Nearly two years ago, members of the student body gathered outside Old Main for a peaceful, non-violent protest against the lack of diversity and diversity sensitivity on campus, the dearth of resources for mental health services and problems with the school’s sexual assault policies and procedures. Last winter, students held a die-in to highlight the specific problems African-American students face at Knox, and last spring, another student protest was held to air the grievances of minority students and sexual assault survivors.
The campus is no stranger to non-violent protests, and that makes the recent events at the University of Missouri seem so close, so relevant, but also incredibly scary for the students (especially students of color) who are now learning about the violent reactions to the protests.
The protests at Mizzou and the result of the administrators’ stepping down have left students across the country feeling empowered, helping them understand that they do hold the power to make change and better their institutions. However, the violent reactions and threats from white male students have showed us that there are real, chilling ramifications to consider when taking on such issues.
It helps us realize the bravery of the student protesters.
Another aspect of the movement, though it doesn’t overshadow the rest of the issues, is the antagonism towards the media. As student journalists, that’s particularly pertinent to us.
Tim Tai, a freelance photographer for the Columbia Missourian and MU student himself, was featured in a viral video where he was told to stop taking photos of the protest. This footage left us confused and torn.
As both students and journalists, what is our role?
We should stand by and support our fellow peers, especially in light of their personal experiences, but in what way do we do that? Do we join the crowds, literally and figuratively hand-in-hand, or do we do our jobs, which is reporting on the event and making sure we’re as balanced, accurate and complete as possible for the sake of the community readership?
Looking at the coverage of Ferguson, the Boston Bombings, various mass shootings, sexual assault in general, etc., we recognize and understand the fear of the media, especially one that, at present, lacks diversity and sometimes delivers biased or criminalized portrayals of minorities. We also recognize our privilege as mere observers to the violent threats and safety concerns facing African American students at Mizzou, as well as any other campus in the country.
However, while the “No Media Safe Space” makes sense from the point of the view of the protesters, especially with criticisms of media coverage in mind, we as members of the student press want to stress the fact that we are here to deliver a service to the community.
As journalists, we’re here to give students a platform, to share your voices and to archive your efforts.
We’re here to listen, and make sure others pay attention.
We’re not here to antagonize.
As students, we’re also more impacted by the results of student movements. Unlike local or national media outlets, we have more of a stake in what happens. With this in mind, it doesn’t make sense for us to get things wrong or not to make an effort to understand the struggles of our peers.
Especially as the situation at Mizzou becomes more tenuous and unsafe for students of color, we, as fellow students and as members of the media, want to stand by and offer support in the best way we can: keeping our ears to the ground, informing people of what’s going on and giving those who have been affected the platform they deserve.