Students support hunger striker after talk with UM president

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COLUMBIA - University of Missouri system president Tim Wolfe spoke Tuesday with students staging protests, including a hunger strike, calling for his ouster, in part, because of racial tensions on campus.

Wolfe talked with a group known as Concerned Student 1950 in an impromptu meeting at University Hall.

Members began camping out on the lawn of Tiger Plaza Monday night, in an effort to show their discontent with Wolfe and support their peer, fellow grad student Jonathan Butler, who is on a hunger strike.

In a letter to the UM Board of Curators, Butler said he will not eat until Wolfe resigns or is fired or his body fails him.

Representatives of Concerned Student 1950 said they were dissatisfied with the conversation and Wolfe’s request to have an open dialogue.

“Change doesn’t come from being reactive, it comes from being proactive,” said organizer Ayanna Poole. “He actually didn’t ask any questions, just took in the information and told us he is working and acting. That is exactly what it is, it is not action, it is acting.”

Five students from Concerned Student 1950 spoke with Wolfe and said they asked for Wolfe’s resignation, explained why Wolfe was a problem to the UM system and attempted to get Wolfe to understand his white privilege. 

The protesters said their activism was prompted by the absence of response from Wolfe to a number of campus issues. Those include a lack of graduate student health care, the use of racial slurs on campus against black students, the end of Planned Parenthood contracts and anti-Semitic graffiti within campus residence halls.

The students said they plan to continue to peacefully protest and that support is growing. While Tuesday night's turnout cannot be predicated, Poole said around 40 students gathered Monday night at the campsite to show their alliance, but limited tent space allowed for only seven to sleep there through the night.

Concerned Student 1950 said it hasn’t been asked to move, because it has the right to protest on campus. Major Brian Weimer, of MU campus police, said the department is aware of the activity and monitoring campus.

“Right now, everything is going peaceful and there are no issues being addressed to us about this,” Weimer said.

While the protester's efforts have not triggered any administrative change as of yet, Poole said they are dedicated to putting in the work and making their case more strongly for Wolfe to leave.

“He has no intention on resigning,” Poole said. “There are two options. He resigns or we work to fire him. He wants to sway Jonathan otherwise, but Jonathan is very adamant.”

Another member of the group, Shelbey Parnell, said Butler is the only person participating in the hunger strike. however students will show support by choosing select days to fast. Parnell said Butler had been preparing for the hunger strike and consulted with a doctor before making his pledge.

“We only found out a few hours before he began. People feel like we support it. We support him,” Parnell said. “I would just hate to see that his life is lost in the middle of all of this.”

UPDATE: The group will begin boycotting all sales on MU's campus beginning Wednesday. It will continue until Tim Wolfe steps down.