I‘m probably a little late to the party on this whole “Missouri protesters violate a journalist’s rights” thing, but that’s the downside of taking time before I write.
If you’ve missed it so far, the story goes like this: A bunch of racist things happened on the University of Missouri’s campus this fall, and the university’s president was sort of like, “Whatever. I mean, OK, it’s a big deal.”
Then a group called Concerned Student 1950 (a reference to the year that Missouri first admitted black students) formed and protested the homecoming parade, eventually requesting the president’s resignation. After a student began a hunger strike, members of the school’s football team announced they would not play until president Tim Wolfe resigned. On Monday, he did.
Then, student journalist and former Tulsa World intern Tim Tai showed up to the Concerned Student 1950 campsite on a university lawn and this happened:
That’s right, the amalgamated protest group that had claimed its right to assemble in a public space made a very bad decision in the heat of the moment: to physically, forcefully and ignorantly deny the First Amendment rights of another student (and journalist) to be in the same public space.
If you didn’t watch through the end of the video above, please do. You can start at the 6:00 mark and watch the final 36 seconds. A woman with red hair begins telling Mr. Tai’s videographer, “You need to get out. You need to get out.”
“No, I don’t,” he replies, before the woman grabs his camera and becomes visibly angry.
“Hey, who wants to help me get this reporter out of here?” she bellows to the crowd. “I need some muscle over here!”
The woman who tells cameraman he can’t be there & asks for “muscle” to remove him is Mizzou Assistant Professor of Mass Media @melissaclick
— Dylan Byers (@DylanByers) November 10, 2015
It turns out that the woman requesting physical assistance in removing a journalist from public property is, in fact, a communications professor. From Gawker:
(Melissa) Click holds a PhD in Communication and focuses her research on “popular culture texts and audiences, particularly texts and audiences disdained in mainstream culture,” according to her faculty page. Her current research projects include “50 Shades of Grey readers” and “the impact of social media in fans’ relationship with Lady Gaga.”
The impact of social media in fans’ relationship with Lady Gaga? No wonder Ms. Click wanted to take part in something important.
Unfortunately, she — and many students — made a bad decision, one that not only violated basic American principles but that also overshadowed an otherwise impressive effort to force the flagship university of Missouri to hire a president who could actually empathize with and support the needs of minority students.
But here’s the thing.
College campuses are for making mistakes, taking risks and learning along the way. Viewed in that light, perhaps we should all be pretty happy that things went down as they did.
While Ms. Click (who just resigned her “courtesy appointment” to Mizzou’s famed journalism school) is a full-blown adult who should have understood things like First Amendment rights and “communications optics,” the vast majority of people involved in the Missouri protests have been college students.
And college students are supposed to learn.
There’s no better method of learning than doing — and then experiencing consequences or results.
As a result, students involved in the Concerned Student 1950 movement will conceivably learn a ton this month and in the months to come.
They will have learned how to effect change, and they will have learned how one poorly conceived moment (caught on camera and published on YouTube) can undermine public perception of one’s efforts.
They will have learned, I hope, how to press forward with lasting influence once the cameras turn off and the public lawns empty. (Wolfe’s resignation and a lot of hand-holding don’t do anything to address the educational inequities facing minority communities in Missouri or the country. That’s a long fight full of policy discussions and strategic, positive consensus building.)
They will have learned a thing or two about the press: Chiefly, that people usually cause themselves headaches when berating reporters, no matter what 2016 GOP presidential candidates might say.
They will have learned that even faculty make mistakes; that it’s easy to be swept up in a moment and forget your principles.
And they will learn, I hope, that it’s OK to make such a mistake. That, in life, we are not defined only by our most embarrassing or regrettable moments, but also by how we continue forward after them and learn lessons along the way.
How contrite can we be? Can we admit we were wrong? Can we express an understanding that we had a “teachable moment,” as America’s first black president would say?
Because that’s what you are supposed to do on a college campus.
Good job, Missouri Tigers. It would seem you are getting an education.