Demonstrators gather on MU campus to protest social justice center job cuts

Amid uproar on social media, students and faculty gathered to protest cuts to social justice centers.

Content Warning: The following article contains references to rape and sexual assault.

More than 100 protesters gathered at Traditions Plaza at 9 a.m. Monday to demonstrate against cuts to coordinator positions at MU’s Department of Social Justice centers.

Protest leaders said their goal was to catch tours as they showed prospective students around the MU campus. At Jesse Hall, student protesters spoke out about the importance of the centers and what the cuts would mean. The protesters moved from the plaza to the steps of Jesse Hall, chanting, “Justice for justice” and “save the centers.”

“As a victim of rape who needs the RSVP and Title IX Center, I do not feel supported by the campus,” one student said. “I do not feel safe.”

Several people held up signs with slogans such as, “save our social justice coordinators'' and “terminating the people we know and trust is not progress.”

“As someone who is Black and gay and a woman, I’m like, ‘Damn, I can’t catch a break,’” another student said.

Makayla, an MU freshman who preferred to be identified by her first name only, attended the protest and identifies as an underrepresented student.

“I already feel somewhat isolated when I’m here because there’s not many individuals like myself, so I don't have any resources to cope with structural and cultural change here, too,” Makayla said. “[The social justice centers and organizations] have given me a community to be able to go to and rely on and talk about different issues, so as far as community, it has helped me a lot.”

Two members of the MU Tour Team, speaking under the condition of anonymity, said they were unhappy about the cuts.

“A lot of us are really upset about what’s happening to our coordinators and just wanted to make sure we’re being honest with our tourees and not painting them a false picture,” one member said. “We also just want to hold the right people accountable for what’s happening and just get our questions answered.”

The other Tour Team member said they wanted to be proud of their employer, the university, but felt they couldn’t be.

“It’s hard to get excited to tell students to come here because you’re not necessarily proud to be here,” the other Tour Team member said.

A faculty member who chose to remain anonymous said they were appalled at the administration’s decisions.

“This happened late on a Friday with no explanation,” the faculty member said. “I’m worried that it jeopardizes students who already feel vulnerable and marginalized, especially given the climate of the country and the community.”

The faculty member said the administration’s decisions will ignite more protests in the future.

“This whole year, the administration has happily made a bunch of changes because they know [protests] are less likely to happen during a pandemic,” the faculty member said. “Now that people are feeling safer coming out, protests are going to be on the rise, especially if they keep doing things like this.”

Abigail Rolbiecki, a chair member of the Student Health and Wellbeing Committee, said she came to the protest to listen and learn from the students.

“I’m very committed and interested in learning more about what is happening and how the institution’s model that they are proposing plans to preserve the integrity of the programs that these centers offer,” Rolbiecki said. “Listening to their stories is extremely powerful and solidified, for me, that we are not in a position to reduce support for those programs.”

MU will remove the positions of the coordinators of the five centers included in the Department of Social Justice by July 1, according to reporting by the Columbia Missourian. Currently, Velma Bucker serves as the senior coordinator of Gaines/Oldham Black Cultural Center. Katryna Sardis serves as the education and outreach coordinator along with Lisa Crader, who serves as advocacy corodinator at the Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention Center. Danielle Palomo serves as the coordinator of the Women’s Center, and Eli Kean serves as the coordinator of the LGBTQ Resource Center. The Multicultural Center does not currently have a coordinator, although Donald D. Gillam currently serves as interim coordinator.

Dr. B. Sherrance Russell, the assistant vice chancellor of student diversity initiatives, told the Columbia Missourian that MU plans to restructure the positions to focus on specific tasks across all five centers — currently each coordinator focuses on a single department — because the department is moving toward a “collective” and “community” focus. Russell said the department will conduct open searches for new roles but will consider the current coordinators for new assistant director positions. The physical centers will remain on campus.

In a statement emailed to students, Maurice Gipson, MU’s vice chancellor of inclusion, diversity and equity, said he wanted to “dispel the rumors” around MU’s social justice centers. He said the university is “not closing our social justice centers” and more details would come up in the following weeks after “meet[ings] with student groups and staff.”

Several faculty and administration members came to observe the protest but declined to comment.

When the group of protesters moved to the Student Center, several onlookers passed by, including parents visiting their children who attend MU. One father raised his fist in an apparent show of solidarity to the cheers of the protesters.

“I hope justice is served,” the father said.

Edited by Emmet Jamieson | ejamieson@themaneater.com

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