Monday was a day of seismic events at the University of Missouri. Both the president of the school and its chancellor resigned in an effort to satisfy student and faculty protests that have rocked Mizzou recently. At issue is the school administration’s lack of action in dealing with what black students call institutionalized racism on the largely white Columbia campus. The outrage over the situation gained national attention last week when a grad student announced that he was going on a hunger strike until the problems were resolved and then even more attention was paid when the Mizzou football team declared that they wouldn’t play until the school’s president stepped down due to “his negligence toward marginalized students’ experience.”
With their demands met, hundreds of students took to the campus quad Monday afternoon to link arms and sing “We Shall Overcome” and to promise more action in pursuit of a school that’s free of social injustice. Nothing inherently wrong so far as it’s a right to peacefully protest. But where things got dicey, which is a nice way of saying fucking unconscionable, is when a large group of students decided they could cordon off a public area of the quad and declare it a — wait for it — “safe space,” or at least one free of any media presence.
Enter Tim Tai, a student journalist who was attempting to take photos of the protesters, which, as with the students and their protest, he had a right to do. Again, the quad is a public area in a taxpayer-funded school and handwritten “safe space” sign or not, nobody — not students nor faculty — is allowed to tell a journalist documenting a news event that he or she can’t be there. That would be obvious in the real world, as would the shameful hypocrisy involved in denying a journalist his First Amendment rights while exercising your own First Amendment rights. But many college campuses aren’t in any way attached to the real world anymore; they’re through-the-looking-glass lands of perpetual perceived persecution and the self-righteous outrage that’s become the seemingly universal response to it. They’re places where the sensitivities of special snowflakes — young people who see any challenge to their shibboleths and their orthodoxy as injurious acts — must at all times be caressed and where anything that makes these kids the least bit uncomfortable can and should be utterly shut down.
Tim Tai found this out the hard way, as students confronted and pushed him, trying to block his ability to get a shot. The scene is something you really have to see to believe because it doesn’t look like America and it sure as hell doesn’t look like a college campus, traditionally one of the most liberal and tolerant places on planet earth.
Seriously, watch this from start to finish.
Now some perspective. The woman at the beginning of the video who tells Tai that he needs to back up and respect the students’ (safe) space is Dr. Melissa Click, not merely an assistant professor at the University of Missouri but an assistant professor of media. For the uninitiated, Mizzou is one of the best journalism schools in the country, which adds a special little dollop of pure irony to this shit sundae given that Tai is a student journalist within the school and it’s a member of the media faculty who tells him he can’t do his job in a public space. The woman in the sunglasses who stands off directly against Tai is Mizzou’s assistant director of Greek life, Janna Basler. She tells Tai that he needs to “back off” and when pressed for her name, all she answers is, “I am Concerned Student 1950,” the title of the protest group, named for the year black students were first admitted to the University of Missouri.
Where things really get good in the clip, as you no doubt noticed if your blood didn’t boil out of your ears early on, is toward the end when the person shooting the video, a kid named Mark Schierbecker, is confronted by a woman who tells him he has to “get out” of the public quad. When he responds that he doesn’t have to, she shouts to students all around her, “Hey who wants to help me get this reporter out of here. I need some muscle over here!” The woman, again, is Melissa Click, the media assistant professor who just threatened physical harm against a student shooting video. In her fanatical mind, apparently, the privilege of students not being made slightly uncomfortable by the presence of the media — media she had previously pleaded for, by the way — outweighs the right of the media to cover a legitimate news item.
Because of Click’s actions, she’s now being roundly criticized by some of the most authoritative journalists in the country, who are calling her out and demanding she be fired. And make no mistake: she should be. She should be out on her ass by morning and Janna Basler should be right behind her. What these two terrible adult examples and the students shown in Mark Schierbecker’s video are guilty of is a kind of fascism, which may sound heavy-handed but if these kids saw a foreign government — or our own — attempting to squelch the media through Orwellian bullying and outright threats of violence they’d be shouting the exact same language from the rooftops.
The protesting students of Mizzou know better than anyone that we live in the Panopticon now, with video documenting our every move. It’s because of the prevalence of pocket video cameras that some of the most heinous injustices have been exposed in our culture recently, injustices that, ironically, fuel the very protests of young people like those at the University of Missouri. The whole point of our new hyper-connected world is that you can’t control the message anymore — whether you’re a totalitarian regime or a bunch of students on a college campus. Although, to be honest, it’s getting harder and harder to tell the difference between the two.
Update, Tuesday @ 3:13PM ET:According to the Columbia Missourian, Mizzou’s powerful journalism department is now voting to revoke Melissa Click’s appointment. Good.
Update, Wednesday @ 4:00PM ET: Melissa Click has resigned.
Update, Thursday @ 3:04PM ET: Janna Basler has offered an apology and been suspended.
Chez Pazienza was the beating heart of The Daily Banter, sadly passing away on February 25, 2017. His voice remains ever present at the Banter, and his influence as powerful as ever.