FemTechNet Statement in support of Melissa Click and Concerned Student 1950

June 1st, 2016

As scholars, makers and artists invested in feminist media and technology, we approach the issues raised by Concerned Student 1950 and the related firing of Dr. Melissa Click from the expertise of our collective. Numerous organisations and networks have issued statements of solidarity with Concerned Student 1950 and have rejected the University of Missouri’s unauthorized firing of Dr. Melissa Click for her actions in support of Concerned Student 1950. We also highlight our rejection of the mainstream media’s focus on first amendment rights of the press, and a resulting lack of attention to the civil rights concerns expressed by the Concerned Student 1950 movement.

We are concerned that video clips presented out of context in social and mainstream media have focused attention on Melissa Click, framing her as an agitator, and have removed attention from the civil rights demands of the Concerned Student 1950 movement. We find that Click’s taped actions, in fact, demonstrate support for students who felt unsafe in the face of violent threats issued against them on their university campus—both by protestors in the public Mizzou spaces and residence halls, and via social media. Feminist and critical media scholars have carefully documented practices whereby viral video footage fails as evidence because it shows only one part of a larger story. In this case, a student (who was not on assignment, and failed to present himself with reporting credentials) imposed aggressive body and verbal language upon Click and student protestors; nevertheless, viral video clips frame Click as aggressor and reporters as victims. Feminist media scholars understand that the individual holding the camera, rather than the subject of the camera, is deemed to hold greater power; viral repetitive of these biased clips created a story whereby Click and student protestors were represented as unwilling subjects of a valid and benevolent press. Feminist postcolonial scholars have also shown that mainstream rights to freedom of the press often trump the rights of populations who protest discrimination based on race and ethnicity. In fact, Concerned Student 1950 had provided unfettered access of the press to their protest until the moment that the University President met their request to resign. Following this announcement, there was significant campus unrest and no security was present to ensure safety; Concerned Student 1950 requested a private moment from the press to discuss and weigh safety concerns and determine their response to resignation. The disproportionate attention to the media’s supposed lack of access to student protestors for this short period served as a smokescreen that veiled the demands for safety and civil rights articulated by Concerned Student 1950.

Mainstream media has framed Click’s critical popular cultural scholarship as a form of “low culture” unworthy of a lauded educational institution. These claims reflect masculinist and racist biases that privilege the white, male, upper income culture associated with the leadership of the University of Missouri. The mainstream media and university framed Click as aggressive and potentially violent when she called for “muscle” to remove an aggressive reporter from the student encampment, reflecting a host of biases. Citing Click’s actions as aggressive, rather than as civil rights action, reflects the flawed assumption that female behaviour in public spaces should be passive and pleasing. These biases diminish the pain and fear of black students at Mizzou who routinely suffer racialized threats in campus and social media spaces, and feel unsafe at the university to which they pay tuition. Such comments reflect cultural class and racial biases that privilege the class of the reporter over the student or the civil rights advocate. In asking Click to conspire in these biases, Mizzou asks the public to demand that university professors comply with racist, classist and sexist standards of behavior.

We understand Click’s actions in support of Concerned Student 1950 as a welcome form of support for essential civil rights guaranteed by the US Constitution. Click’s actions demonstrate behaviours that feminist scholars strive to enact across our many roles–as professors, citizens, colleagues, parents, friends, advocates and more. Decades of feminist scholarship supports our commitment to working in all spaces—both public and private– in manners that are ethical, compassionate and empathic, and we applaud Click’s actions in this regard.

FemTechNet makes the following demands:

That the University of Missouri:

  • Dialogue with and meet the demands of Concerned Student 1950. These demands include that the University:
    • Meets the Legion of Black of Black Collegians’ demands that were presented in 1969 for the betterment of the black community.
    • Creates and enforces comprehensive racial awareness and inclusion curriculum throughout all campus departments and units, mandatory for all students, faculty, staff, and administration. This curriculum must be vetted, maintained, and overseen by a board comprised of students, staff, and faculty of color.
    • That by the academic year 2017/18, the university increases the percentage of black faculty and staff campus wide to 10%.
    • That the University of Missouri composes a strategic 10-year plan by May 1, 2016, that will increase retention rates for marginalized students, sustain diversity curriculum and training and promote a safer and more inclusive campus.
  • As demanded by the American Association of University Professors (the AAUP,) that the University should reinstate Dr. Click to her faculty position, and adhere to common principles regarding academic freedom and tenure procedure (as detailed in the “1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure”). As such, the university should defer any questions regarding Click’s status to the faculty Council, who rightfully adjudicates any such cases, if and when they see fit.