Student activist group Mizzou 600 organizes campus-wide protest

Students demonstrated against the future restructuring of the MU Department of Social Justice.

Activist group Mizzou 600 organized a protest on April 29 against the future implementation of the MU Department of Social Justice restructuring plan.

The demonstration started on the steps of Jesse Hall, where speakers began listing the ways the Department of Social Justice had aided them. Two unnamed MU staff members followed the demonstration, stating that their purpose was to ensure the protest was safe.

Following their beginning chants and opening statements on the steps of Jesse Hall, demonstrators walked inside to continue the protest. The demonstrators continued to chant and give statements regarding the restructuring. Staff observed the demonstration from the upper level of Jesse Hall.

From inside Jesse, the protest moved to Speakers Circle, where demonstrators announced which employee within their respective departments had made the biggest impact on them. Students shouted the names of several staff members, including Miss V, or Velma Buckner, a coordinator with the Gaines/Oldham Black Culture Center, and Eli Kean, the LGBTQ Resource Center coordinator.

“So how would y’all feel if someone were to tell you we are downsizing [Inclusion, Diversity and Equity] to 15 positions?” one speaker asked while stopped at Speakers Circle. “These people who are working here most likely will be let go because we are not doing an internal hiring process.”

According to their Twitter account, Mizzou 600 is an activist group on campus calling for “600 + hours of disruption until Mizzou shows us that #BlackStudentsMatter.”

The group announced the protest on their Twitter account on April 20 alongside the hashtag #Justice4MUSocialJustice.

The protest occurred three weeks after MU Department of Social Justice staff were informed of plans to restructure the department. Students organized an April 19 protest on MU’s campus to demand that employees not lose their jobs.

According to an April 19 article from the Missourian, the center plans to transition from several independently functioning centers with their own specific staffers, such as coordinators for each center, to more collective functioning to serve across several communities at the same time. The Social Justice Center also plans to evaluate current employees to see where they may fit into the new structure, but if some do not fit, they may lose their jobs.

As of now, the MU Department of Social Justice consists of five departments: Gaines/Oldham Black Culture Center, LGBTQ Resource Center, Multicultural Center, Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention Center and Women’s Center.

After the April 19 protest, Maurice Gipson, vice chancellor of Inclusion, Diversity and Equity at MU, released a statement to “dispel rumors” regarding potential closure of the social justice centers. However, a lack of additional details left students and community members in the dark.

Landon Brickey, president of the Missouri Students Association, attended the protest. Though not part of Mizzou 600, he said he came to the protest to support their mission. Brickey said he thought most students were still confused about the plan and that the university should improve their response to this problem.

MU student Taylor Estraca said she also felt the university should have handled the plan differently, and that they should not have scheduled it to take place over the summer, when students would not be on campus to voice their concerns.

“They make a lot of decisions that directly impact students without including students in those decisions,” Estraca said.

Following the demonstration, Christian Basi, the director of the MU News Bureau, stated that the Office of Student Accountability and Support would evaluate the actions of the protestors.

Basi said that students were “disruptive” when they entered Jesse Hall and the Student Center. He said that “information from that will be referred to the student accountability office” to decide whether participants will face any punishments.

The speakers also led chants outside Jesse Hall, having protestors repeat phrases like “they say inclusion, we say collusion; they say diversity, we say adversity,” and “Hey hey, ho ho, Russell and Gipson have got to go.”

Dr. B. Sherrance Russell serves as the assistant vice chancellor of Student Diversity Initiatives.

“Don’t forget it was the coordinators of the [Gaines/Oldham Black Culture Center] who provided meals when students ran out of money on their Tiger Plan,” one speaker said.

The protest then arrived at the Student Center, passing through the first floor before heading to the basement outside of the Multicultural Center and the Women’s Center, where several police officers observed protestors.

While in the basement, one of the protest speakers referenced how the employees who are successful in their positions will be rehired, but that this may not be true regarding the marginalized employees in director positions.

The speakers went on to criticize the language the university used to discuss the plan, saying it was misleading to make it sound like the centers would not be downsized.

A student who used the LGBTQ Resource Center came forward to share positive experiences they had with the center.

“I would’ve dropped out if I didn’t have this. What’s the point of having anything here if you don’t want to retain students, if you don’t care about us like that?” they said.

Another student said the social justice centers “have been there for me when Mizzou has failed me time and time again.”

Other students shared concerns over how the center is run like a business as well as personal connections they had to specific staff members.

“If it wasn’t for Velma Buckner and Donald Gilliam, I would’ve not been here. I would’ve had no reason to stay,” one student said.

The demonstrators then marched down Rollins Street on their way to their final destination, the doors of the Gaines/Oldham Black Culture Center.

“This is going to be a time where we’re going to take all those times that we have, all those times we remember from the coordinators and the social justice centers and write down on these little slips of paper what they mean to you,” a speaker said as the demonstration ended.

Protesters concluded their participation by writing the names of coordinators, employees and memories they have of them on slips of paper and placing them in a box.

“The fight doesn’t stop here. This was one protest. Protesting is one of those things that unfortunately doesn’t change things quickly,” one demonstrator said as the protest concluded and protestors placed the papers in boxes. ”It might not change anything, but at least it shows that we stand with our coordinators. Please keep sending emails to Russell and Gipson.”

Edited by Namratha Prasad | nprasad@themaneater.com

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