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Racial Tension Still Envelops Missouri University's Columbia Campus


It was another day of racial tension yesterday at the University of Missouri campus in Columbia. Many black and minority students stayed away from school after threats appeared on social media, including one threat that read, I'm going to stand my ground and shoot every black person I see. Two people were arrested on suspicion of making threats on the Internet. For more on the mood at Missouri, we reached Professor Earnest Perry. He is African-American. He teaches a course on covering multicultural issues at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. Thank you for joining us.

EARNEST PERRY: Good morning.

WERTHEIMER: What was it like yesterday on campus?

PERRY: It was pretty eerie on campus yesterday because you didn't have the large student population that you usually have. Many students stayed away.

WERTHEIMER: Well, now, the football team went back to work. I mean, they seemed to think that this crisis was over. At least, they were prepared to stop their protest. But that did not happen for the rest of the folks at the campus?

PERRY: No, it didn't. I think it was yesterday afternoon - late afternoon - the students held a rally. They were still protesting some of the issues. But it was more of a stand against the racial epitaphs that were thrown at them through social media.

WERTHEIMER: You know, the university administration was fairly quick to work with police and - resulting in an arrest of a student for posting threats. It sounds like they are responding to threats of safety on campus. But are they responding to the other concerns that you talked about?

PERRY: It's been I think about 48 hours or less than 48 hours since the president and the chancellor resigned. And then, almost immediately after that, you begin to see some of the threats on social media. And so there really hasn't been enough time for anyone to really sit back and digest what exactly the board of curators has done because of the threat to safety that was coming through social media.

WERTHEIMER: Are you hearing - as a black professor, I would imagine you would be hearing from black students. Are they coming to you and talking to you about what's going on?

PERRY: Yes. They're coming to me and talking to me about what's going on. Their concerns are that they feel that they're not respected on campus. They feel that - in some cases, they feel that they are being threatened on campus. There've been instances of people having racial - throwing racial epitaphs at them, the swastika and human feces in the dorm, which I'm sure many people know about. Those are the concerns that they've talked about. But they also want African-American - more African-American faculty. They want more faculty of color in other areas. And they also want to see more people like them in various spaces across campus.

WERTHEIMER: So what do you think? Is this thing nearly over? Do you think that a sort of calming down moment is - is ahead? Do you think the university is actually going to grapple with some of these cultural changes the students are talking about?

PERRY: What I'm hoping is that once we can move past the threats and students feel safe to come on campus, that we begin to have those conversations.

WERTHEIMER: Professor Earnest Perry teaches at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. Professor Perry, thank you so much.

PERRY: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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