked in this situation, which is the financial power that the football players at the University had to enact with the quick response of the administration. And I'm just wondering if your panelists can respond to the ties between protest power and financial power and what might be done to support other protestors' voices, who may not have the financial capital that these football players did.
BOUIEWell, unfortunately, oftentimes that kind of serious -- and I'll just use a famous example of the Montgomery bus boycott, right, was an actual -- it hurt Montgomery's coffers. Oftentimes the best way to effect sort of immediate change is by using whatever economic power you have, whatever economical efforts you have. So if I were making a pitch to other activists -- and I will add, earlier in the conversation, Robby said that he hoped to see this kind of action used for other kinds of issues, for wages, for better treatment -- and I would hope and I would pitch to activists at other campuses to try to make these kinds of connections with athletic teams.
BOUIEI mean, the thing about football teams, in particular -- and let's say, you're managing a living-wage protest on a campus -- the thing about football things is that, because they're often predominantly African American, they're often working-class guys or people from working-class families, and they are people with whom you can make tangible connections across a variety of different lines. And so it might be unfortunate that the best way to get a university's attention is to threaten their money, but we know that that's the case and so we should run with it.
REHMJamelle Bouie, he's chief political correspondent for Slate. When we come back, more of your comments, your questions. I look forward to speaking with you.
REHMAnd welcome back. Of course we are talking in this hour about the University of Missouri, the system president has resigned, as well as the chancellor at the University of Missouri at Columbus, and here is an email from Steve, who says, am I the only one who sees the irony in the fact that University of Missouri mass media assistant professor challenged and then threatened an ESPN photographer who tried to cover the event? This is not what you'd expect from a world-class journalism schools staff member.
SOAVESo yes, so what happened was the concerned black students, the protestors had gathered at a public outdoor space on campus, and reporters tried to talk to them and take pictures of them, and other students formed a human wall around these students to prevent reporters from talking to them. And this one person doing that is apparently a professor at the university and, you know, she was saying -- of mass media, and she was saying things like, someone help me get this, you know, get this reporter out of here, showing unfortunate contempt for a free press and the First Amendment and these kinds of, you know, important protections for actually covering -- these reporters just wanted to engage and hear from them.
REHMHow do you read that, Juana?
SUMMERSI think this was a really interesting incident to watch not only because the people involved in asking these people to muscle up against this photographer were university professors and a university staff member, but also because the photographer that you know is from ESPN is also a journalism student on the university campus. One of the things that I thought was kind of interesting is that we've seen in a number of different protests and in a lot of activism that it's in fact very effective for activists to shut traditional and mainstream media and instead go with their own and use their own kind of non-traditional communication.
SUMMERSI'm certainly not saying that they're right for what they're doing. I as a working reporter certainly believe in the First Amendment, but it is very interesting to see how they're managing their message, and it seems like this has been kind of a distraction to the bigger aims and the bigger conversation that they themselves have been trying to put forward.
REHMAll right, to Quincy, Illinois, Chris, you're on the air.
CHRISHi Diane. Speaking about the assistant professor who called for muscle to help remove the reporter, this student reporter, photographer, was Asian-American. And I thought that was ironic that race would perhaps be a factor in this or that there would not be greater sensitivity to this. I'm concerned for the students who've been shut out, for the students who've been -- had racial slurs hurled at them, but I also think that there's a certain confusion on their part as to what the limits of their rights or responsibilities are.
CHRISAnd just as one more example, following the resignation of Tim Wolf, there was a little bit of jubilation out there on the quad at MU, and people started chanting M-I-Z-Z-O-U, and one of the protestors said, oh please, don't do that, that's too hurtful to us. With issuing the first set of demands before Wolf's resignation and then issuing another set of demands, I'm not sure that if I had been chancellor I would have even known what they were asking for or what I could have done about individual instances of racism on campus other than prosecute the person who drew a swastika on the wall in charcoal. That was done.
CHRISWhat are the -- what is the responsibility of a chancellor or a president to address these things?
REHMAll right, Robby?
SOAVEWell, you know, we're talking about systemic racism, but rarely is this brought up in the context of Asian-American applicants to universities, who are openly discriminated against because many universities in this country employ a race-based admission system that rewards people of a certain color and disfavors others, most notably Asian-Americans. There would be more Asian students on campuses if they stopped doing these practices. I call that systemic racism.
SOAVEBut the caller, you know, raises the question of students knowing what their rights are, and I think you see many -- and you see this at -- you've seen this at Yale last week with kind of the related incidents where students were offended that administrators were telling them, make up your own mind about whether a Halloween costume is offensive. This was so hurtful to the students that they mobbed the administrator and, you know, called for his firing.
SOAVEI think students seem to be developing less of a respect for kind of open dialogue and free expression on campuses, where you answer something you don't like, that's hurtful, but actually saying this is hurtful, this is bad, this is why this bothers me and using your own speech to talk about it rather than calling for that person to be run off campus by an angry mob or that administrator to be fired for not taking the concern seriously enough.
BOUIESo I think there are three things to consider, to say here. The first is that I very much agree with the idea of the notion that what we saw on the Missouri campus with the photographer and then what we've seen at the Yale campus is disturbing. It is, I think, antithetical to the idea of a public protest to then deny reporters and members of the media access to covering that protest. If you want a safe space, which I understand very much so, if you want a safe space, then you should -- you ought to have a private space, but to use public space and then demand that this becomes a private I don't think is okay.
BOUIEThe second thing is that I think it's important to put this in a broader context. We had this decade called the '60s, and this sort of activity was not uncommon in the '60s. What we're looking at is not some sort of new phenomena. I think it feels new because of things like social media and because of the speed with which we absorb the news and what's happening, but the basic dynamics of what's happening isn't unfamiliar to American higher education.
BOUIEAnd the third thing, and I think this is actually very important, is that we need to be careful not to turn this into an issue of college students writ large. This is an issue of students at a handful of elite universities in the country. The vast majority of college students do not go to universities like this. The vast majority of college students aren't engaged in activities like this. And when you look at the problems facing college students and keeping them from finishing, there are things like not being able to afford tuition, there are things like having to drop out to take care of family and so on and so forth.
BOUIEAnd so this is very -- this is, like, very much an elite problem we're talking about.
REHMBut on the other hand, here's a question about the honor code. Many universities have honor codes, says Pernilla, that students sign when they enroll. Many honor code address racial issues. I'm wondering if the racial behavior displayed at the Missouri University could have been avoided by holding those students accountable to their honor code. In regular workplace when people sign employment agreements, one of the reasons they can get fired is discrimination due to race.
REHMNow you went to the University of Virginia, Jamelle, and you talked about the honor code there.
BOUIEYes, UVA has an honor code. It's for academic offenses. And I will be honest, precisely because, you know, there's racial slurs, and I think those are in a category of their own, but there's a whole host of things that don't quite raise to the level of racial slurs, and depending -- at UVA the honor is single-sanction, which means that if you violate it, and you are convicted of a violation, you're expelled. And so the kind of subsuming things about discrimination into an honor code can get you to a place where you're having students, like, adjudicate things that can get people expelled.
BOUIEAnd I'm just -- as a UVA grad, I don't like that school's honor code precisely because I don't like the idea of students being expelled for mistakes at school. And so I'm not sure I would fold that kind of stuff into an honor code.
REHMAll right, here's an email from Marie. She says, I've been listening to the show. The guests keep saying there's maybe nothing the president could have done. She reminds us that last year the University of Oklahoma was faced with hate speech. President Boren expelled the two students responsible through the offending fraternity off-campus within 48 hours and stood solidly with the black students on campus, as did the football team and the students. A lot can be done if you're serious about attacking the problem. Juana, do you think had the University of Missouri higher-ups taken that kind of a stance, something different might have been the outcome?
SUMMERSI think that's certainly the case, as what I heard from a lot of students on campus that I've spoken to over the last couple days and weeks is the fact that they're -- they were concerned that there had been no decisive action. They really took what we heard from Chancellor Bowen, who is still there, former UM system President Tim Wolf, as really lip service and not taking the problem seriously.
SUMMERSI personally think that a lot -- you saw 1,000 black alumni come together to write a letter talking about this pattern of racist incidents on campus. I wonder if they would have been placated if these issues had been taken more seriously back in 2009, when I was still there, back when Krishnadev was still there.
REHMDo you agree, Krishnadev?
CALAMURCertainly. I think in many of these sorts of instances, it is absolutely imperative for the faculty to act immediately, for the administrators to act immediately. And I think the longer you delay a response, the longer you are going to be dealing with problems such as this, a protest such as this.
REHMAll right to Danica in Houston, Texas. You're on the air.
DANICAHi, good morning. I basically wanted to touch on something that Robby had said about sticks and stones. I can't remember his exact words, but basically the impression that I got is that he pretty much is telling people to not personally take words that people are using to define them. What I would like to ask him to do is to put himself in the students' shoes. And I am an African-American woman. How would you feel if someone consistently, I don't know if you have sisters, if someone consistently called your sister or your mother a derogatory term, specially using the B-word or the C-word. Would you be so quick to dismiss them and tell them to just kind of let it roll off of their back?
SOAVEWell, I'm not dismissing even the people who suffered this at Mizzou. I think that's horrible and outrageous. I'm not dismissing them whatsoever. I'm just wondering what steps could actually be taken to kind of crack down on this occasional outburst of undesirable speech. And I do think, as a coping mechanism for these kinds of things, like I said, part of the process of becoming an adult, I think it's better for everyone, including myself and people I've known who've had horrible things said to them, to just kind of learn that you're not defined by these horrible things that people said.
SOAVEBut that's not to say they shouldn't be outraged about this and want to do something about it.
REHMKrishnadev, are we talking about occasional, or are we talking about something broader here?
CALAMURI think in this particular case, there have been complaints at Mizzou for years, as Juana pointed out. So it's not -- it's not isolated incidents. It's a broad, systemic issue.
REHMAnd you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. Let's go to Valeria in Indianapolis. You're on the air.
VALERIAHi, thank you for taking my call. I'm a longtime listener. And I just wanted to say if we put -- I'm a university professor. I taught in a private school in the Northeast and public school, huge school, in the Midwest. And this is not a problem that only afflicts elite schools. In fact, as universities are trying to diversify, they're going to confront this over and over again.
VALERIAI'm extremely proud of the students and the faculty that came together at Mizzou, and I just wanted to maybe add a little bit of context and ask your panelists what they think about this. (unintelligible) I mean, the systemic racism or oppression that the students are talking about is not only about isolated name-calling. It's also very much related to very few faculty of color on their campuses, opportunities, limited opportunities to engage in Greek life. Their lives are circumscribed.
VALERIAAnd students fought for this back in the 1960s, when they were establishing black studies departments on campuses, and they're still fighting the same battles. That's one of the things that's very frustrating for students. And so when we throw our hands up and say oh, what can be done, well, the answers are, let's make sure that we diversify both faculty and students and then insist on a university campus that allows for inclusion and for all students to equally enjoy the benefits of college life.
REHMAll right, thanks for your call. Juana, do you want to comment?
SUMMERSI'll leave the point about elite colleges and universities to Jamelle, but I would say that I agree with the caller's comment about the need to feel like you can fully participate in the university community. One of the most jarring things for me was, especially in the journalism school, which has high academic standards, it takes quite a bit to get into those classes, is that when I looked around, there were very few people who looked like me.
SUMMERSI remember there was a required class, it's a cross-cultural journalism class, that anybody who's thinking about going to University of Missouri's journalism has to take. And I was an honor's college student. I remember talking with my peers. And they were so annoyed that they had to take a class about cross-cultural journalism. They thought that, you know, they've got that already. They checked that box. They know how to treat people fairly and equitably.
SUMMERSAnd I kind of wanted to scream. It's just, like, have you listened to the things that get said on this campus? Have you listened to the ways in which you talk about things and the way that you're so quickly to dismiss some concerns? And I think that to me was just one of the most glaring examples that showed that that's absolutely needed. The caller is correct.
REHMJamelle, considering what's happened at the University of Missouri, surely as I hear all of you speak, this is not isolated. This happens at lots of places around the country, university campuses. Do you anticipate that this kind of speaking out forcefully is going to occur elsewhere?
BOUIEI don't know. I think in places where there are healthy activist communities and large activist communities and where there are precipitating events that sort of galvanize students, and earlier in the conversation, you asked how much Ferguson had to do with this, and I think we shouldn't underplay the extent to which the fact that Ferguson happened two hours away from Mizzou, the fact that many students at -- many of the African-American students at Mizzou have some kind of connection to the St. Louis County area and to St. Louis city, that -- I don't know for certain, but my hunch is that simply experiencing that essentially radicalized a good number of students.
BOUIEAnd so I think that dynamic might play out at other campuses across the country, and if they can make those connections with athletes, who knows what might happen from that?
REHMAll right, we'll have to leave it at that. Jamelle Bouie of Slate, Robby Soave of Reason.com, Krishnadev Calamur, The Atlantic, and Juana Summers of Mashable, thank you all so much.
REHMAnd thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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