A Popular Mizzou Professor Says the Wrong Thing, Gets Attacked Online, Turns in Resignation

While clumsy, his statement to his students was probably meant to be inspirational and defiant. Despite his intention, though, you can imagine how it went over.
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While clumsy, his statement to his students was probably meant to be inspirational and defiant. Despite his intention, though, you can imagine how it went over.
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Something needs to be made very clear for those who still haven't figured it out or accepted it: There are pretty big problems at the University of Missouri that led to this week's protests and administrative upheaval. By all credible accounts, there's been an undercurrent of racism at the school for quite some time and a series of individual racist acts -- several recently according to reports -- has created an environment that's anything but conducive to learning and living for the Mizzou Columbia campus's minority. The student and faculty behind the protest, dubbed "Concerned Student 1950," have legitimate complaints that deserved to be addressed since day one; they likewise have a every right to decry the lack of attention the school's administration gave to their concerns. Making some noise was certainly understandable.

What wasn't understandable, though, was allowing that movement to turn into a potential joke by intimidating journalists, whining about "safe spaces" and turning heavy fire on anyone who happened to not speak the correct shibboleth, do exactly what protestors demanded or "just the fuck shut up and listen." The problem with, say, threatening journalists -- who have a First Amendment right to be there -- because you say their intrusion is upsetting you is that it makes outsiders wonder if, because you can't even handle the presence of a camera without losing your shit, the issues you're complaining about at school might be at least somewhat blown out of proportion. If a guy asking you a question makes you break down in angry fits, maybe the problem isn't the school -- maybe it's you. This kind of potential is why it probably would've been a good idea to make sure the legitimate protest wasn't allowed to descend into a caricature.

On Wednesday, the day after Mizzou's president and chancellor stepped down, there were, predictably, threats made against the school from racist assholes, mostly through anonymous calls and posts on social media. One person was arrested for saying online that he was going to shoot black people at Mizzou; police say he was never "physically near the campus." In response to those threats, some professors chose to cancel classes. A reportedly popular nutrition and exercise physiology professor, however, didn't -- and he sent an e-mail out to his students explaining why. Dale Brigham's e-mail read,"If you don’t feel safe coming to class, then don’t come to class. I will be there, and there will be an exam administered in our class. If you give into bullies, they win. The only way bullies are defeated is by standing up to them. If we cancel the exam, they win; if we go through with it, they lose. I know which side I am on. You make your own choice."

Now it can be said that Brigham's tack wasn't the best to take given the nature of the turmoil on campus, but it's almost impossible to argue with what he was trying to say. While clumsy, his statement to his students was probably meant to be inspirational and defiant. Well, despite his intention, you can imagine how it went over. Students, perhaps students not even in his class, bombarded him with hostile tweets and an e-mail is now circulating that's alleged to have been sent to Brigham after his own e-mail became an issue. Former Mizzou football wide receiver T.J. Moe tweeted it out on Wednesday afternoon:

Now, honestly, a pissed-off e-mail -- or a few dozen -- isn't a big deal. What's a big deal, though, is that either Brigham is such a decent guy or the environment at Mizzou right now is so toxic all the way around that before anyone could formally call for his job, Brigham resigned.

It looks like Brigham's resignation, as it turns out, wasn't accepted by the school so for the moment he still has a job. What this once again shows, though, is independent of outright malice -- the kind of malice shown by now-former associate professor Melissa Glick, who threatened and blocked two journalists at Mizzou on Monday -- the wrong words or tone can put someone at Mizzou in a position where he or she could either lose a job outright or realize that the only course of action that will "allow for healing" is to resign in shame. The issue here is simple: Dale Brigham wasn't and isn't anyone's adversary. He attempted to express to his students a message of resilience and solidarity. You can claim that it was tone deaf and that the students of color were the ones who would bear the brunt of the risk by coming to his class, but as someone who was operating in good faith his intention should be strongly considered here.

Students knew who this guy was and he was apparently pretty popular. He probably didn't deserve to be carpet bombed with profanity, invective and threats. Maybe the outrage on this one didn't need to be turned up to 11. The thing is, when that's the only volume you've got, everybody gets the same thing -- even if they aren't the enemy.