Cornered Students Exercise “The Privilege”


Kevin Lam

Before the eyes of the world were focused on the Paris massacre, the national headlines were all about the protests at University of Missouri. Students were clamoring for the change about racism on campus and seeking to change the  bureaucratic school administration – which hindered the development of the school.

In October, Mizzou students began protesting after an increase in reports of racism on campus. The protesting students called themselves, “Cornered Student 1950,” because black students were first admitted after that year. Payton Head, who is an African American student at University of Missouri, had told reporters that he had been called the n-word in the face when he was walking down the street with friends at the Mizzou campus in Columbia. He also said in an interview with The New York Times, “I love this place and I want to see it better…. the next freshmen coming from the south side of Chicago, who is black, who walks around the campus and being called the n-word. That’s what I don’t want to see.”

As a Chicago native, Head was stunned and infuriated, yet, he did not swallow it. Acknowledging the importance and value of freedom of speech and equality, Head posted a long and emotional Facebook post. The line which has been quoted over and over again is this: “I really just want to know why my simple existence is such a threat to society.” His post went viral and gathered supports from students from coast to coast.

Head, as the leader of the school’s student association, owned a public platform. He encouraged everybody who believed they had been mistreated to speak up for themselves. “Very few people are privileged to have the voice to speak up, that people will listen to,” he said. Head also depicted the unfairness and how crippled our society still is, when hijab-wearing Muslims are still being called terrorists, and how transgender people have to deal with the cold stairs every day.

On November 2, one student began a hunger strike and five days later, the Missouri football team announced a boycott of all football-related activities. They wanted the school administration to face the problem sincerely and create a plan to combat the college’s racism problem. On November 9, President of the University, Timothy M. Wolfe resigned in response to the prolonged demonstrations at the school. He admitted the existence of a race problem on Mizzou’s campus.  In addition, he urged the public, not just the students, to use his resignation to heal, not to just cheer.

In class, students were often asked to define freedom of speech. Most students found the legal definition, which is, according to,

             “The right, guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, to express beliefs and ideas without unwarranted government restriction.

However, freedom of speech does exclude the legality of its usage for “Inciting, Provocative, or Offensive Speech” it further explains:

               “Laws that limit inciting or provocative speech, often called fighting words, or offensive expressions such as Pornography, are subject to Strict Scrutiny. It is well established that the government may impose content regulations on certain categories of expression that do not merit First Amendment protection. …,”There are certain well-defined and narrowly limited classes of speech, the prevention and punishment of which have never been thought to raise constitutional problems.”

Freedom of speech is not bluntly – say whatever I want. To enjoy the privilege, one has to be educated, at least to the level that is capable to define “fighting words.” If you cannot, you don’t enjoy the privilege, because it violates American law. In my opinion, students at University of Missouri clearly manifested freedom of speech for a higher purpose – equality.

Student leaders stood up and encouraged those who are educated and believed to have been mistreated to stand up, because silence propels wrongs when it is not being corrected.