Hundreds of Missouri State University students, accompanied by many administrators and other school employees, took a vocal stand against hate Monday evening.
The half hour event, which remained peaceful throughout, featured comments from student leaders and university officials, including those who grew up during the Civil Rights Movement.
The Stand with Charlottesville Rally was organized by Britt Spears, president of the MSU Chapter of the NAACP.
“This event was constructed to bring us all together at the beginning of a school year and to encourage spirit and comradery amongst all of us Bears regardless of our identities,” said Spears.
Among the signs held my many front-line spectators read “MO State won’t tolerate hate,” “Nazis are not welcome,” and “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”
President Clif Smart took note of the signs during his speech while calling out white supremacists.
“They’ve decided whole groups of people are not equal to them – literally 90 plus percent of the world they’ve decided is not equal to them and that’s not what we believe. That’s not what they believe at the University of Virginia, and it’s certainly not what we believe here,” said Smart.
The president noted the many university officials on hand, emphasizing to students “If you know you’re not alone it’s not as hard to speak up. I’m gonna do a better job of speaking up on your behalf. But you need to speak up as well.”
Dr. Shurita Thomas-Tate is an associate professor in MSU’s Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders. She called on attendees to speak up against all forms of hate and intolerance.
“Don’t avoid difficult conversations. Embrace the tension. We’re gonna have to learn how to get along – we’re in this thing together. And so we have to figure out how to communicate with one another in effective ways. That means learning how to have conversations that are difficult,” said Thomas-Tate.
By having these conversations, she said, we learn about others and “recapture our humanity.” She also encouraged others to connect with people and groups different than themselves, noting we “Can’t expect a different outcome if we stay in our own little bubbles.”
These actions create leaders, she says. Thomas-Tate referenced a group she was a member of as a graduate student at Ohio State University that went by the motto “Being here is not enough.”
“You guys all have the privilege of being here at this university and earning an education. That’s a privilege,” she said. “But being here is not enough. We each have a responsibility to ourselves, to our neighbors and to our community. So find opportunities to be a leader; a leader among your friends, a leader among your family members, and a leader in your community.”
Associate professor in the Sociology and Anthropology Department, Dr. Lyle Foster, recalled a childhood ripe with white supremacy. He grew up in Jamestown, Virginia, two hours from Charlottesville, and says even the state’s coastal beaches were segregated.
“Our beach was dirty and littered with glass, trash and seaweed, and through the fence we could see the pristine, well-kept sands of Buckroe Beach…. Today I look back and wonder how could we even segregate the waters that we ourselves did not create?” said Foster.
“We will not allow racism to take over our nation,” he added, “even though it’s a part of the fabric of our very soil.”
Foster says he was directly affected by “the bitter hand of hatred and division in this society” when his best friend was killed in July, 1999 in Chicago by a white supremacist suspected of targeting blacks, Jews and Asians in a two-state killing spree.
“Why am I saying this this afternoon? Because I don’t want us to be fooled. We have seen this happen before, and if we’re not careful we will see this happen again. But I believe the difference is I think today we have exposed it [white supremacy] in a very different way from how it has been exposed in the past.”
He led an energized call in which the crowd repeated “You are my neighbor - I care about you! You are my neighbor - and it matters to me what happens to you! You are my neighbor - and you are a part of this community! And together we will make it better! Together we will change things for the better!”
Spears, MSU’s NAACP chapter president, told KSMU after the event the turnout of around 500 exceeded expectations and she believes it strengthens the school moving forward.
“There was kind of a damper on a lot of college campuses because of what happened at the University of Virginia and I think that this kind of can turn people’s frowns upside down and give us some hope and give us some positivity to go through with the rest of the school year and co-exist with everybody that’s of difference and really try to get to know and love one another,” she said.