By Phil Brown
The University of Missouri has been tangled in headlines and hashtags in recent weeks. Every day we are given a steaming hot fresh take from the media, a new witty Facebook status from a friend or acquaintance, our twitter feeds swelling with contradictory epigrams.
We are urged to form and promote our opinion on what is going on as if the whole world was waiting to hear back from us. But while forming opinions is natural, not forming an opinion is nearly impossible. It’s crucial that those we form are well-informed, and that we don’t place inordinate weight on the ones that don’t matter.
The protests, the unrest, and the violent threats and abuse that occur on the campus of the University of Missouri are nationally important, but only in that they should serve as a warning and a motivator to other universities. Our opinions, our perspectives, come into play only when dealing with the implications as a whole to our own lives.
Other than that, what is happening relates intimately with the students on that campus. Our opinions shouldn’t be weighed against that personal experience.
As university students, however, the Missourians are locked in the same struggle we are, whether we know it or not; the struggle to be respected by administration and fellow students, the struggle to find support for the difficult school work load, the struggle to graduate.
They are fighting the same war we all are, although they find them-selves in a different battle. Omaha has found itself in the same battle in years gone by, however different the landscape may look now.
The modern University of Nebraska at Omaha campus feels to me a million miles removed from the campus in Columbia. As a white male student, I realize I have a much different experience than my classmates of color.
But even so, the atmosphere of UNO does seem more welcoming, more accommodating, and more diverse than what we hear about Missouri. 33 percent of incoming freshman this fall were persons of color, bumping the total enrollment population stat to 25 percent. It may not be perfection, but the largest and most diverse class in the school’s history feels a hell of a lot like progress.
There don’t seem to be many recent racially charged incidents either, barring events from two years ago where three hockey players started a fight with racial abuse. But the administration came down hard on the racists, dismissing two of them and suspending the third, in a way that seemed much more decisive and supportive than the responses of now-resigned Mizzou administrators to racial violence.
The school sponsors many diversity and support programs, starting with its academics: the black studies department, one of the first of its kind, is complemented by Office of Latino/Latin American Studies of the Great Plains and the Native American Studies program.
The Equality and Inclusion Leadership Team is tasked with forming the school’s equality strategies, which currently feature the Bias
Assessment and Response Team, the Office of Equity, Access and Diversity, and the Gender and Sexuality Resource Center.
The current climate hasn’t always been something UNO students could take for granted. Back in the 1960s, Omaha was embroiled in its own crises, and the University wasn’t immune.
It took a sit-in protest from 54 students in 1969, in a move that seems to foreshadow those of Missouri protesters, to force the administration to consider the need for a more diverse class catalog and student representation, an action that was ultimately responsible for the creation of the black studies department.
We are indeed all fighting the same battle as students, but those in Omaha are simply in a different part of the battlefield in 2015. That doesn’t mean we’ll always feel this level of acceptance and this atmosphere of relative diversity, and for this reason, we must show solidarity with our fellow students at Missouri.
Jonathan Butler, a focal point of the Mizzou protests, was an Omaha Central high school graduate, class of 2008. Butler, described as quiet and reserved during his time at Central, put his life on the line in an attempt to force change at his school in a hunger strike that last-ed a week. The attempt, along with other actions by Missouri students, was successful in its immediate goal to oust the leadership at the time, but the work is far from done.
Reverberations from the changes made so far have maintained a hostile and tense atmosphere on the campus, with a student already arrested for threatening a mass shooting on YikYak. A monumental rebuilding task faces the university.
The role of students at colleges across the nation is clear: we must show solidarity. In our term, we may not find ourselves in a position to sacrifice our lives and health for UNO.
Remembering our own history, our own battle wounds, and how far we’ve come, we can at least show support for those locked in a life-or-death struggle themselves.