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Mizzou professor who declared herself 'more than the n-word' grapples with national response

Mizzou professor who declared herself 'more than the n-word' grapples with national response

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Mizzou professor Cyndi Frisby

Cyndi Frisby with her grandson, Jaxon.

Cyndi Frisby loves Facebook. Her posts include inspirational or affirming quotes and a generous dose of selfies. It’s her go-to place to gush about her adorable grandson, Jaxon. Sharing has never been an issue for Frisby.

So on Nov. 7, she weighed in on race issues on the University of Missouri’s Columbia campus, using personal experiences. The post brought the journalism professor national attention, including interviews on CNN and MSNBC, but also hate mail that left her second-guessing whether she should have written the post.

“I have lived in Columbia and been at the university for almost 18 years. During this time, I have been called the n-word too many times to count,” Frisby wrote early in her post.

On Thursday, after her posting was published in the Columbia Missourian, then online by Huffington Post and Time magazine, she put a message out to her 4,700 Facebook friends asking for prayers.

“I have received too many messages like this,” Frisby said, sharing a response from a 58-year-old white man:

“You seem to focus on every ‘bad’ thing that ever happened to you as if YOU were the only one who was ever called a name that they didn’t like,” the man wrote in response to Frisby’s post. “I wonder if you have any idea of what ‘other’ races have had to endure.”

In her essay, she shared the story of jogging off campus in May. A white man in a truck with a Confederate flag displayed drove by.

“Not only did he spit at me, he called me the n-word and gave me the finger,” Frisby wrote. She said she called the man a coward and challenged him to get out of his vehicle and say the derogatory things to her face, but he drove off.

“And yes I have had a few faculty call me the n-word and treat me with incredible disrespect. Yes, faculty,” Frisby wrote.

Frisby said she is frequently asked why she stays if the environment is so bad.

“I find these to be teachable moments that I use in my classroom with my students,” Frisby wrote. She added that “choosing to overlook these idiots doesn’t make me a ‘sell out’ or an Uncle Tom. I choose to endure because my mom and civil rights leaders taught me to never run but stand straight, tall.”

In an interview with the Post-Dispatch, she said issues of differences are addressed head-on in her cross-cultural class, where her mantra is “there are no dumb questions.”

But the demeaning, racially charged responses she began getting with all the attention that came from her Facebook post began taking their toll. Two days after she wrote the post, she said she got an email that became widely distributed on social media.

“You ugly (expletives) are good for one thing: Pickin’ cotton! All of you should be expelled for causing trouble on campus!”

Below the message the sender posted a photo of a Confederate flag.

Frisby shrugged off most of the hateful responses, sharing them on Facebook to let her friends know what kind of feedback she was getting. But by early Thursday, three days after the university president and chancellor were ousted, Frisby felt defeated.

“I can’t stop crying. I was strong until right now,” Frisby wrote in a 6:40 a.m. post. “They have brought me to my knees. Was I wrong? I have been called a pathological liar. I am shivering. I am now doubting myself. I am doubting my updates. Not my stories but whether or not I did the right thing by posting and sharing. I just want to stop crying friends. It saddens my heart that even in the aftermath in 2015, the hatred continues and is strong.”

Frisby told a reporter she does not have the answers although she keeps getting asked for them.

She is glad conversations about race are underway. They should have been years before. A few resignations are not the answer, but it’s a start. With the spotlight on Mizzou, perhaps serious changes can be made to increase diversity in faculty and the student body, she said. Maybe the university in the middle of the state can become known as a place of inclusion.

She said it is time to stop looking at people through a single, simple and hateful lens.

By Friday, the Frisby that her Facebook friends are familiar with seemed herself again. At least on social media, where she was posting with a vengeance.

“The scariest thing I will do on Friday the 13th is check my bank account,” Frisby shared on Facebook, quickly followed by: “You may have had a bad past but you don’t have to have a bad future. Leave it behind you and stay positive.”

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Doug Moore is a former reporter for the P-D. Currently, policy director for St. Louis County Council.

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