Missouri is no stranger to storms of all kinds. Devastating tornados in Joplin, the Great flood of 1993, various ice storms and even with a swarm of locusts in 1875, this state has seen it all. The current climate—one of hate, silencing and confusion—is one that is shaking the whole nation. The Show-Me State, fresh off the events at Ferguson that seemed to spark conversation, actions and revolution-like practices that haven’t been seen since the Civil Rights movement, is right back in the eye of the storm. Specifically, Columbia, Mo., home of the University of Missouri is ground zero for the brewing of something college campuses around the nation may have never seen before.
Darron Edwards, a communications Junior at Mizzou, was right in the middle of it all. Edwards is also the son of Darron Edwards Sr., a local Kansas City pastor who lead a peace rally and prayer vigil at UMKC (last year, in solidarity with Ferguson. Edwards gave his perspective: a timeline of what has been happening, how it all started—the major incidents that the nation is now aware of—and some of the issues at Mizzou that only their students would know about; things that have been going on for years.
After Concerned Student 1950, who Edwards referred to as the “original 11,” protested at Mizzou’s homecoming and stopped former UM President Tim Wolfe’s car, everything erupted.
“Wolfe didn’t even address [the problem],” Edwards said, “[putting] focus on him; first it was on Loftin.” R. Bowen Loftin, the former Mizzou Chancellor, resigned last week.
Although the students focused on Loftin at one time, the call for his resignation—according to St. Louis Post-Dispatch—didn’t come from the same source as Wolfe. Loftin had previously stirred up anger within the graduate community and faculty. As the hurricane of protest gained more attention from students on campus, they responded by getting involved.
The critical event of student involvement was with Jonathan Butler and his hunger strike.
“The hunger strike is what got everyone,” Edwards said.
The Black Mizzou community was divided on the hunger strike. According to Edwards, some students saw the hunger strike as necessary while others expressed that Butler’s cause wasn’t worth dying for.
The protest led to actual “camps” built on Mizzou’s campus, specifically on the Carnahan Quad. Edwards said protestors got the idea from the 1986 protest group that rallied for divestment in South Africa. Students built shantytowns in the Francis Quadrangle to represent the shantytowns of South Africa. They ultimately called for the removal of Mizzou’s holdings in companies that did business in South Africa during Apartheid. The protests were ultimately successful.
The campsite in Carnahan Quad, filled with protestors, drew even more attention from people on campus that had no idea about what was going on. Around the same time, protestors were formulating ways to convince Wolfe to resign.
“Everyone was concerned about [Butler’s] health,” said Edwards. That’s when #BoycottUM kicked off.
“Students were [encouraged] not to buy anything from the school,” Edwards said.” No food, merchandise or materials. “Don’t spend any money on campus.”
Next came the Southeastern Conference (SEC) game between Mizzou and the Mississippi State Bulldogs. This was considered a “big” game and in addition to the protest and #BoycottUM, the Concerned Student 1950 collective told students not to go and encouraged people to not buy tickets.
The campus-wide protest was “waking Mizzou up,” according to Edwards. Faculty, staff and students were hearing it everywhere. Students even protested Meet Mizzou Day, an event in which prospective students and their families visit the University. Edwards explained how protesters strategically crashed events and “told the real facts about Mizzou.” Next came “the No. 1 problematic thing” that Wolfe did, and “why he had to go.” Wolfe came to Kansas City and attended the Crescendo: New Mood Rising fundraiser at the Kauffman Center.
During the protest, Wolfe told protestors that “systematic oppression is because you don’t believe that you have the equal opportunity for success,” inciting more anger.
The tsunami-like approach caught Wolfe off guard and without a life jacket to escape. Edwards said “this was the breaking point from the student prospective.”
After threats on the anonymous social media app Yik Yak, which Edwards says have been “happening for a couple years,” the lack of response from Wolfe, the posting of racial slurs and taunts and the firestorm created in students who come from a history in America that has always groomed them to fight against oppression, something big was destined to come.
“The football team came to their decision on their own, I know two of them personally,” Edwards said. “Everything that happened mattered but this got Wolfe to resign.” Two photos of the football team went viral, first with all the Black students, then with the whole team, including former football coach Gary Pinkel. Two days after the football team’s announcement, Wolfe resigned.
“[T]he Board of Curators were going to stand by Wolfe, they were going to let Wolfe stay,” Edwards said. The focus would have shifted and “that ultimately meant the Board would have to go.”
This was most likely the root cause of the resignation, in addition to the one-million-dollar contract break fee that Mizzou would have had to pay if the football team would not play in the then upcoming game at Arrowhead stadium versus Brigham Young University.
Edwards gave more insight into how it was and still is on campus.
“You name it, they were here,” Edwards said about the national media. “I was there for the press release,” stating that he witnessed the “negativity” the media brought. A week before all this, Edwards was skeptical that he and the other protestors could get Wolfe out of office, saying, “this is now national news, but we’re living this every day, how is it that big now?” Deray Mckesson and Johnetta Elzie, civil rights activists aligned with Black Lives Matter, visited Mizzou to encourage protestors and share stories.
“[W]ith national media attention comes the possibility of people who didn’t like what we did and the power we’ve shown, to come here and wreak havoc,” Edwards said when asked about safety on campus. “[P]eople are around campus going back to class and feeling safer, it was ghost town for a couple days. At this point, “everything is about safety…I think that it’s in the back of every Black person’s head right now.”
When asked about his personal experiences of racism on campus, Edwards said “[H]onestly, I haven’t experienced anything personally. . . but that doesn’t discredit anything my peers have gone through.”
Edwards now lives off campus, spending his first two years on campus. He is a local music producer, involved with Mizzou’s chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists and is also interested in social media marketing. He wants everyone to know that the “freshmen are getting one heck of an experience,” and that “people think we’re not trying to graduate like everybody else,” commenting on those who thought they would riot.