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Mizzou Crisis Recovery Has Lessons for Other Universities, Report Finds

Education Professor Leads National Study on Improving Racial Climate

By Maryland Today Staff

University of Missouri

Photo by Carol M. Highsmith via Wikimedia Commons

A new study, “Speaking Truth and Acting with Integrity,” focuses on the high-profile conflict at the University of Missouri in 2015–16, but its recommendations are designed to apply elsewhere.

Steps taken by the University of Missouri to heal after a racial crisis can provide a framework for colleges across the nation facing similar challenges, according to a national report released yesterday and co-written by a College of Education professor.

The study, “Speaking Truth and Acting with Integrity,” was commissioned by the American Council on Education in collaboration with the University of Missouri to focus on the high-profile conflict there in 2015–16, but its recommendations are designed to apply elsewhere, including the University of Maryland, where there have been a number of racially charged incidents, including a murder charged as a hate crime.

“Universities are a small microcosm of our broader society,” said Professor Sharon Fries-Britt, who co-led the study with Professor Adrianna Kezar of the University of Southern California. “The interactions on campuses matter and offer an important opportunity to develop the ability to move past biases and work with people different from you.”

The report, whose other contributors were Elizabeth Kurban Ph.D. ’18, doctoral student Donté McGuire and USC doctoral student Marissiko M. Wheaton, said college campuses are increasingly the targets for hate groups seeking to incite violence and racial division. Hate crimes on college campuses jumped 25 percent from 2015 to 2016, according to the U.S. Department of Education. The Anti-Defamation League Center on Extremism has reported 188 white supremacist-related incidents across 126 college campuses since 2016.

Among them, a University of Alabama student was expelled over an Instagram video showing her repeatedly using the N-word and saying she hates black people. The student newspaper at Syracuse University exposed a fraternity initiation process in which students had to cite an oath containing racial slurs. And at Maryland, Lt. Richard Collins III was fatally stabbed the weekend of graduation in May 2017.

At the University of Missouri, simmering longstanding racial tensions and a series of racial incidents on and off campus—such as the 2014 police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and the use of racial slurs against students of color—exploded into a campus crisis in 2015–16. Student protests drew national media coverage, and the university’s president and chancellor soon stepped down.

Since then, the University of Missouri has hired its first chief diversity officer and launched a plan to improve diversity and the learning, living and working environments. Underrepresented minority faculty grew by more than 14 percent, and in 2018, the freshman class rose by 13 percent from the year prior.

“We appreciate the opportunity the University of Missouri has provided for reflection and learning,” said ACE President Ted Mitchell. “Such leadership is necessary in today’s higher education environment, not only to learn from the challenges of racism and other forms of discrimination, but also to use that learning to chart a purposeful path forward for the benefit of our communities and society.”

The researchers’ major findings from the study included:

  • Campus context: Leaders are encouraged to enhance their own understanding and acknowledgement of the historical legacy of race and racism on campus and in the surrounding community. 
  • Commitment to diversity and inclusion: Demonstrations of long-term commitment to issues of diversity and inclusion allow for resiliency following a racial crisis.
  • Acknowledging and responding to collective trauma: Following a racial crisis, leaders should acknowledge racism, hatred, microaggressions and pain. This response emphasizes to the community that their institution stands up for anti-racist values and, in turn, supports them.
  • Collective trauma recovery: Leaders should avoid immediately trying to “solve” the problem and instead engage in active listening, speak and connect with the community to recognize hurt and trauma, and build a strategy to move forward. 

“Identifying the best ways to support diversity, equity, and inclusion is a challenge at universities across the country,” said University of Missouri Chancellor Alexander Cartwright. “We know we will continue to have difficult conversations as we remain vigilant in our commitment to an environment of respect.”



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College of Education

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