Takeaway from Mizzou: Be careful what you try to take away

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Takeaway from Mizzou: Be careful what you try to take away

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The on-campus protests at University of Missouri in early November garnered massive media attention as students rallied against racially biased incidents on campus and the lack of action from the administration in addressing them. The protests started when student Jonathan Butler began a hunger strike on Nov. 3, vowing that he would not eat until then-president Tim Wolfe resigned. Butler was joined in solidarity by student-activist group, Concerned Student 1950, which helped further the protests by setting up a temporary tent circle on the school’s quad.

The media spotlight did not envelop the campus, however, until black members of the school’s football team announced that they would not practice or play until Wolfe resigned, thereby putting the university in a financial bind — Mizzou would be fined $1 million if it had to forfeit its next game, against BYU.

Pressure mounted, and Wolfe resigned on Nov. 9. The protesting students claimed a major victory. But, for better or worse, the story did not end there.

Tangles between protesters and members of the media became the new focus of coverage, as protesters demanded a “safe space” free from media presence, despite the fact that they were camped out in a public space, at a public university.

The most widespread example of this conflict came when Tim Tai, a student photojournalist on assignment for ESPN, was pushed and shoved while trying to take pictures of the tent circle, following Wolfe’s resignation.

Tai asserted his First Amendment right to be present in the space and to take photographs; but students and faculty members — director of Greek life Janna Basler and assistant communication professor Melissa Click — taking part in the protest yelled at him and prevented him from entering the quad. Some even physically pushed him away.

Much of the immediate response to the barring of media from the quad was outrage. Members of the media were angry that their rights were being unfairly restricted, and student protesters were mad that the narrative shifted away from their hard work to counter the racism on campus.

The fiery response to the actions of Basler and Click, however, was warranted. As faculty members, they should be held to a higher standard. They, more than anyone, should understand what can and cannot be done on a college campus, especially Click, who had an honorary title in Mizzou’s journalism school, a title which was since revoked.

In the heat of the moment, people got carried away and made a mistake. It was unfortunate, and it should not have happened. The faculty, especially, should not have been involved. But that does not deserve to be the lasting takeaway from everything that happened at Mizzou. Lots of good happened, and it should not be outweighed by the bad.

It is understandable that there was frustration on both sides, and a resolution could have been worked out between the sides, ahead of time, in order to prevent the situation from escalating. Members of the media could have requested specific times to conduct interviews and take pictures, and the protesters could have worked to make that happen. That way, both sides would have gotten what they wanted, without conflict.

Reporters and photographers have a duty to cover stories without interfering with the events in progress. A compromise beforehand could have allowed the entire event to go off without a hitch. Unfortunately, that did not happen, in this case; perhaps it will next time.

Our hope is that this was a learning experience to all involved and that this kind of conflict can be prevented in the future. A little talk from each side can go a long way in preventing conflict.