Yesterday, several UC Davis students took part in the “Solidarity with Mizzou Students March” as part of the Million Student March. This was in response to increasing racial tension at the University of Missouri and other campuses across the country.
In the face of university-wide injustices over the past months, Jonathan Butler, a black graduate student at the University of Missouri, went on a hunger strike after releasing an open letter that demanded accountability for the university president, Tim Wolfe, in the form of resignation or firing. Citing racist, sexist and homophobic incidents, Butler claimed in the letter that the “revolting acts that are occurring at Mizzou are a result of a poisonous infestation of apathy that has been spawning from University of Missouri system leadership.”
Wolfe said his administration was doing everything within its power to address the concerns of the student population, which included a plan to establish an online diversity training program. This did not satisfy the protesters, who demanded more significant action be taken. That came when the Missouri football team went on strike, influencing Wolfe’s decision to resign.
The power of a multi-million dollar athletics program cannot be understated. Last year, Missouri athletics brought in $83.7 million, for a total profit of $3.5 million after expenses.
Facing fines of $1 million for refusing to play in their Saturday game against Brigham Young University, the Missouri Tigers effectively held the university hostage over a significant economic value that the school had come to expect. Two days after the announced boycott, President Wolfe resigned his post.
Black students made up nearly half of the University of Missouri football team, yet only seven percent of the student body in Fall 2014. Across the nation, black athletes have the power to advocate for their historically underrepresented demographic, in situations when conventional protests do not produce the desired results.
UC Davis data for Fall 2012 shows that while 13 percent of student-athletes were black, only three percent of the entire student body was black. Over the past year, the athletics department brought in a total revenue of $31 million and incurred $29.5 million in total expenses, generating a little over $1.5 million in profit.
Freedom of expression is an essential right of any group vying for change. However, the sad reality is that administrations often ignore legitimate, meaningful demonstrations and only act when there are negative economic consequences on the line. The ability to hold a monetary incentive over a university’s administrative heads proves to be an effective way to make change when other methods are not gaining traction.
Injustice in any form must not go unanswered. The Editorial Board applauds the decision of the Missouri football team to use its position of power as a public face of the university to enact tangible, meaningful change. The football team has demonstrated the effectiveness that a group of students has when there is a need to bring a national spotlight to institutional inequalities.