October 21, 2015
The faculty of the Department of Religious Studies stand united with students fighting against racism on our campus.
Recent incidents of race-based hatred do not represent something new, but are only the latest in a history of abuse perpetrated by some associated with our University against others in our community. As organizations like the Legion of Black Collegians and the Concerned Student 1950 group have raised their voices and put their bodies on the line to disrupt business as usual and call attention to the problems tearing at the heart of our institution, we have not heard a satisfying response from those who are charged with the responsibility of leading the campus and the University. Mizzou’s much-emphasized values of respect, responsibility, discovery, and excellence would suggest that combatting incidents of racism, disrespect, stereotype, and exclusion should be a top priority and worthy of sustained, highly visible public conversation and policy considerations. So far, the Chancellor and the President of the University have failed to uphold their responsibility to respond in a meaningful manner.
As scholars of religion we study, among other things, how human communities construct themselves through dynamics of inclusion and exclusion that are linked to professed values and conceptions of nature, social structure, and cosmology. We are familiar with the ways that communities and the individuals sustained by those communities represent self and other through words and behaviors that construct classifications of human, superhuman, and subhuman. We work hard to identify and deconstruct histories and traditions — including those on this campus — that make such classifications appear natural and socially acceptable. It is important to us that our students learn to recognize these processes at work in their own communities.
We are committed to the idea that higher education can only succeed when all students are considered to be equally valuable human beings, and all are treated with respect and dignity by all members of our community. We are committed to the idea that in diversity lie strength and knowledge, and that we can only learn from diversity when we learn to listen and take each others’ experiences seriously. We are therefore committed to fighting the climate of racism on our campus, and we call for campus and university leaders to practice the values of respect, responsibility, discovery, and excellence toward those in our midst who are urgently calling for our attention.