Listen: Black at Mizzou: Confronting Race on Campus

On this MPR News Presents program, an APM Reports documentary titled "Black at Mizzou: Confronting race on campus," looks beyond news of protests against rascism at University of Missouri, and highlights a thriving campus-within-a-campus that Black students have built over decades to make the university a more welcoming place.


2020 EWA National Award for Education Reporting, winner in Radio-Audio Storytelling (Smaller Newsroom) category

2021 RTDNA Murrow Award (national), Radio - Network / Excellence in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion category


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[MUSIC PLAYING] STEVEN JOHN: Welcome to MPR News Presents. I'm Steven John. As colleges across Minnesota struggle with how to reopen and how to effectively reach and teach students in the current climate, this hour you can hear a new education documentary from our documentary and investigative reporting unit APM Reports.


- You all ready to get started?


LAUREN SMITH: The University of Missouri, August 23, 2015.


- Welcome to our new student class of 2015.


LAUREN SMITH: I was there, so were 6,000 other first year students. In Missouri, people call the university Mizzou, and Mizzou has this ritual to start off the school year. There's a row of six huge columns on campus. They used to be part of a building. Every year before classes start, all the incoming students meet up at the columns. The marching band's there, professors show up, alumni, and all the new students go running through the columns.


When you pass through the columns, you're in. You're a University of Missouri Tiger. You belong at Mizzou. It's a nice ritual and all, but things aren't that simple. Running through the columns doesn't really make you belong at Mizzou. If you're a Black student, like me, belonging on a predominately white campus isn't that easy.


From APM reports, this is Black at Mizzou, Confronting Race on Campus. I'm Lauren Brown. When I graduated from Mizzou in 2019, I got a job at Saint Louis Public Radio. A couple of months later, I got a call from some producers at APM Reports. They asked me if I wanted to help them with a story about what happened in the fall of 2015 at Mizzou. You might have heard about that. It was all over the news for a few months.

FEMALE REPORTER: The University has been the center of national attention over racial tensions on campus.

LAUREN SMITH: There were protests, a hunger strike, the football team threatened not to play. Eventually, some top administrators resigned and similar protests started on campuses across the country.

MALE REPORTER: Activist students are following suit from Yale to Ithaca College.

PROTESTERS: Black lives matter!

FEMALE REPORTER: Dozens of University of Michigan students took to the streets this morning to protest racism at the school.

I agreed to help these producers do a documentary looking back at that year, but I didn't want to do just another story about protests at Mizzou. The stories I've seen in the news make it seem like a couple of bad things happen out of nowhere, then there were protests and things went back to normal. But that's not what I saw.

I saw students put their grades on the line, their jobs, their reputations so they could tell people what was really going on at their school, and that's what I want to tell you about, what it's like to be a Black student on a predominantly white campus because this is the same reality Black students face all over the country. I want to tell you what we went through and how we took care of each other and how we built a community for ourselves that we call Black Mizzou.

WOMAN: Standing right in front of--

MAN: Right through the door.

LAUREN SMITH: Over the past year, I made several trips back to Mizzou with those producers.

Once we-- no, you have to scan to get into the next door.

We were there on the first day of classes in the fall of 2019. I gave them a campus tour.

Right now we are heading towards the columns.

It had been four years since I ran through those columns.

That first week I was just so excited. It was my first time being away from home, and that's about six hours away. And so it was my first time being on my own and feeling like an adult.

I grew up in the South suburbs of Chicago.

Illinois and Missouri are different. I noticed the change immediately when I got to campus. It was sort of like a culture shock. I had never really been around a lot of people that didn't look like me or go to school with students that didn't look like me. And so being the only Black person in class was a difficult thing at first until I got used to it. I kind of felt isolated until I found my way around on campus and found organizations to join and made friends.

I would say that fall 2015 is my own personal experience. I don't think I know what a real freshman year college experience is like because mine wasn't like that. So I don't know what a average, ordinary freshman year experience is for somebody that didn't go through what I went through. I saw everything. I was there. I wasn't on the front lines but I witnessed it. And I witnessed something great. I witnessed something that empowered me.

Black students actually call themselves Black Mizzou. So it's kind of like we have a whole other school almost. I don't know who started saying Black Mizzou first, but I think they felt like we had to have something that we felt was our own to say, Black Mizzou. We're Black Mizzou. Because maybe sometimes we don't feel like we're a part of Mizzou as a whole.

PAYTON HEAD: The first Black student wasn't admitted to Mizzou until 1950. And for a lot of people who think, well, that was just so long ago. That doesn't have an impact. Well, my mom was born in 1950.

LAUREN SMITH: That's Payton Head. He was a few years ahead of me at Mizzou. When I got there, he was president of the student body. And in a third week of school that fall, he ended up making the national news.

PAYTON HEAD: So I was walking on campus and some guys on the back of a pickup truck just screamed the N-word at me. And this was the second time that this happened to me because it's apparently more common than you think it is. It had happened to me my sophomore year, and that was one of the catalysts for me running for president. And so when that incident happened again, I went almost on a Facebook rant about it, basically saying like, why is my simple existence such a threat to you? Just me walking down the street, why do you feel so compelled and so entitled to tell me where I belong and where I don't belong?

LAUREN SMITH: Payton's Facebook post went viral. He says that's because he was the president of the student government.

PAYTON HEAD: I realized that people really didn't necessarily care about me. It was the position. It was the fact that this happened to the student body president. And all of the articles that came out after that was, what the student body president did after somebody called him the N-word. Things like that happen to students all the time all around the nation, but I chose to speak out on it because I realized that so many people could say something like that and not have the platform of Washington Post and all these different publications calling them to see what's the story? What's up? To be completely honest with you, I didn't even know that that Facebook post would have an impact as much as it did.

LAUREN SMITH: A couple of weeks later, students held a protest.

PROTESTERS: We are not going to shut up. We are not going away.

LAUREN SMITH: The thing was racism lives here.

PROTESTERS: We shut it down! We shut it down! We shut it down! We shut it down!

LAUREN SMITH: The protesters were unhappy with the University's response to what happened to Payton. The Chancellor at the time didn't say anything at first. Then there were news stories. After five days, the Chancellor posted a letter online. The letter mentioned, quote, "Recent incidents of bias and discrimination directed at members of our community." It said the behavior was, quote, "totally unacceptable," but the protesters said the Chancellor took too long to respond and they wanted him to say something stronger, something specifically about what happened to Payton. They said his response felt like too little too late.

There was another protest a week later and then it was homecoming. So I need to tell you some things about homecoming because homecoming is an important part of this story in a couple of ways. There are actually two homecomings at Mizzou. It's been that way since the late '80s. Black students felt left out of the University-wide homecoming celebrations for years, so they made their own. This past fall, I went back to Mizzou for homecoming.

I'm currently at the Black Mizzou Homecoming Tailgate at the Black Culture Center on campus. And this event is for a lot of Black students to come and hang out and convene and kind of have something for themselves.

There were a couple hundred people there, freshmen and alumni just dancing and laughing and talking about old times.

MARQUIS JONES: When you're at a predominantly white institution like this one, you tend to lose those kind of moments where people can understand you.

LAUREN SMITH: I talked to Marquis Jones.

MARQUIS JONES: When you get moments like this, you got to cherish them because they are rare to come by.

TIARA STEPHENS: It feels great.

LAUREN SMITH: I also talked to Tiara Stephens.

TIARA STEPHENS: The weather is good. The Black feels good. This is my song that's coming on right now so you have to get back to me.

LAUREN SMITH: So just like a unity song, like Swag Surf, like what would you-- how would you describe it?

TIARA STEPHENS: When this song comes on, everybody comes together, whether you don't like one another, whether that person is not your friend or not, and you put your arm around that person and you go from side to side, and it's lovely.


I swag when I surf

Now watch me surf and swag

OK, I swag when I surf

I swag when I surf

LAUREN SMITH: And then there's the other homecoming, the big celebration that everybody goes to. In the fall of 2015, my first year at school, something happened at the big Mizzou Homecoming parade and it pushed the protests on campus to a new level. I talked with some of the people who were there about why they did what they did. They were still upset about the University's response to Payton Head being called the N-word and a string of other racist incidents. A call went out on social media. Let's meet at the library.

MARSHALL ALLEN: Anybody who wants to do something, wants to speak up, wants to speak out.

LAUREN SMITH: Marshall Allen was one of the students who showed up.

MARSHALL ALLEN: It was about 20, 25 people that was there. Met, talked, made another meeting. And by that second meeting, it was like 13.

LAUREN SMITH: By the third meeting, they were down to 11.

ANDREA FULGIAM: Mainly I would say people who had been involved in different protests or activist work--

LAUREN SMITH: Andrea Fulgiam was another one of those 11. Before Andrea got to Mizzou, she wasn't an activist.

ANDREA FULGIAM: Going into my college experience, I didn't really know what to expect. No one in my family went to college, so I will say I was pretty optimistic and excited, but I can vividly remember like random things happening when I was just like, I don't really like the way I'm being spoken to or how people are interacting with me.

Like in my abnormal psych class, students making rude comments about not wanting to sit by me. I'm not going to sit by the Black girl. And I was just like, what is this? Sitting in classes when people are like racism doesn't exist. They're just making it up. It's are you freaking serious? You're taking sociology with me. We are talking about biases and you're going to say that racism does not exist.

MARSHALL ALLEN: Black students, by and large, have a completely different college experience, a completely different one.

LAUREN SMITH: Marshall Allen says he knew life would be uncomfortable at times at any predominantly white university, and Mizzou was no different.

MARSHALL ALLEN: I researched the demographics before I came to Mizzou in the first place. So I expected to encounter racism. I expected to see prejudice. It's just one of the realities Black folk have to live with. You understand what it's going to be like when you're 7%.

LAUREN SMITH: Marshall remembers signing up for his first semester of classes. He was getting help from an academic advisor. He told her he was interested in Black Studies.

MARSHALL ALLEN: We were picking out classes. I had, what, anthropology, history 1100, but I looked down and I saw Black Studies 2000. And I said, can I take this? And she said, I mean, I guess you can. I mean, I guess that's not-- that can fit into your schedule that can help count towards a Gen Ed. I said, well, why didn't you lead with that? Especially when I found out six months later that those classes, the classes that I was looking at, could substitute. Like I could have taken African-American history and it would have substituted. So it's stuff like that, those small things that add up to being structural issues that keep Black students unaware, whether intentionally or unintentionally.

ANDREA FULGIAM: There's an English class you have to take.

LAUREN SMITH: Here's Andrea again.

ANDREA FULGIAM: And I got put into one of the meetings with my professor and she was asking me weird questions about scholarships. So what scholarships did you get? And all of this other stuff. So I kind of walked her through like in high school is like 4.2 GPA, I was involved in sports, I was top 10 of my class.

LAUREN SMITH: Andrea told the professor that during high school, she didn't think she was going to college. When Andrea did decide to go to college, it was too late for most scholarships.

ANDREA FULGIAM: But I did get the Diversity and Inclusion Award. And so that's the scholarship that they give marginalized students. And I was blessed to have that because it did help with the payments. And she goes into this conversation of like, well, do you think it's fair that you all get this scholarship? And I was like, you all? Like what do you mean? And she's like, do you think it's fair because there are white students who don't get a scholarship because they're white.

And I was just like, OK. Why are we having this conversation? We're supposed to be reviewing my paper. And she went on on this tangent about how almost like I did not deserve to be at Mizzou and the only reason I was there was because of this scholarship. And for me, that was obnoxious, I guess, and I was very agitated because I knew my work ethic, I knew my intelligence, and that conversation was very belittling to me.

And I had to then explain to this professor, a grown woman and I was just 18 at the time, like do you understand that these systems were never built for people that look like me? And do you understand that that student still has more chances of success than me, like statistically? And so she started going into affirmative action and how I was a part of a number and that's the only reason why I was there. And that was like one of the worst experiences. Like I remember calling my mom and just like, am I supposed to be at Mizzou?

LAUREN SMITH: When I got to campus, I was thinking about classes and getting into the journalism school. But when Marshall got to campus, he joined political groups.

MARSHALL ALLEN: I came in looking for that stuff. The first thing I looked for was do they have a chapter of the NAACP? Do they have anything for Black students? Do they have any type of government? I came here looking for all of the things that the campus or organizations on campus had to offer Black students. I came and I searched for it.

LAUREN SMITH: When Andrea got to campus, she didn't join political groups right away. But then a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri shot and killed Michael Brown and she decided to join the protest on campus.

ANDREA FULGIAM: I felt like whenever I had the chance to use my voice, that's what I was going to do.

LAUREN SMITH: A year after Ferguson, it was the fall of 2015. Andrea and Marshall were among the 11 Black students who wanted to do something about what had happened to Payton Head. They knew they wanted to have a protest.

MARSHALL ALLEN: We got to talking about what the plan would be, how to bring the most attention to the issue.

LAUREN SMITH: Marshall says they settled on Homecoming.

MARSHALL ALLEN: Obviously Homecoming, you have alumni, you have cameras, parades. Everybody loves Homecoming. Everybody knows about it. And that essentially became where the best place was to bring all of the attention to the issues that were at hand and going on at Mizzou.

LAUREN SMITH: Here's the big message they wanted to deliver. What happened to Payton was not an isolated incident.

MARSHALL ALLEN: What is going on today, how Black students are being treated, how they feel out of place and uncomfortable, it's not a one-time thing. It's a history of this. We're bringing that to you so that you can understand the context behind it. We're not just mad for no reason. Now these are a multitude of situations, of occurrences, of happenings going on that we're bringing attention to.

LAUREN SMITH: They decided to go to the Homecoming parade. They would block the car of the president of the University of Missouri System. They'd have megaphones and each of the 11 students would tell a small piece of the history of Black people at the University of Missouri.

MARSHALL ALLEN: What we had decided was, if we stop in front of the president's car with these megaphones, people are going to pay attention. They're going to be listening. Because why? One, it has the parade stopped. Two, why are there 11 Black students in front of this car? Three, why are they yelling? People are going to pay attention. People are going to remember that day.

LAUREN SMITH: I wasn't at the parade, but I watched the video a few times. The parade happened in downtown Columbia. The president of the University of Missouri System is sitting in a convertible waving to the crowd. The sidewalks are filled with people, most of them are white. Then 11 Black students walk in to the street and lock arms and block the president's car.

PROTESTER: Captain Wolfe, how are you doing?

LAUREN SMITH: A student starts talking through a megaphone. He addresses Tim Wolfe, the president.

PROTESTER: We are some concerned students at Mizzou. We have something for you.

LAUREN SMITH: One by one, the other students take the megaphone.

PROTESTER: This is not an indictment on white folks but it is an indictment of white structures and white supremacy.

LAUREN SMITH: They tell a 10-minute history of Black people at Mizzou.

PROTESTER: 1839, the University of Missouri was established as a Black institution.

LAUREN SMITH: One student talks about Lloyd Gaines. Back in 1935, the law school refused to admit him when it learned that he was Black.

PROTESTER: Lloyd Gaines refused to accept the racial--

LAUREN SMITH: At this point, some of the White people leave the curb where they've been standing. They start trying to break through the line of Black students.

PROTESTER: Do not engage. Do not engage.

LAUREN SMITH: Some of the people in the crowd are yelling at the students It's tense, but the students keep passing the megaphone and talking. Another student talks about Lucile Bluford. In 1939, she was accepted by the School of Journalism, but she was turned away when the school found out she was Black.

ANDREA FULGIAM: But she was not allowed to enroll in any classes here at the University.

LAUREN SMITH: That student on the megaphone is Andrea Fulgiam.

ANDREA FULGIAM: I remember feeling then like I can't believe this is happening.

LAUREN SMITH: Marshall Allen takes the megaphone and talks about 1977 when the first Black person was appointed to the University's Board of Curators. And another student talks about a day in 2010 when two white students scattered cotton balls across the lawn of the Black Culture Center.

PROTESTER: The front line of the Black Culture Center.

LAUREN SMITH: Some of the White people in the crowd tried to drown them out by using the Mizzou chant, M-I-Z-Z-O-U.



LAUREN SMITH: The whole time, Tim Wolfe stays in his car. He says nothing to the protesters.

PROTESTER: We have nothing to lose but our chains. We have nothing to lose but our chains.

LAUREN SMITH: After 10 minutes, the protesters do a final chant before they leave the street. You can see the emotion on their faces. You can see the tears. You can hear the pain in their voices. And they were telling each other, it's OK. We're going to get through this. And I knew from seeing that emotion, something was going to happen next. I didn't know what it was but I knew that it wasn't just going to end that day.


You're listening to Black at Mizzou, a documentary from APM Reports. I'm Lauren Brown. We'll take a short break, then I'll tell you what happened when the protest at Mizzou came to a head and how it changed the lives of the people who went through it, including me. You can hear all of the APM Reports education documentaries at or listen to them on The Educate Podcast wherever you get your podcasts. Support for APM Reports comes from Lumina Foundation and the Spencer Foundation. More in a moment. This is APM, American Public Media.

STEVEN JOHN: You're listening to this new documentary on MPR News presents. Programming is supported by the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community located in Prior Lake, a sovereign tribal nation that cares about its members, employees, and the broader region, especially in times like today. Learn more at Support comes from Nystrom and Associates, offering telehealth services for psychiatry therapy and addiction services no matter where you are. Yes, even here. For help, visit or phone 844-NYSTROM.

LAUREN SMITH: From American Public Media, this is an APM Reports documentary, Black at Mizzou. I'm Lauren Brown. This hour I'm telling the story of the protest back in 2015 at the University of Missouri where I went to school and I'm talking with other students about being Black at a predominantly white campus. After the Homecoming protest in the fall of 2015, there were more protests on campus and more racist incidents. Somebody made a swastika on a wall with human feces in one of the dorm bathrooms, and I had my own problems in the dorm.

So right now we're walking into my dorm that I stayed in freshman year, Hatch Hall.

On one of the trips back to campus this year, I took the other producers I was working with to my old dorm. We went down to the student lounge in the basement. A couple of guys were playing ping pong in one end of the room and we sat down on some couches, and I started talking about my first semester on campus and some of the things that happened in this dorm.

During that time, it was a group of white males, two or three white males that used to harass us. They would like knock on the door, kick it, run off, spit out food, throw trash three times a week. It would be something different. One night I said, I can't take it anymore. So I got out the bed and I was like, hey, why do you all keep throwing trash in front of our door? Why do you all keep kicking the door? And so they ran. So I decided I might as well chase them. I don't know what I was going to do in my head but I was just so upset at that point that I just felt like I had to do something.

We went from the second floor to the third floor to the fourth floor to the fifth floor. And they didn't know that I ran track so I was right behind them, like on their heels. They got into their room, slammed the door, and they kept saying, B, get away from the door. B, get away from the door. And I was right there outside the room. I would have stayed there all night but my friends just told me, come on. Let's go. We'll figure it out.

We talked to our RA and then she sent us to the next person up and we had a conversation about what was going on. And then she had a conversation with the males about what was going on, but nothing happened. We scheduled a meeting with the Office of Civil Rights and Title IX. They wrote down what happened. A few days later, they followed up to say they had the incident on file. And they said, reach back out to us if you need anything else. We just had to go back to regular life.

But I worked at the restaurant in the basement of the dorm with them. I went to work one day and I saw that we were on the same shift and I told my boss, I said, I can't work here anymore. So they asked me why and I told them I can't work here because these guys that continue to just harass us work here. So I quit that job.

And then I made a list of everything that happened from the first day they did it to the last day. I made a list. It was probably about two pages. And I posted it on Twitter. And a lot of other like Black students were just commenting like that's wrong, that's not right, or whatever. Two Black students messaged me and said they wanted to help and we started texting back and forth. And I met with them at the Black Culture Center. They offered to come to the dorm. They sat outside our room one night.

And so that was a big thing. That really made us feel better. It felt like we had somebody. It felt like we have somebody that was going to protect us in any way that they could. That's when I realized how important Black Mizzou was.


PROTESTER: We, concerned student 1950, demand the immediate removal of Tim Wolfe from offices as president of the University of Missouri System.

LAUREN SMITH: A couple of weeks after the protest at the Homecoming parade, the 11 students issued a list of demands. The group called themselves Concerned Student 1950. That's a reference to the year 1950 when Mizzou first allowed Black students to attend. The group demanded that the president of the University of Missouri System resign. They demanded that Mizzou increase the number of Black faculty members from 3% to 10%, and they said the University should meet the list of demands that Black students had issued way back in 1969.

Those demands came from a student group called the Legion of Black Collegians. It's still around. It's the official Black student government at Mizzou. It's the only Black student government at any public university in the country. They hold elections and organize events like any student government but for Black students.

MIKE MIDDLETON: It was formed because there was nothing here speaking for Black students, that spoke genuinely for Black students.

LAUREN SMITH: Mike Middleton was a student at Mizzou in the late '60s. He was one of the founders of the Legion of Black Collegians. He says the demands he delivered to the chancellor in 1969 were similar to the demands from Black students on other campuses at the time.

MIKE MIDDLETON: More Black students, more Black faculty and staff, more Black Studies program, Black culture, house.

LAUREN SMITH: He says when he got to Mizzou, there were no Black faculty members and not that many Black students.

MIKE MIDDLETON: There were about 150 to 200 African-American students here out of 26,000. So you seldom saw anybody that looked like you on campus. You were either ignored or taunted on a regular basis. I came here on a band scholarship.

And I quit the band and my first semester here because Marching Mizzou would march at the football games while the Kappa Alpha Fraternity waved a Confederate flag in the stands. And the band would play Dixie. And I just couldn't-- I couldn't do that. So I gave up my scholarship and gave up music because of it. I was an angry guy.

I started being a social justice activist when I was seven or eight years old in Mississippi going to NAACP meetings with my aunt mostly. So I would go and sit in the back of the NAACP meetings and listen to the adults talk about this kind of stuff. And when I started seeing the lawyers come South, Thurgood Marshall and others, I figured I could do that. I can talk. I'm going to go to law school and be like them. And that's what I did.

LAUREN SMITH: Mike Middleton got a bachelor's degree and a law degree from Mizzou. He worked as a civil rights attorney for the Justice Department. In the 1980s, he came back to Mizzou. He was the first Black professor in the law school. Then he became an administrator. He was Deputy Chancellor for 17 years. He retired from the University of Missouri in the summer of 2015. Two months later, the protests erupted on campus.

MIKE MIDDLETON: I was proud of the students for what they were doing.


LAUREN SMITH: During my first semester on campus, the protests continued. Members of Concerned Student 1950 kept pushing for the president of the University of Missouri System to step down.

FEMALE REPORTER: They want a handwritten apology from the president. They want him to be removed. They want future presidents to be elected by a collective group of students and staff from diverse backgrounds.

PROTESTER: We are camping out on Carnahan Quad until Wolfe resigns or is fired from his position.

LAUREN SMITH: Protesters set up a dozen tents in the middle of campus. Mike Middleton brought them sleeping bags. One student went on a hunger strike. The number of reporters covering the story kept growing. And then six days after the hunger strike started, the national news media got really excited because the football team joined the protest.

FEMALE REPORTER: Football players announced on Saturday night that they would not participate in team activities until Wolfe is gone.

MALE REPORTER: Their head coach announced his support with a single image of his players locking arms.

FEMALE REPORTER: The team is scheduled to play in Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City on Saturday and the school could lose more than $1 million if the game is canceled.

LAUREN SMITH: And the next day, President Tim Wolfe resigned.

TIM WOLFE: Please, please use this resignation to heal, not to hate.

MALE REPORTER: Tim Wolfe is answering the call for change at the University of Missouri. He stepped down from his post as president amid heated racial tensions at Mizzou's main campus.

TIM WOLFE: I take full responsibility for this frustration. And I take full responsibility for the inaction that has occurred.

MALE REPORTER: The resignation was met with celebration by some students.

LAUREN SMITH: And when Tim Wolfe resigned, we were all right here. All black Mizzou or Black students and even faculty, staff.

On one of my trips back to campus this year, I went back to the Quad and remembered that day in 2015.

Everybody was talking about Tim Wolfe resigned, Tim Wolfe resigned. And then they started playing music. And everybody was dancing and shouting and just kind of just exploding with excitement and just feeling like this worked and maybe some change will happen. I wasn't in Concerned Student 1950 but I still felt their pain and I felt like I was a part of it too. Even though I wasn't in that group, they did something for me. They gave me a voice.

A lot of people don't feel like they are strong enough to be the front person. And so that group kind of gave us something to hold on to like, OK, you're here for me. You're here for me. And so a lot of the Black students, even if they weren't my friends, we started talking, hanging out. I think the feeling lasted for the rest of my time here. I always felt like, this is Black Mizzou. I belong here. These are my people.

And I think I had a new meaning to my own life as a Black woman and just being on this campus in general and just being in this country in this world. I realized that this is just a small place but the world is kind of just like this place. So it kind of gave me a little more confidence, a little more strength to be like, OK, I'm Black. I'm a Black woman, and I'm going to be fine.


But the resignation of the president wasn't the end of the story. The next day, someone made a threat on social media.

MALE REPORTER: Campus police and administrators were on high alert Tuesday night after multiple anonymous threats were posted on social media app Yik Yak.

FEMALE REPORTER: A Missouri man posted that he would shoot every Black person he saw after the University of Missouri president resigned.

MALE REPORTER: It was enough for some professors to cancel classes, although a campus-wide cancelation was never implemented.

LAUREN SMITH: Black students didn't know if we should go to classes. We didn't know if it was safe. So I decided to stay off-campus for the night with my cousin who also went to Mizzou. The police arrested a 19-year-old former Mizzou student for making the threat. He was eventually sentenced to five years of probation.

And then before the week was even over, there was a new interim president of the University of Missouri System.

MIKE MIDDLETON: As the System's interim president, I look forward to collaborating with--

LAUREN SMITH: Remember Mike Middleton, the first Black law professor at Mizzou, the guy who brought sleeping bags to the protesters? He came out of retirement.

MIKE MIDDLETON: I figured when the crisis hit, I started thinking, they're going to call me and ask me to be the interim president. I was having a good time. I was playing a lot of golf and hanging out. And then I got the call. It's kind of like, well, it's about time.

I didn't want to rub it in anybody's face and say, you should have called me 10 years ago or you should have listened to me for the last 10 years. I have no doubt that my color was a large part of why they selected me to be the president. And the only reason that I think they would do that would be so they could show that they were woke. I don't mind that because it gave me the opportunity to do something.

LAUREN SMITH: Mike Middleton had come full circle, from the student activist delivering demands to the administration to the top administrator in the University of Missouri System.

MIKE MIDDLETON: The 22-year-old version of myself probably would have called me a sellout. You're going over to the dark side. But in fact, if you really want to make change, you've got to get inside of that which you are trying to change and change it. Protesting and holding up signs and shutting down offices can be the catalyst for change but somebody has got to be in a position to make the change once that protest starts.

I spent enough time protesting to understand that maybe I could be more effective if I were on the inside of the organization and worked with the people who had control of the strings.

LAUREN SMITH: He says universities have changed since he was in college in the 1960s. Schools have gotten better when it comes to educating and welcoming Black students, but not good enough.

MIKE MIDDLETON: I see it as slow progress. Very slow progress. 50 years and essentially the same issues are being raised. So yeah, that's slow.


I had a good friend Derrick Bell who was the first African-American law professor at Harvard who was also a civil rights lawyer and a government lawyer right before I was. I mean, I kind of followed in his footsteps. And I was talking to Derrick once and I was bemoaning the fact that I was feeling pretty dejected because nothing has changed. You do this work and as long as we've been doing it, nothing has really changed.

And I said, how do you manage to maintain your good humor and happiness? I just-- I don't get it. I'm frankly getting a little pissed and I feel like I'm unsuccessful. He said, Mike, you're measuring success by the wrong measure. If you view success as the elimination of racism in this country, you will probably never see it. So don't set that as your measure of success.

So how do you measure your success? He says, you measure your success by the extent to which you've been engaged in the struggle. I said, well, I've been engaged in the struggle all my life. He said, well, you're pretty successful.

LAUREN SMITH: Mike Middleton was interim president for about a year and a half. He made some changes that he's proud of. Mizzou now has a Vice Chancellor in charge of Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity, and Mike Middleton was actually on the search committee for the newest hire to fill that job. His name is Maurice Gipson.

MAURICE GIPSON: We've spent some time this morning talking about our progress and what we've done since 2015. Now it's important--

LAUREN SMITH: Maurice Gipson was a part of a live video forum this summer. Half a dozen administrators were on the call to talk about Mizzou's plans to be more inclusive. Gipson mentioned something called the ACE report. After the events of 2015, the American Council on Education interviewed students and faculty and staff, and they released a report about Mizzou's racial climate.

MAURICE GIPSON: And quite honestly, they rated us as having low capacity to deal with issues as it relates to racism, insensitivity, and so on, and it said we had low capacity. So we're excited that the new report, the 2020 report has moved us from having a low capacity to solidly moderate.

LAUREN SMITH: Gipson also unveiled some new programs. The school will be reviewing the Campus Police Department's use of force policies and Mizzou will have a new bias hotline.

MAURICE GIPSON: You're going to have an opportunity to report in real-time incidents of bias that happens on the campus. What we're saying as a University is that we're committed to action right as it happens and the bias hotline will help identify the areas that we need to work on immediately.

LAUREN SMITH: On the video call, the administrators also talked about some of their challenges, like the number of Black students at Mizzou has fallen since 2015 and only 4% of Mizzou's faculty members are Black.


The students who were at the University of Missouri in 2015 have moved on. When I was doing interviews for this story, I asked people to look back. I wanted to know what the events of that fall mean to them now.

PAYTON HEAD: We are forever connected. All of us who were there at that time will forever be connected.

LAUREN SMITH: Here's Payton Head.

PAYTON HEAD: I think the solidarity was so important, especially when the media started to tell the story of Mizzou, the story that they wanted to tell because a lot of the media was talking about how bad Mizzou was. I remember one headline said Mizzou, a hotbed of racial harassment. America is a hotbed of racial harassment.


And when we don't admit that, I think that we don't allow ourselves to be able to say like, hey, there are some issues that we can solve together. We can work on this together. But you have to call it what it is.

LAUREN SMITH: After he graduated, Payton got a master's degree in public policy at the University of Chicago. Now he's a public speaker. He goes to campuses around the country and he's been back to Mizzou.

PAYTON HEAD: I have a complicated relationship because in many ways, like I can resent my experience a little bit and be sad about it. But in many ways, I really loved what I went through at Mizzou and who it's made me into. I love the students there, the faculty, the staff, everybody. I love the community and the people who poured into me so that I could be who I am today. And that's why I want to see it be successful. I want to see it do well. I want to see people heal and move on, and I want to see it be a model of excellence for other institutions around the world for not only how you deal with issues like this but how you address them head-on.

ANDREA FULGIAM: I'm not really in touch with Mizzou now.

LAUREN SMITH: Andrea Fulgiam says she went back to Mizzou for one homecoming. She doesn't know how much 2015 changed the school but she says that it changed her.

ANDREA FULGIAM: I think some people are just like, I hate Mizzou or you hate Mizzou. And it's like, no, I feel like Mizzou can do better. I feel like the school has so much potential. Whenever people ask me about my career path and things like that, Mizzou really did help shape me. I started teaching right after I graduated.

And that first year, I was an interventionist. So you work to get students on grade level for reading. And they wanted to do a protest there, 11, 12, 13 years old. They wanted to walk out for Black Lives Matter and they're like, hey, Miss Fulgiam. What do you think about protest? And I'm just like, I feel like you should find that out for yourself. So I wasn't really trying to answer their question because I honestly did not know how to respond.

And then they go, we googled your name and we want you to be honest because we see what you did at your school. I was like, OK. This is a bunch of eighth graders and they're basically like we do not want the fluff. We want you to be honest with us.

LAUREN SMITH: Marshall Allen got his bachelor's degree and then stayed at Mizzou for two more years to get a master's. He's applying for PhD programs in Black Studies. Marshall says he's talked with Black people across the country who graduated from Mizzou and from other predominantly white universities.

MARSHALL ALLEN: A lot of Black alumni will tell you I understand that in order for me to do what I needed to do, I needed this higher education. In order for me to be a journalist, to be a teacher, to be an engineer, I needed to have a degree in said field in order to progress. That doesn't mean that while I was here, I liked being here. I lived in this town, I came here, I got a scholarship here, this is where I got the most money from so this is where I came. It doesn't mean I had a blast being here but I knew that this is what I needed to do if I wanted to do x, y, and z.

LAUREN SMITH: Marshall says the protests of 2015 were huge for the people who were in them, but he's skeptical about them making a lasting difference on the school.

MARSHALL ALLEN: I'm not saying we didn't do what we were supposed to do. I'm not saying that the Black students and the Black community at Mizzou didn't do what they were supposed to do. But what exactly changed? When people ask me what I felt like I did, I tell them the same thing, I just made a couple of white folk uncomfortable.

I made them feel annoyed. I made them feel like they didn't want to spend any time in Memorial Union or they didn't really want to walk around campus because they were afraid they were going to see Black students and all Blacks saying Black Lives Matter or something like that. I made a couple-- I made a couple of white students uncomfortable. I made a couple white administrators uncomfortable. When you talk about the actual changes that were demanded of the University, not too much of that has actually happened.

LAUREN SMITH: But there was something else I wanted to talk with Marshall about. Remember when I told you about getting harassed in my dorm and that two Black students came over and sat outside my door, one of them was Marshall. I had never talked to him about it.

I was explaining to them the harassment in the dorm and how y'all told me you would sit outside my dorm room to make sure we were OK, to make sure we were safe. And like that was just so important to me because it was like I never really experienced like racism that heavy. Like I always tell them when I got here, like I was like, this is the real world. Like my dad told me that this is the real world. Like you've been living in this little fantasy land. This stuff is still going on.

So like I really appreciated that. Like I really thank you for that. And I feel like that's something like I'll never forget like ever. That's always going to stay with me forever. And I think that's the community that we were during that time. Like I never felt so proud to be Black. I never felt so proud to be a Black woman. I never felt so like so strong, I never felt so like powerful like y'all did that for me. Sorry.

MARSHALL ALLEN: Yeah. OK. Yeah. In my head, that was the work that needed to be done. I sit out there all night. I've got homework. I have people that I can come in and we can all sit outside the dorm. A lot of times people think that when you're trying to make a difference, they always assume that it's this large and this very grandiose idea of change. But oftentimes, it is those small actions. Because like I said, in essence, that's what it means to be a community. You need help, we're supposed to be there.


LAUREN SMITH: This summer, protests broke out across the country after George Floyd was killed by police in Minneapolis and Black Mizzou Twitter blew up too. Current students and alums tweeted about what it was like to be Black at Mizzou.

ARIANA GILES: Praying for a Black student to be in the same class with you just to feel like you aren't alone. Hashtag, blackatmizzou.

STANLEY KALU: Walking out the Mizzou store with a white friend of mine when the alarms go off and only my backpack gets searched. Hashtag blackatmizzou.

SYDNEY ROBINSON: Existing in two completely different worlds with different traditions and histories until they need you for a photo op. Hashtag blackatmizzou.

LAUREN SMITH: And it happened at other schools too. I was talking about this with producer Sabby Robinson. She's Black too and she also went to a predominantly white University, USC. She told me she's been seeing social media posts like the ones at Mizzou from Black students around the country.

SABBY ROBINSON: I've seen Instagram accounts dedicated to posting anonymous accounts of racism from students at dozens of universities and colleges around the country. I'm just going to read a few of them. After the USC versus Colorado game, I ran into a grown white man who was wearing full blackface, curly wig and all. It was 2019 and not a single person called him on it. Hashtag blackatusc.

One from a Black at Tulane Instagram account reads, being Black at Tulane is asking upperclassmen and alumni which professors to avoid because they're racist. And here's one more. My professor would ask me to speak in front of the class to demonstrate African-American vernacular. And when I didn't speak how she thought I should, she thought I was joking. She told me to speak how I would at home, and I did, but it wasn't to her liking. Hashtag blackattemple.

LAUREN SMITH: It's sad to see that this is going on in other places, but it's also-- it makes me feel more connected, like we're brothers, we're sisters, we're in this together. And I'm going to vouch for you, I'm going to believe you when you say that these things are happening to you because a lot of times people think that you're making it up or it's not that serious and it's like, no, it is. Like this is a threat to our lives and our being. So it's like we have to say something. At a certain point, you just have to say something. You have to speak up. You have to put your voice out there.

SABBY ROBINSON: Yeah, I totally agree with you. I mean, I think it was pretty hard reading a lot of these accounts just because you know similar things that have happened to your friends or people that. But at the same time, I thought it was pretty awesome how kind of virtual communities were being built through these accounts. Like people were posting on their stories and like commenting on posts saying, I'm here for you. Even though we're so far apart and in our own places, like during the pandemic, these stories were still like bringing Black students together. And I guess that made me a bit hopeful.


What was it like for you to work on this project?

LAUREN SMITH: So when I first heard about the project, I never thought about myself being in it at all. I never thought about that. So when the idea came about, I remember Sabby you were telling me like, are you sure you want to do this? And I was like, yeah, I can do it. And I didn't think about how it would affect me at all. I didn't think about how it would affect my other job.

So the podcast I work on, it's called We Live Here. And it's about race and class in the Saint Louis region and it was just like every day I was talking about being Black. I'm like, oh my gosh. It's like every day at my regular day job, I'm like race and class in the Saint Louis region. Then with APM, I'm like race at Mizzou. It's just like a gift and a curse in a way. It's like it's a gift because I want to shine light on these issues, I want to bring these stories to life, but the curse is that it's like it's so much weight on me. And I'm happy that I stuck it through. I hope that this pushes the needle, this moves things. I hope that one day things are better for Black students at any college.


You've been listening to Black at Mizzou, Confronting Race on Campus from APM Reports. It was produced by me, Lauren Brown, Alex Baumhardt, Sabby Robinson, and Chris Julin. Our editor is Catherine Winter. Our web producer is Andy Cruz. Mixing by Craig Dawson. Additional reporting by John Hernandez. Our fact checker is Betsy Towner Levine.

The APM Reports team includes Emily Hanford and Sasha Aslanian. The editor-in-chief of APM Reports is Chris Worthington. Thanks to Ariana Giles, Stanley Kalu, and Sydney Robinson for reading the Mizzou tweets. Black at Mizzou is one of three programs in APM reports new season of education documentaries. You can get them all by subscribing to the podcast Educate. Find out how at

We love to hear from you. Send us an email at or find us on Twitter, Educate Podcast. We're also on Facebook. Support for APM Reports comes from Lumina Foundation and the Spencer Foundation. This is APM, American Public Media.


Materials created/edited/published by Archive team as an assigned project during remote work period and in office during fiscal 2021-2022 period.

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