(Columbia Tribune) – Demonstrators with Concerned Student 1950 on Monday encountered a locked door at University of Missouri interim Chancellor Hank Foley’s office and had an impromptu meeting with interim Vice Chancellor Chuck Henson cut short after a message was whispered in his ear.
With Academy Award-winning director Spike Lee filming for ESPN, the demonstrators marched from the Gaines/Oldham Black Culture Center to Jesse Hall, passing through the MU Student Center and Memorial Union along the way.
“A lot of people don’t see that we are trying to reach out, and they shut the door on us all the time,” said Imani Simmons-Elloie, a member of Concerned Student 1950, after the demonstration. “We’re the black kids that are crying wolf to everybody else.”
The demonstration was sparked in part by a Feb. 25 letter from Henson, interim vice chancellor for inclusion, diversity and equity, that said Concerned Student 1950 members had not responded to invitations to meet. In his letter, Henson said a working group of faculty, staff and students was the proper venue to deal with race issues.
“The working group is working,” Henson said. “And the protest that happened on our campus today was unfair and might leave the wrong impression about the amount of progress that we have made and the climate on our campus today.”
Demonstrations by Concerned Student 1950 in the fall put MU in an international spotlight when graduate student Jonathan Butler engaged in a hunger strike and the Missouri football team announced a boycott of athletic activities in support of the students’ demands. UM System President Tim Wolfe resigned Nov. 9, and Henson, a law professor, was named vice chancellor for inclusion, diversity and equity shortly thereafter.
Butler wrote Monday on Twitter that he is “no longer affiliated or organizing” with Concerned Student 1950. He said he has not organized with the group since November.
The administration’s handling of the protests and other turmoil at MU contributed to legislative plans to cut the UM System budget by about $7.6 million. The budget bill enacting the cuts will be debated this week in the Missouri House.
During the march Monday, the demonstrators — about three dozen in all — chanted “The working group ain’t working” and “If we don’t get it, shut it down.” They told Henson the working group “is you telling us what you want us to do.”
In Jesse Hall, the group chanted “Hey Foley! You in there?” before discovering the door to the interim chancellor’s office was locked. Henson emerged from his upstairs office to meet with the demonstrators and tried to explain the activities of the working group, which he said has met three times since its formation.
He was met with skepticism and returned to his office after an aide whispered in his ear.
Marshall Allen, a founding member of Concerned Student 1950, said Henson’s decision to leave the conversation was disrespectful.
“If I were talking to you right now and you just stopped and walked away, you are not interested in what I have to say whatsoever,” he said.
In his video statement, Henson said the university is “dealing with issues that took more than 100 years to develop here and are certainly going to take more than 100 days and three meetings to address.”
MU spokeswoman Mary Jo Banken did not offer an explanation for why Foley’s door was locked or why Henson was called away from the hallway discussion.
Lee declined to speak with reporters about his film project. He produces “Spike Lee’s Lil’ Joints,” a series of short films for ESPN Films. The documentary about Concerned Student 1950, titled “2 Fists Up,” will be released May 31, the network said in an email.
Lee’s presence was not the reason for the demonstration Monday, Allen said. Lee has tried to understand the roots of students’ frustrations and what led to the fall demonstrations, Allen said.
“We appreciate the fact that we have people who want to come and know the truth,” he said.