COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — Two years after protests over racial discrimination rocked the University of Missouri, participants at a forum said progress has been made but efforts to educate people about the issues raised during the demonstrations must continue.
Missouri System President Mun Choi, Board of Curators Chairman Maurice Graham and other university officials were among about 200 people who attended the forum Monday, the Columbia Daily Tribune reported. It was sponsored by the Department of Black Studies.
Stephanie Shonekan, chairwoman of the department, said the forum highlighted changes made since the 2015 protests led to the resignations of then-System President Tim Wolfe and then-Columbia campus Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin and drew national attention to the school. The protests included a hunger strike by a graduate student and the school's football team threatening not to play a game unless administrators addressed issues raised by the demonstrations.
She said even Choi's presence was progress, noting Wolfe angered many protesters while president with his slow response to their concerns and by ignoring them when they blocked his car during a homecoming parade.
The resignations of Wolfe and Loftin were condemned by then-presidential candidate Donald Trump, who predicted they would "set something in motion that is going to be a disaster for a long period of time."
"Our role also on this campus is to serve as the intellectual side of black life at the University of Missouri," Shonekan said during the forum. "Tonight we want to talk about how far we have come. And we wanted to push back against the other president who said we would be a disaster. We have not been a disaster. He's wrong."
Keynote speaker Marshall Allen, who was part of the Concerned Student 1950 group that led the protests, said problems remain. He cited recently enacted speech codes seen as a response to the 2015 demonstrations, after protesters demonstrated at the financial aid office and in the office of interim Vice Chancellor Chuck Henson. The codes prohibit entering offices with vital university records, protests in or outside of official meetings and camping on campus.
"The reason why we can claim these (speech codes) and promote these as reactionary is because each of these have direct correlation to the events and activities that occurred in the fall of 2015," Allen said.
He noted last week when white demonstrators quietly unfurled signs asking the university to divest from fossil fuel companies, Choi and Graham spoke to them and reaffirmed the school's commitment to free speech.
"Who exactly do these policies apply to?" Allen asked.
After the forum, Choi pledged the policies on protests will apply to all students and faculty "regardless of their background or experience."
The forum was proof the university wants to address continuing issues of diversity, said Johanna Milord, a doctoral student in counseling psychology. She attended a different school in 2015 and said the Missouri protests as well as national demonstrations over blacks being killed by police were barely discussed there.
"I think that this is a place where the conversation is happening and that is more than I have been exposed to in the past," Milord said.