Students and a communications professor had blocked media from entering the University of Missouri (Mizzou) quad during the past week's highly charged protests, but now say they welcome the press attention, reports Josh Logue for Inside Higher Ed.
Supporters of Concerned Student 1950, a student organization aimed at raising awareness about racial discrimination at the university, had camped out on the quad at the flagship campus in Columbia. Students designated it as a place where minority students could discuss their experiences with racism on campus. Tents and sleeping bags littered the area, along with homemade posters declaring "No Media" aimed at keeping out reporters who had come to document the campus unrest.
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"We were having some difficult dialogues there, talking about race," Jonathan Butler, a Mizzou graduate student who went on a hunger strike until system President Tim Wolfe resigned, told the Los Angeles Times. "That's a very sensitive space to be in and be vulnerable in."
The group wanted the quad to be a space where minority students felt comfortable sharing with each other, rather than "a space where people are going to cover a story, exoticize people who are going through pain and struggle," Butler added.
Despite the signs, many members of the media attempted to record the events on the public quad, and were—quite literally—shoved aside.
Photojournalist and Mizzou student Tim Tai was on assignment for ESPN and attempted to photograph the scene Monday. Protestors told Tai that he needed to leave, pushing him back and chanting, "Ho ho, reporters have got to go."
Local photographer Mark Schierbecker filmed the encounter while Tai attempted to take photos over protestors' heads as they raised their hands to block his camera. "The First Amendment protects your right to be here and mine," Tai told the protestors multiple times.
Schierbecker uploaded the video to YouTube and it quickly went viral, reaching over two million views in two days. Reactions were overwhelmingly negative, with widespread outrage on social media saying that the protestors were exercising their First Amendment rights, while denying the press theirs.
"Legally, [Tai] was on completely rock-solid ground,” says Frank LoMonte, Student Press Law Center's executive director. "History is not the private property of the people who make it," he added, saying that the protest was on a public quad at a public university, giving everybody—protestors and media alike—the right to be there.
One major source of outrage was aimed at a specific protestor. In a longer version of Monday's video, Melissa Click, a Mizzou communications professor, can be seen asking other protestors: "Who wants to help me get this reporter out of here? I need some muscle over here."
At the time of filming, Click also held a courtesy appointment with the school of journalism. She has since resigned from that appointment and apologized.
By mid-Tuesday, all of the "no media" signs had been taken down by Concerned Student 1950 organizers and replaced with leaflets that affirmed the media's right to be there. "We're learning and growing from this," the leaflets noted, welcoming the media to "tell our story and experiences at Mizzou to the world" (Logue, Inside Higher Ed, 11/11).
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