When the president of the University of Missouri finally stepped down, graduate student Jonathan Butler – who had been on a hunger strike for a week – insisted that people not focus on him but instead on the issues that made students feel this action was necessary.
“Please stop focusing on the fact of the Mizzou hunger strike itself,” Butler told a crowd of students and reporters Monday. “Look at why did we have to get here in the first place. And why the struggle and why we had to fight the way that we did.”
Missouri Profile | FindTheHome
The resignation of Missouri president Tim Wolfe came after months of protest by Butler and a group called Concerned Student 1950, a reference to the first year black students were accepted by the university.
Butler, 25, is a graduate student at Missouri where he also completed his undergraduate work.
In an interview with The Washington Post he said he studied business administration as an undergraduate and is pursuing a master’s degree in educational leadership and policy.
He told the Post he traveled to Ferguson, Missouri following the shooting of a black man by a white police officer, and was energized by the protests there.
READ MORE: Missouri university president resigns amid complaints of racism
The Concerned Student 1950 protest began in September, after a series of racially charged incidents on the overwhelmingly white campus. There were complaints of racial slurs and in one case a student made a swastika out of human feces on the floor and wall of a dormitory.
Protesters led by Butler confronted Wolfe at the university’s homecoming parade on Oct. 10 over perceived inaction from administration to alleged racist incidents.
We are #ConcernedStudent1950, we are catalysts for change, and we do this with radical love in our hearts.
— JB. (@_JonathanButler) November 9, 2015
Butler announced his hunger strike in a letter on Nov.2, declaring that he would not eat food or any other nutritional supplement until either Wolfe is removed from office or, until his “internal organs fail and my life is lost.” The blossoming activist who made international headlines told CNN that since he arrived at Missouri he felt “unsafe.”
“I felt unsafe since the moment I stepped on this campus,” he said. “My first semester here, I had someone write the n-word on my wall. I’ve been, physically, in altercations with white gentleman on campus.”
Wolfe later responded to the hunger strike in separate statements on Nov. 3 and Nov. 6, saying he was concerned for Butler’s health and acknowledged the existence of racism on Missouri’s campus, but refused to resign.
WATCH: University of Missouri System president resigns amid criticism of handling of racial issues
“Racism does exist at our university and it is unacceptable. It is a long-standing, systemic problem which daily affects our family of students, faculty and staff,” Wolfe said in a statement. “I am sorry this is the case. I truly want all members of our university community to feel included, valued and safe.”
Butler’s hunger strike was given a major boost of support when some of the Missouri football players banded together and said that unless Wolfe resigned they would skip Saturday’s game against BYU in Kansas City, which would have cost the school more than $1 million.
The Mizzou Family stands as one. We are united. We are behind our players. #ConcernedStudent1950 GP pic.twitter老域名购买/fMHbPPTTKl — Coach Gary Pinkel (@GaryPinkel) November 8, 2015
At a news conference Monday, head football coach Gary Pinkel and athletic director Mack Rhoades said that more than 30 player on the team were concerned with the health of Jonathan Butler
“They’ve never seen a person dying in front of them,” Rhoades told reporter. “We had a discussion, and it wasn’t about any one person resigning. It was about what can we do to make sure that Jonathan Butler eats.”
Donald Cupps, chair of the University of Missouri Board of Curators, issued a statement in the wake of Wolfe’s resignation and apologized to the students of Missouri.
“To those who have suffered, I apologize on behalf of the university for being slow to respond to experiences that are unacceptable and offensive in our campus communities and in our society,” Cupps said. “Significant changes are required to move us forward. The board is committed to making those changes.”
*With files from the Associated Press