The University of Missouri, better known as Mizzou, has a sea of problems. The biggest problem being systemic and blatant racism, classism, and gender based violence. My alma mater has been in the news over the last few years and few of the reports are positive.
I graduated in December 2012. I spent 3 and ½ years actively working against campus and community racism and sexual and domestic violence against women. I was involved passionately in the school’s NAACP, RSVP (Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention), LBC (black student government) and more. So while recent news seems to be ‘exposing’ how oppressive Mizzou has become, it has always had those elements. Mizzou’s first accept black student, Lloyd Gaines, subsequently went missing after his lawsuit (Read about Gaines Now). My point is, this is nothing new. (check out my old blog from the college days).
Students of color who choose to go to PWIs (predominantly white institutions) must go into it knowing that they will not fit in. You must acknowledge that for every nice and liberal white person you meet, there is one closet or blatant racist in the crowd. There will be classes where you are the only black person. There will MANY, MANY times where your response will represent ALL black people to those ignorant white students. For those of us that grew up in poverty, you will also have to deal with your financial hardship in a sea of spoiled, rich kids. Some of your well off peers will only work to pay for booze, while you struggle to pay for a meal. It can be frustrating. There will be times where you wonder why you have to work so hard. (Please read Nikki Giovanni’s, College Racism 101, It is required reading here ).
All that being said, I (overall) LOVED going to Mizzou. I made some of the best friends of my life. I had some of the best opportunities. I made lifelong connections with some of my professors. I can only speak on MIZZOU, but we had (and from what I have heard still has) one of the strongest black communities I have ever witnessed. The desire to fit into the rest of the Mizzou community was non existent because we had our own. We had our own student government, professional organizations, choir, homecoming, events, parties, etc. We had our own midday meeting area. We had our own twitter hashtag. I know that some of, if not all of this, is a part of the systemic racism black students at mizzou have had to endure over time but we successful and excelled in spite and despite all of this.
Similarly to HBCUs, we had the opportunity to connect to Black excellence in a way that endures longer than the college experience. It is our constant reminder in a sea of whiteness that we are absolutely amazing. I went to college with people that not only went on to be business men and women, lawyers, teachers, doctors and nurses but actors, artists, entrepreneurs, authors, social media coordinators, journalist, and more. I am soooo proud of every single person I got to know at MIZZOU and those I didn’t know. We exude excellence and magic and joy. We didn’t just become successful for ourselves but for our community. Many of us still volunteer, or work in non profits.
I know that this does not undo all of the negative aspects of MIZZOU and other PWIs but it shows you how strong we are. Its shows how little we need to fit into mainstream society (whatever that means). I am a teacher now, and when my students ask me about my experience at Mizzou, this is what I tell them. I tell them that society may treat them as if they don’t belong. As if they do not have the capacity to be great without assimilating. It will make them feel inferior at times but they are not. They are the strongest people most of the world has ever seen. They are creative and compassionate. They are logical and calculating. They won’t fit in because they were made to stand out.
My fellow Mizzou Alum, y’all taught me that. You all taught me that we are beautiful and tough. We are educated hustlers. We are spiritual and hold knowledge beyond our years. I love you guys. I love all of the future Mizzou tigers too. Keep your head up. Don’t give up and Mizzou is just as much yours as the rest of the students.