COLUMBIA — An NAACP advisory warning people of color against traveling to Missouri has generated no shortage of reactions.
In June, the Missouri chapter of the civil rights organization issued a statement warning African Americans to avoid the state based on a law tightening discrimination safeguards and a number of recent racial incidents. The advisory said people of color should be aware of “looming danger” and should travel through the state with “extreme caution.”
The advisory cited the enactment of Senate Bill 43, which makes it more difficult to prove discrimination in lawsuits. It also referred to racial incidents that took place on the MU campus and the death of Tory Sanford, who died in a southeast Missouri jail, though he was never arrested.
MU officials and groups reacted with statements about the university’s progress. UM System President Mun Choi sent an email to students and staff Monday morning saying he was disappointed to hear about the advisory. He said he reached out to NAACP President Rod Chapel to gain a mutual understanding.
“We all share a commitment to create a community that values the diversity of background, experiences, perspectives and thought,” Choi wrote. “At the University of Missouri System, my colleagues have made remarkable progress toward this objective.”
MU Chancellor Alexander Cartwright addressed a statement to “anyone who interacts with MU students” on Thursday. In the statement, Cartwright listed potential talking points identifying actions the university has taken since the fall of 2015, when protests over race relations put MU in the spotlight. MU has created a Division of Inclusion, Diversity and Equity, trained students, faculty and staff on diversity issues and increased efforts to hire more diverse faculty and staff.
“We recognize this is a national issue, and we’ve been out front on this for the past year and a half,” one of Cartwright’s talking points states. “Mizzou continues to expand its reach.”
The Legion of Black Collegians, the only black student government in the nation, issued a statement about the advisory on its Twitter page.
“We are aware of the current travel advisory issued by the NAACP for Missouri,” the statement said. “However, we are and will be working tirelessly to ensure that our students feel protected and to promote safety for not only Black people, but all who are marginalized and oppressed.”
Tracy Wilson-Kleekamp, president of Race Matters, Friends, said she has received numerous calls from people planning to visit Columbia to observe the upcoming eclipse, asking whether or not it would be safe to travel to the city. She said she believes Columbia has a leadership problem, and she pointed to data from the Missouri attorney general stating that African Americans are 3.9 times more likely to be stopped by Columbia police.
“One would wonder if the people who are in denial about that data, if this bothers them or not,” Wilson-Kleekamp said. “To most people of color, this is not a news flash.”
Megan McConachie, Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau strategic communications manager, said the bureau had not received any calls from the public about the advisory, and Columbia has always and will be promoted as a welcoming city. The Jefferson City Convention and Visitors Bureau said that it had no comment. Many city officials, including Columbia Mayor Brian Treece, did not respond to requests for comment.
Berkley Hudson, MU journalism professor and chair of the Faculty Council’s Diversity Enhancement Committee, believes the issues aren’t just happening here. Missouri is just a border state, he said, both in geography and in political history.
“It’s a place that’s dealing with these issues in a real up-front, public way with the spotlight on it,” Hudson said. “If (people) think they’re going to avoid these problems by going somewhere else, they’re fooling themselves.”
Hudson served as chair of the university’ Race Relations Committee, formed after the protests. He said the committee created a model to help students and faculty listen to one another and understand other people’s views. He believes the NAACP advisory creates a climate of action.
“It’s the perfect place for all of these issues to come to the forefront,” Hudson said. “It’s the perfect place for MU to be a leader in the place of race relations, but that’s very difficult work. There are students, staff and alumni working on this every day.”
“Somehow, we have to all come together as Mizzou, as Missouri, as a nation,” Hudson continued. “And we have to grapple with it. I do think we can follow our mission of respect, discovery, responsibility and excellence at Mizzou and learn to listen to each other.”
Supervising editor is Mike Jenner.