COLUMBIA | Two University of Missouri students have been arrested on suspicion of hate crimes after cotton balls were scattered outside the Black Culture Center.
Campus police arrested a 19-year-old freshman and a 21-year-old senior Tuesday night based on an anonymous tip. The two men face possible charges of felony tampering and have been suspended from school.
The freshman suspect is from Kearney and a Naval ROTC midshipman. The senior is from St. Louis. The Associated Press is not identifying them by name because criminal charges have not been filed.
The Feb. 26 incident during Black History Month sparked widespread concern on the 30,000-student campus. A Monday night town hall meeting at the Gaines/Oldham Black Culture Center drew an overflow crowd of several hundred students and administrators.
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Many participants said the cotton balls, which invoked images of slavery, indicated broader racial tensions on campus.
But Roger Worthington, the school's chief diversity officer, called it “an isolated incident” — but one that nonetheless “has the capacity to stimulate concerns about diversity broadly.”
“Incidents like this often times have the impact of raising greater awareness of whatever issues exist,” he said.
Among the issues discussed Monday night was the need for a mandatory undergraduate diversity course. A faculty task force is considering the requirement as part of a larger curriculum review.
Blacks account for 8.6 percent of the Missouri student body but are enrolled in record numbers at the flagship campus. From 2007 to 2009, the number of black undergraduates increased by 24 percent.
The two men were released from the Boone County Jail on Wednesday after posting $4,500 bonds. Assistant prosecutor Ryan Haigh said the case is under review. A preliminary hearing is set for March 29.
“At this point, we haven't filed any charges,” Haigh said.
The Missouri incident was one of several on college campuses that inflamed racial tensions during Black History Month.
At the University of California San Diego, invitations to an off-campus “Compton Cookout” party in February urged people to dress as ghetto stereotypes and promised there would be chicken, watermelon and malt liquor.
A noose hanging in the main campus library further roiled students on that southern California campus. A female student later claimed responsibility for what she called “a stupid mistake” with no racist intent.