COLUMBIA, Missouri — The reaction to the University of Missouri’s president resigning over racist incidents on campus was joyful at first but then turned tense.
Thousands of protesters gathered on the main quad and cheered when Tim Wolfe announced he was stepping down after protests by students who were angry over the school’s perceived lack of action over attacks on students in recent months, including the use of racial epithets and even a swastika made of feces.
“My motivation in making this decision comes from love,” Wolfe said to reporters and others on Monday following his announcement. “I love MU, Columbia where I grew up, the state of Missouri.”
The details of Wolfe’s resignation, such as any sort of severance package, were not immediately available.
The protest got underway when graduate student Jonathan Butler went on a hunger strike one week ago after Wolfe refused to engage with students upset over the incidents while he was sitting in the backseat of a car during a homecoming event. On Saturday, Butler was joined by the Mizzou football team, which said it would not participate in any activity until Butler resumed eating.
“Thank you Jesus for sparing his life!” cried one protester when Wolfe resigned and Butler’s hunger strike ended. Students began chanting slogans of solidarity before breaking out in several choruses of “We Shall Overcome.”
Then they turned their attention to the press, forming a human chain around the quad where protesters had been camping out for the past week.
“No comment!” they chanted as at least one held a sign saying, “No Media, Safe Space.”
The students pushed and shoved reporters and cameramen to prevent them from breaking through and interviewing protesters on the quad, including Butler.
“We calling the police because you aren’t respecting us,” shouted one protester at a member of the media, as the protesters linked arms and moved in a phalanx to push the press further back, all the way to the perimeter of the quad.
“This guy shouldn’t be here,” said another protester, later identified as Dr. Melissa Click, assistant professor in Mizzou’s Communications Department. She shuffled a member of the press outside the immense circle of linked arms. “And don’t let him back in!”
The protesters then began a brief chant of “No Comment,” and the linked students turned their backs to the media, leaving the mass of reporters and photographers scrambling to find students outside of the circle willing to talk. Few students seemed willing to do so.
“They’d just get the headline wrong anyway,” said one unidentified student at a group of photographers and reporters backing up as the linked protesters moved forward.
The protesters finally unlinked arms after nearly two hours and the event transformed into a celebratory party with music, dancing and food.
Shari Gaston, 20, a junior Linguistics and Anthropology major, says that she never thought what she and the other protesters were doing would bring change this quickly.
“I was happy that some change has come, and that we overcame this,” said Gaston. “I know a lot of us didn’t think this was going to happen, that someone would lose their life over this and it would just be brushed under the rug.”
Gaston says that she’s sad that Wolfe had to lose his job over this, but that it needed to happen, and she says that it probably wouldn’t have happened without the support of the football team.
“It’s sad to say, but when the football team said that we’re standing with (Butler) on this. It’s amazing, because they knew that if they were to stop doing anything then change would start happening immediately. Football is Mizzou.”