I was recently invited to facilitate a roundtable discussion on free speech, journalism and student protests against racism on college campuses around the country. The conversation appears in the January 2016 issue of In These Times magazine. Below is an excerpt:
In November 2015, protests demanding institutional change in response to repeated racist incidents on the University of Missouri campus in Columbia, Mo., spread around the country under the banner of #BlackOnCampus and #StudentBlackOut.
On Nov. 9, 2015, University of Missouri system President Tim Wolfe resigned. His resignation came after sustained activism throughout the fall semester by Mizzou students calling themselves Concerned Student 1950 (the year that the university admitted its first Black student), a hunger strike by graduate student Jonathan Butler and a boycott by members of the school’s football team.
On the day of Wolfe’s departure, a video went viral showing University of Missouri Assistant Professor Melissa Click calling for “some muscle” to keep journalists from covering the student protest encampment on the school’s Carnahan Quad. Much mainstream media attention shifted away from student demands to journalists’ First Amendment rights to report in public spaces.
To go beyond the headline-generating viral video, In These Times invited three people to discuss connections to the broader Black Lives Matter movement, how journalists can build trust with communities of color and where the movement might go in 2016: Yamiesha Bell, a graduate student at the University of Connecticut and organizer with the Black Liberation Collective (BLC); Sandy Davidson, a Curators’ Teaching Professor at the University of Missouri School of Journalism and attorney for the Columbia Missourian, the Missouri School of Journalism’s newspaper; and Asha Rosa, a Black queer writer, student at Columbia University and co-chair of the NYC Chapter of Black Youth Project 100.
What did you all make of the Missouri students and professor who attempted to prevent journalists from documenting their protest?
SANDY: After the incident with Professor Click, the media flipped the attention, and it became a question of First Amendment rights and photojournalists. But this university is home to the first journalism school. So we had some conflict. Part of the difficulty in Missouri was that a photojournalist from our school was assigned to document something that was historical and newsworthy, that was taking place in a public space. I regret that the students didn’t take the opportunity to get their message out.
ASHA: Black people have our rights violated all the time. Part of protest is taking over spaces and setting the terms of how the space is going to be used. Black organizers are working toward their own self-determination, and if they’re going to set certain rules, they don’t necessarily need to explain to people why. They don’t necessarily have to obey all of the laws. The police certainly aren’t.
YAMIESHA: I don’t blame the students at Mizzou for telling the journalists, “This isn’t your space.” Because that really wasn’t their space.
To read the full article, visit In These Times here.
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