The fall 2015 protests shaped University of Missouri’s Class of 2019 and still echo through the university today. The protests were the catalyst for years of activism and advocacy throughout campus.
In this portrait series, current seniors, moments from graduation, reflect on how the protests that rocked MU framed their experiences for life. The first-hand history fades when they cross the stage. Each portrait was made in locations of personal significance during the time of the protests.
Humera Lodhi, a Columbia native who always felt welcome in her town, was the sole hijabi in her journalism lecture classes during the protests. She says that welcome feeling faded around that time. “It made me realize, I think, these issues of racism and intolerance are pretty deeply rooted within people and pretty hidden. And so I started seeing them in places that I didn’t before and in my city. And then that was something that I really saw within the next four years of my college experience,” she said. Lodhi says the mosque, the Islamic Center of Central Missouri, pictured right, was her safe space during that fall and has continued to serve as a home during her studies.
On Sunday, Nov. 8, 2015 as CS1950 student activists drum up a supporting cast of students, professors and community members, Kelsie Wilkins, pictured above could be seen as a leader of the Legion of Black Collegian’s Freshman Action Team. “I knew I needed to go to the Black Culture Center,” Wilkins remembers thinking when she arrived on campus, “because one way of making home somewhere is finding people you can connect with instantly.”
“‘Oh my gosh, I didn’t know you went to a racist school,’” Mikaela O’Barr recalls extended family members saying to her during fall 2015. Her military family moved often while growing up, but settled in Missouri her senior year of high school. Her college decision would determine where her younger sister and brother went, as well. Her father swayed her to choose MU. Later, sitting at home in Waynesville, Missouri during Thanksgiving, O’Barr’s father expressed regret.
On the 20-minute car ride home Alex Carranza, a freshman then, cried for the second time that day. He says after that long day he needed to be home, on the swing at his family’s property outside the city limits. “I was just overwhelmed,” he said. “On campus I felt everything was crashing on top of me, but once I came here I could just breathe. I thought college was going to be this TV-like experience, but after the threats and CS1950 I was terrified.”
On the night of Trump’s inauguration, four white men in a car yelled racial slurs to Swee-Yang Yong while she was walking home. She kept walking, but then turned around. “I leaned on their open window, and I said, ‘Why did you say that?’” Yong cried on her walk back to the dorm. “I think that was a moment where I really realized I wasn’t yet comfortable in myself and my ethnic identity,” Yong said. Yong, pictured above at the intersection where it occurred, filed a partial license plate number, but nothing was found.
Beck Jaeckels was a senior in high school during the fall 2015 protests. She was deciding between the University of North Carolina and University of Missouri before that. During the protests, as she scanned through twitter and began reading about what was happening, she realized she needed to attend MU because she wanted to investigate race relations through research. “I just felt this urgency to be here, to be part of the conversation and part of the solution,” she said.