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After A Turbulent Week, Mizzou Students Look Ahead

University of Missouri, Columbia students walk across campus on Nov. 9, when University of Missouri System President Tim Wolfe resigned amid protests over racial tensions at the school.
Michael B. Thomas
Getty Images
University of Missouri, Columbia students walk across campus on Nov. 9, when University of Missouri System President Tim Wolfe resigned amid protests over racial tensions at the school.

After a turbulent week spurred by racial tensions at the University of Missouri, students are reflecting and thinking about what changes they hope for next on campus.

On Monday, its president resigned after weeks of protest by black students angry over his handling of racially charged incidents on campus. A day later, anonymous threats posted to social media had black students there on edge. By the end of the week, students across the country were protesting to shed light on the experiences of minority students at their colleges.

Senior Jacob Pechauer, a huge fan of Mizzou's football team, is at the university bookstore, looking for something white to wear to a BYU game on Saturday.

"Our Mizzou football team is wearing all white tomorrow. And, you know, whenever they do themes like that, the fans are supposed to match 'em," he says. "So they're bringing back the white-out, which they did in 2007 against KU."

When the team joined the student protesters and announced it would forfeit Saturday's game unless system President Tim Wolfe resigned, Pechauer, who's white, was bummed, but he understood.

"If they feel like they're actually being oppressed here and they think that Mizzou is a racist culture, then I stand behind them," he says. "But I would've been pretty upset if the game got canceled. But luckily, the football system kind of controls everything else here."

So Saturday night's game is on, and many at the school are trying to put the past week behind them. On Thursday, the board of curators appointed a black interim president. By Friday, the student union was bustling again. It had been mostly empty two days earlier, when the online threats kept many students, black and white, home from class.

At the same time, the protesters, who succeeded in toppling the president, insist they're not done yet. The resignation was only one of several demands, including the hiring of more diverse faculty and staff and more funding for mental health services on campus. Friday afternoon, the protesters' numbers grew. Black students drove in from throughout the region to join them.

As the students marched through campus, they called on white students looking on to join them. Some did, and some said they would not.

Freshman Dan Wieder says he'd hoped things would calm down once the president resigned.

"I honestly want these protests to try and die down," he says. "I want the message to continue, but I think it's attracting a lot of unnecessary national attention from just everywhere. And it's giving Mizzou a bad image in my opinion ... I don't think we deserve what's going on right now. I just kind of want things to go back to normal, how they were. Nice and quiet."

He says lots of his friends on campus feel the same way.

But many black students say they want the opposite. Anthony Spates said he has served on several campus committees to promote diversity and inclusion, and they didn't always gain traction. He hopes black students continue wielding their newfound power. But change on campus, he says, will take time.

"It's not gonna be that quick. I know it's not. It's gonna be, probably years from now, before we see actual full change in the system," he says. "It's good that some people spoke up."

And not for his sake, he says. He's graduating this year. He's thinking about the future students at Mizzou.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Adrian Florido
Adrian Florido is a national correspondent for NPR covering race and identity in America.