Saying he’s violated his professional responsibilities, three students behind the push to have Juan Meraz removed as assistant vice president of Multicultural Services reiterated their stance Tuesday.
Members of the group Springfield Coalition for Minority Advancement (SCMA) offered more details on why it issued a petition calling for Meraz’s dismissal and leaked audio that allegedly includes discriminatory remarks from the assistant vice president.
Shawna Barkley says despite claims by many of Meraz’s good character, the audio in part signifies that he is not performing the requirements of his job.
“The difference here is that being a pleasant person does not negate what he said on audio and it does not negate the impact that that has,” Barkley said.
Ravyn Brooks, another member of the coalition, said that professionalism is fostered by an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect.
“Juan alludes to [in the audio] the relationship between the African American students and him when he says ‘They look at me like I owe them money.’ Well why do you have that relationship with a population that you’re responsible for?” Brooks asks.
Roughly 20 students and some university officials attended the Tuesday press conference, which was conducted by Brooks, Barkley, and Xavier Torres-Ghoston. Following opening statements, the three fielded questions from reporters and students for more than 30 minutes.
The group says Meraz has displayed cultural incompetence and racial bias.
“Cultural competence and color don’t coincide. So you can be of color, you can be Hispanic, black, and still be culturally incompetent. If anybody that was in the position – I’ll be happy with anybody that is culturally competent. This is supposed to be assisting to the needs of multicultural students,” Ghoston said.
They went on to allege his lack of relationship building and focus on diversity training, and suggested improper use of funds regarding distribution of the Multicultural Assistant Grant.
Much of the questions surrounded the audio recording that includes a male voice – purportedly Meraz – speaking to a Hispanic student on racial issues at Mizzou and perceived views of MSU’s Multicultural Student Center and those that frequent it. The recording was obtained in early November, shortly after the demonstrations at the University of Missouri. The female student who recorded the conversation – who was not named – did so out of fear, said SCMA members. The female student did not attend the press conference.
Just over five minutes of the conversation was released, although the entire conversation was close to an hour long, the group says. It disputed that the audio sample shared was taken out of context, and noted that the remaining audio was much of the same from what was shared. SCMA says the material provided should be enough to warrant action from the school.
“If they’re culturally competent, they’re ethical leaders and they hold themselves accountable to not only their policies but their public affairs mission they are obliged to respond with this much information,” said Brooks.
Barkley contended that many of the remarks provided in the short snippet were “pretty cut and dry.”
“Saying that African American students create a hostile environment toward anyone who isn’t black – that seems pretty clear to me. Saying that ‘I don’t owe you s---,’ and that is a direct quote, seems pretty clear to me. That seems pretty unprofessional,” said Barkley.
The recording was shared with MSU officials for the first time on Monday, the same day it received the petition with just under 100 signatures calling for Meraz’s dismissal. Additional documents included alleged violations committed by Meraz, which SCMA says had been shared with administrators over the past several months.
The university has acknowledged that an informal complaint was filed against Meraz late last year. In its statement Monday, the school said that the complainant has come forward on multiple occasions since with additional information, and Wes Pratt told KSMU that the review process is still ongoing .
SCMA members had called for the university to terminate Meraz on Feb. 1 and if not they have the right to protest and seek legal action.
Asked why they were seeking an immediate removal, Brooks responded, “Because it says right here in the Prohibition of Discrimination and Harassment Policy that the university will respond appropriately to those who violate this policy up to and including dismissal from the university or termination of employment. So considering the fact that he’s violated multiple policies in-depth, I think that that’s the most reasonable thing to ask according to their own declaration and policies.”
Barkley added that the audio recording, while not the sole basis for grounds for termination, is “a nail in the coffin.”
MSU has stated it has a process in place to handle specific complaints and that "special interest groups dictate neither the processes nor the outcomes."
KSMU has reached out to Juan Meraz for comment but has yet to receive a response.
Hours after the petition to remove Meraz was submitted Monday, an online petition to “Keep Juan Meraz” quickly grew, with over 1,900 as of 3 pm Wednesday. The dozens of comments posted speak to the assistant vice president’s character.
“NOBODY is more for equality than Juan Meraz (a Hispanic immigrant) whose whole career has been spent trying to diversify the Springfield campus,” wrote Douglas Rice of Union, MO.
Gabriella Gomez from Ozark posted, “I'm signing this petition because he is one of the biggest advocates for diversity. He is a true leader, and a genuine human being. He has helped and mentor so many, these allegations are ridiculous and it has to stop.”
Asked for their reaction to the online petition Tuesday, the group reiterated that it’s not questioning whether Meraz is a pleasant person or displays character in other areas.
Barkley added, “What comes into question is the policies that he’s violated, which we’ve outlined here. And the audio recording very clearly speaks to his cultural incompetence, which is a violation of one of our pillars and our public affairs mission and especially problematic for his position at the university.”