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Mizzou alumni reflect on their race experiences, project hopes for future

Photos provided

For many former students of the University of Missouri-Columbia, events of recent weeks bring back memories. Some are good, but many are not. For those alums, racial bias has always been part of the sub-text of their Mizzou experience.

And while some alumni welcome announcements this week that Tim Wolfe, president of the University System, is leaving, and R. Bowen Loftin, chancellor of the Columbia campus, is changing jobs, others question whether those actions alone will be enough to solve long-standing problems.

“I think (Wolfe) is the scapegoat for a larger issue,” Rochelle Aaranson, of Chesterfield, told St. Louis Public Radio “The items that the protesters want addressed will be more long term. If people are looking for instant gratification, they are going to be disappointed.”

Rochelle Aaranson
Credit Provided by Ms. Aaranson
Rochelle Aaranson

Aaranson, a 1986 graduate of the School of Journalism, shared her own stories of discrimination. “I am Jewish, so it was not easy for us either,” she wrote. “I remember sitting in the Commons and people would push their agenda on us all the time. Campus Crusaders (for Christ) was big back then, and they were very religious, Christian zealots. My son is a student at Mizzou, and the whole climate is very disturbing right now. I just want him to be safe and to be able to go to school.”

Recent signs of racial strife include reports that a swastika formed with human feces was found on a wall in a dorm bathroom.

In addition to Aaranson, several other alumni shared their reactions with St. Louis Public Radio through the Public Insight Network. Following are samples of responses we received; they have been edited for length and clarity.

Describe the racial climate and your college experience.

Felicia Butler
Credit Provided by Ms. Butler
Felicia Butler attended Mizzou in the 1980s.

My first day in nursing school, I was made to walk around the room and show my fellow classmates my hands. My instructor asked the class to pay close attention to my nail beds. She went on to tell them that they will notice that it is a little darker around the cuticle and when bathing a black person, do not mistaken that for dirt. I was appalled.

— Felicia Butler, Florissant, was told by an academic adviser that she would never get into the nursing program because she was not smart enough. She has a master's degree in nursing and is a nurse practitioner.

John Harris
Credit Provided by Mr. Harris
John Harris is a former administrator at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Coming from St. Louis in the early 80s, the realities of race were no surprise. ...The coping is different, though the issues of racial discomfort continue for many students, and not just at Mizzou. For the record, I loved Mizzou. I only had to protest one time and that experience taught me a valuable lesson about the difference between commitment and conviction.

— John Harris, Lincoln, Neb., is a retired administrator at the University of Nebraska

Kathy Bernard
Credit Provided by Ms. Bernard
Kathy Bernard wants to see a lot more positive, consistent action to bring the races together.
There were very few black students when I was at Mizzou 1977-1981. I noticed it even then, because I grew up in Webster Groves, where we had a nice mix of black and white. ... I joined the sorority that I did because I thought the song leader was black ... ended up she was just really tan with curly hair.

— Kathy Bernard, St. Louis. She said it was 35 years or so, nationwide, before she saw black people in her sorority magazine.

What is your reaction to the resignation of President Wolfe and Chancellor Loftin?

Terry Smemo
Credit Provided by Mr. Smemo
Terry Smemo

If the alleged incidents are bona fide, and if alleged apathy (by Wolfe) is true, then HOOOORAAAAY! As the leader of a major educational institution, he should be setting an enlightened example for his staff, instructors and students. If he wouldn't or couldn't, then he should be replaced.

— Terry Smemo, Kansas City, Mo., attended Mizzou in the mid-1970s.

Bruce Lemmie
Credit Provided by Mr. Lemmie
Bruce Lemmie felt a serious culture shock when he enrolled at Mizzou in 1969.
I think this was about much more than race. This was about leadership. In the end, I think Tim Wolfe did a great thing. He put his love for Mizzou before his personal situation and set a tone for healing.

— Bruce Lemmie, Sugarland, Texas, is from Rock Hill and attended to Webster Groves High School.

Terry Blastenbrei (correct spelling)
Credit Provided by Mr. Blastenbrei
Terry Blastenbrei

It was a necessary decision. The recent racial tension at the Columbia campus is concerning, and his inability to engage in timely dialogue further exacerbated the situation.

— Terry Blastenbrie, Olathe, Kan., earned his bachelor's degree from the University of Missouri-St. Louis in 1999.

Shawn Taylor
Credit Provided by Ms. Taylor
Shawn Taylor

I am so proud of the students, faculty, football players and their coach for banding together to bring this issue to light. It sends a strong message that people in power cannot ignore or becoming apathetic about racial intimidation on college campuses. Black students pay just as much to attend Mizzou as white students. They should not have to be subjected to racial intimidation.

— Shawn Taylor, Oak Park, Ill., attended Mizzou from 1984-1988.

Enrollment at the Columbia campus is 34,972, of which 2,542 (7 percent) are African American. Among other ethnic groups, 1,213 (3 percent) are Hispanic and 779 (2 percent) are Asian. Fewer than 1 percent of the students are American Indian/Alaskan native or Pacific islanders. Seventy-seven percent of the students — 26,903 — are white.

Inform our coverage

This report contains information gathered with the help of KCUR radio and our Public Insight Network. To learn more about the network and how you can become a source, please click here.

Outreach specialist Linda Lockhart has been telling stories for most of her life. A graduate of the University of Missouri's School of Journalism, she has worked at several newspapers around the Midwest, including the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, as a reporter, copy editor, make-up editor, night city editor, wire editor, Metro Section editor and editorial writer. She served the St. Louis Beacon as analyst for the Public Insight Network, a product of Minnesota Public Radio and American Public Media that helps connect journalists with news sources. She continues using the PIN to help inform the news content of St. Louis Public Radio. She is a St. Louis native and lives in Kirkwood.