A Twitter hashtag in the Missouri State University community has been used hundreds of times in the past week: #BlackAtMoState.
Students, of all races, are using the hashtag to share their experiences as students and show support at MSU. The hashtag emerged as a response to the death of George Floyd.
On Monday, May 25, Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on the neck of George Floyd for eight minutes and forty-six seconds which, according to his autopsy, caused his death.
Floyd’s death has led to worldwide protests regarding police brutality and promoting the Black Lives Matter movement.
Kennay Proctor, an MSU alumnus, shared her experience with fellow MSU students in a tweet.
#BlackAtMoState white students the task to “find someone of diverse background & having a conversation about racism” then reading a paper w/my name changed to La’Symphonique & the paper mention my 3.8 GPA is due to profs having lower expectations of a black girl. @MissouriState pic.twitter.com/ziSO1dP0Sk— Kennay Prοctor (@kennaylovesyou) June 3, 2020
Whenever Proctor saw the movement on social media, she knew she had to say something.
Proctor said attending MSU was a great experience for her, but people need to know about racism on campus.
“It’s unfortunate that a few negative circumstances can shape an entire institution,” Proctor said. “But, I feel it is imperative to shed light on situations where people of color are oppressed.”
The Standard contacted other students who used the hashtag but was unable to receive further responses.
The hashtag has been seen by university organizations, staff and administration.
MSU’s Student Government Association created a thread of tweets, letting students know they were being heard.
We want you to know that your student government hears you. We’ve heard your concerns and read the #BlackatMoState. We want you to understand that we will do everything we can to ensure that we amplify your voices. We will not take the spotlight away from you. We will not (1/4)— MOSTATE SGA (@MOStateSGA) June 4, 2020
“We are diligently working on ways to help create a more inclusive environment and making innovative ways to educate our student body,” SGA said in a tweet on June 4.
SGA has created a Google Doc of resources for Black Lives Matter, which includes sample letters to send legislators and petitions for students.
Kyler Sherman-Wilkins, assistant professor in the sociology and anthropology department is one of the many staff members who offered support. He posted a video on Twitter on June 3, offering support to students.
“I want you to know that I understand you, as a black man, I went to a PWI (predominantly white institution),” Wilkins said in the video. “I was the only black male Ph.D. student at my institution. I am one of the black faculty at MSU. I know what it feels like to feel unseen, unheard, unwanted, unsafe. But, I want to let you know that you belong here, I see you, I hear you and I want you here.”
University President Clif Smart echoed Wilkins in a response on June 3 that the administration heard what students were saying.
I am & always have been committed to improving the experience of our students of color. I said on Monday that “...our past efforts aren’t enough. Our work is not complete. Eliminating the scourge of racism will require all of us, working together...” (1/2)— Clif Smart (@ClifSmart) June 3, 2020
In a tweet later that night, Smartsaid Wes Pratt, chief diversity officer, Michele Smith, assistant vice president student affairs and he would be leading efforts in making the university more inclusive.
“Everyone is concerned about the statements students have been making and the treatment that students have experienced,” Wes Pratt said.
Pratt explained that racism has historically been a problem at white-majority institutions, as there is a lack of cultural awareness among students.
“If you look at the larger picture of this nation and the history of racism in this nature, you can see why it is such a challenge,” Pratt said. “It is disappointing, frustrating and makes people angry.”
However, Pratt believes there are things students can do to help become more culturally aware.
“Our lack of cultural consciousness is a major issue in southwest Missouri,” Pratt said. “So, I think it responsibility for all of us, particularly my white colleagues, faculty and white students to understand what it is to be an anti-racist and take all the steps they need to address those issues in their culture.”
According to Pratt, the university is planning on training students and staff on cultural consciousness. Pratt said he is unaware at this time if this will be mandatory training. However, he made a statement for anyone who has been affected by negativity at the university.
“Do not give up or be distracted by the racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic and anti-immigrant statements that some people will make,” Pratt said. “That is a reflection on them, not on you.”
For more information on diversity at MSU, click here to access information on the Division of Diversity and Inclusion.