Nearly a year after the University of Missouri-Columbia was brought to national attention for issues involving racial discrimination, racial slurs thrown out by a group of students brought the university back into the notorious spotlight last month.
The events last year shook the entire University of Missouri system with the resignation of the university president, Tim Wolfe. This year the effect of the ongoing occurrences at MU on the UMKC campus is lessened but still heavily felt.
“I find it extremely rude,” said Karen Chavez, a Hispanic student at UMKC. “It’s something that I thought we would be over [with]. Reading all of those articles about the crazy things that have been happening made me realize that I am thankful that I don’t have to go through that at UMKC.”
The events at Mizzou have brought racial and diversity relations to the forefront of students minds at UMKC and highlighted how two campuses belonging to the same university system can be so different.
Comprehensive enrollment data has not been released for the 2016 fall semester enrollment at either MU or UMKC, but data released from both universities concerning the fall semester of 2015 shows a fairly significant difference between racial diversity enrollment at the two universities.
In fall of 2015, 35,448 students were enrolled at the University of Missouri-Columbia. 26,921 or close to 76% of MU’s enrolled students were white while 24% of MU’s students consisted of minorities.
For the University of Missouri-Kansas City, the numbers of diversity were a bit different. For the 2015 fall semester, a total of 16,699 students were enrolled at UMKC. 10,022 or nearly 60% of students at UMKC were white while 40% of enrolled students at UMKC were a part of a minority.
“In the system, we stand really well,” said Keichanda Dees-Burnett, the Director of Multicultural Affairs. “Are we totally representative of the city that we are located in? No, but we want to do better. We’re pretty good in our representation of international students and other underrepresented populations of students. We do a really good job of having student organizations, programs, and other resources available to support those student populations so it’s not about having them here in numbers, it’s about actually supporting them.”
UMKC offers 50-70 multicultural programs a year through a combination of the Multicultural Affairs Office, the Diversity and Inclusion Office, and the 10 organizations that belong to the Multicultural Organization Council.
“With UMKC’s environment, you go about your own business, doing what you need to do,” said President of Multicultural Student Organizations, Jamie Powell, who is also an African-American student. “The MSA Office is a great place for students of color to go on campus. Any minority comes and chills in the MSA Office. It’s like our safe haven.”
For Powell, experiences of racial relations have gone fairly smooth at UMKC without any direct issues with racial discrimination. The only issue Powell has had to face was offensive social media comments regarding the events involving racial discrimination at MU last year.
“The only issue I have come across was last year on account of Butler leading the hunger strike at Mizzou,” said Powell. “Students at UMKC, mostly minority African-American students supported that issue and a lot of things were said via social media, on Yik Yak, which is the most I have ever encountered. There were comments that were discriminatory and racist. I remember one that went along the lines of ‘black people just need to leave if they have a problem with how the institute is being ran’ which I found extremely offensive.”
For other students like Chavez, experiences with racial diversity at UMKC have been fully positive.
“I’ve seen so many different races on campus,” said Chavez. “I love the diversity. It has been a great experience getting to meet all these different kinds of races and cultures. It’s been different from where I came from in high school and other places. It’s been a great experience.”
Rebeca Cabrera, a Cuban student attending UMKC, has also had a positive experience on campus concerning racial relations but remains aware and reminded by occurrences such as the ones at MU that there are probably a few people out there who would be discriminatory because of race.
“I’ve never experienced any difference in the way I’m treated because of my race at UMKC,” said Cabrera. “I’ve never really known a person like that. I haven’t met one yet, [but] I bet there’s a few. But everybody’s pretty nice. The events at Mizzou showed me that it could happen here too, but it didn’t really change my mind about UMKC.”
For Cabrera and Powell, while UMKC has remained a mild environment with little report of racism, racial discrimination is still something that UMKC students need to be educated about and active in a making a difference.
“There are so many things going on,” said Cabrera, “if we worry about every single thing we wouldn’t be able to live, so people just keep it off their minds. So be concerned about it, know about it, [and] don’t just say that it doesn’t exist because it does. It’s still there.”
“When something happens on one campus,” said Powell, “it should be sent out in a universal email what happened and how we should help each other deal [and] get some type of solution to the problem. I think doing a training on culture and different ethnicities is just not helpful at all. People can do it to just get the hold released off of their account when we really need people to take action in doing what you need to do so things like this won’t occur, doing what you need to do so you can fully understand what’s taking place and how you can not be a part of the problem.”
UMKC holds diversity in high regard, implementing it into the Mission, Vision, and Goals set by the Chancellor’s Office. Students seeking to voice their opinions on racial relations and other issues at UMKC can do so in the Campus Climate Survey that was sent out to student and faculty emails this past week.