An Interview with Melissa Click

Feb 10, 2016

For those following the unrest at the University of Missouri last fall, Melissa Click became a household name after she confronted a student trying to record a gathering of students on a campus quadrangle, shoving the student’s camera and calling for muscle to have him removed from the area.

More than 100 state legislators issued a joint statement last month calling for Click’s removal from her position as a professor in the MU Communication Department. She was eventually suspended by the UM Board of Curators, pending an investigation into her actions last November. The Columbia City Prosecutor also settled with Click, agreeing to defer prosecution of the assault charges pressed against her for one year, and she agreed to do community service.

Click, however, has stayed mostly silent through all of this activity over the last three months. But now, she is breaking that silence. Here is KBIA’s complete interview with Melissa Click:

Melissa Click
Credit Photo provided by Melissa Click

Click says she’s had very little real contact with the members of the group Concerned Student 1950, and never offered them any advice on communications strategy. She says she had been at the student campground the weekend before the resignations of UM System President Tim Wolfe and MU Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin, helping students organize their supplies in their camp. It was on that following Monday that the confrontation with students occurred.

Here is what Click says it is like watching the video now:

“When I watch the video I feel embarrassed, and very sorry for my behavior in that moment. I was there present trying to do good work and to support students that I felt were under threat on campus. I wanted to make sure they were warm and had food. I wasn’t prepared for that encounter. I don’t have any crowd management training. And I was a guest at the camp. And so I didn’t do a good job of handling that encounter. I try and remind myself that even though it’s not a good representation of who I am as a person, that it’s one moment in my life where I did make a mistake. Unfortunately, it was put on YouTube, but it is just one moment in my life and I was there trying to do the right thing.

On what she would have done differently:

“Well things moved very quickly that day. Things felt hectic. And I see myself in the video being very flustered and unprepared to handle that situation. I definitely would’ve slowed down. I would’ve had a more respectful conversation with the person I encountered. The person I encountered (Mark Schierbecker) broke through this spontaneous circle that had formed around the students to give them some time and he didn’t introduce himself the way the professional journalists I had encountered that day commonly introduced themselves. Given that the students were under threat, I was concerned about who he was. So my intention was to protect the students, but I could have done that in a much more peaceful way.”

Here’s how Click responded when asked if she has thought about resigning:

"I think people have brought it up enough that it would be foolish for me to tell you I haven’t thought about it. But I would say that I love the University of Missouri, I love working there. I believe that in my 12 years on faculty I have been a steadfast support of MU’s mission and its students. I don’t believe that anyone’s career should be judged by one mistake, and so I would ask the people who feel I should resign or feel I should be fired to please give me due process, to please put the mistake that I made in context, to keep in mind that even the night before this video was recorded there was a truck driving around the student’s camp to intimidate them. The students were under threat. There weren’t campus police present that I saw. And that left the faculty and staff who were present that day to try and keep peace. I did my best, I made a mistake, I apologized for it. The University of Missouri had some difficulties last fall. I believe that the new administration is really bringing a lot of positivity to campus and I’m really excited about MU’s future and I believe that I can play an important role in that future and I’m going to fight for my job."

On how her actions have impacted the politics surrounding the university:

I think that many public universities are finding their missions at odds with the boards and legislators that govern them. And you know, having reported in the state of Missouri I’m guessing for a long time, that there has been some antagonism between the legislature and the University of Missouri. So I think I’ve become sort of a symbol of that, but I’m by no means the origin of that. I think I might be a convenient symbol at this moment.

I think the fact that the video recorded of my mistake went viral and called attention to me and to what happened that day makes it convenient. I also believe that it’s somewhat convenient to be angry with me instead of the students who actually were the ones - I’m not blaming the students - but it was their movement that caused the change that happened that day. It wasn’t my mistake. I made a mistake as a guest at their camp. But I think it’s easier to express anger at a woman who got flustered and made a mistake than to really engage with the deep racial issues raised by the students.

Here is the full transcript of the interview:

Ryan Famuliner: So how did you first get involved or come across Concerned Student 1950? 

Melissa Click: In October I was at MU’s homecoming parade- like many other members of the MU community- and I noticed that the parade had stopped a couple of blocks from where I was. And I walked down to see what it was and that’s when I encountered Concerned Student 1950. I was really moved by their message, and I was disappointed with the crowd’s reaction to them. It was a fairly antagonistic response. And like many faculty who take a stand for their students when they feel their students need help, I stepped forward and locked arms with the students so that they wouldn’t feel alone in that angry crowd. 

Famuliner: When you say they’re students, did you know any of these students?

Click: I had never met them before, no.

Famuliner: So, why did you decide to jump in relatively quickly without knowing a whole lot about what they were up to? 

Click: I don’t know that I jumped in relatively quickly, but they were clearly emotionally distraught. The actions they were taking were taking a lot out of them and they were recounting moments- racial moments in MU’s past. And there were things I didn’t know about- about MU- and I was really moved by what they were saying. And I felt that they needed support. And I wasn’t the only person that went and stood with them but it was hard to watch and I wanted to offer them support. 

Famuliner: So there’s this encounter with them at homecoming and then was there any contact with 1950 after that? 

Click: Well, I discussed the incident with my classes I was teaching and I had a journalism student in one of my classes who had asked me if I could help facilitate an interview and I learned from another colleague that they had a gmail address and I emailed the gmail address. But nothing ever came of that. I wasn’t able to help facilitate that interview. But no, after that, no. And I didn’t encounter them again until after the MU football team gave their support to the hunger strike. 

Famuliner: So the resignations of Tim Wolfe and Chancellor Loftin happened on a Monday and I think the football team got involved on Saturday or Sunday –

Click: It was early Saturday morning

Famuliner: -- So that’s the timeline. So that’s when you kind of got reintroduced to this group, if you will?

Click: Well I was certainly following- like everybody else in the community- following what would happen with this hunger strike. But no, I didn’t have any engagement with them until that, the football team gave their support to the hunger strike. 

Famuliner: And what was your engagement from that point?

Click: Well I stopped by the camp on Carnahan Quad where the students were living to see if they needed anything. I was pretty late to the party actually. They had a lot of bags of donations from members of the community- they were quite well taken care of. In fact, they had so many donations that they had two tents only full of bags of donations. And so when I asked, “What can I do to help?” the faculty members and staff who were already working at the camp said we need help organizing the supplies. I couldn’t stay on Saturday but I did come back on Sunday and I spent most of the day sorting blankets, and mittens, and hand warmers, and socks, and that’s pretty much what I did all day on Sunday. 

Famuliner: And then returned on Monday?

Click: I returned on Monday like many faculty, staff and graduate students. The graduate students had called a walk-out to support the hunger strike that day and the faculty followed. So I came back to the camp and sorted more donations that had come in and generally tried to help out wherever I could. 

Famuliner: So was there any sort of advice you gave them on communication strategy or anything like that in the way they were working with the press or not working with the press?

Click: No, I know that’s a pretty logical question given my Ph.D. in communication, but the majority of the time I was present on the camp on Sunday I didn’t even encounter the members of Concerned Student 1950. I worked with faculty and staff. I don’t think they even knew that I was f- I don’t think they even knew who I was. And so nobody ever asked me for any advice on what they should be doing nor did I ever offer it. 

Famuliner: What’s it like watching that video now?

Click: When I watch the video I feel embarrassed, and very sorry for my behavior in that moment. I was there present trying to do good work and to support students that I felt were under threat on campus. I wanted to make sure they were warm and had food. I wasn’t prepared for that encounter. I don’t have any crowd management training. And I was a guest at the camp. And so I didn’t do a good job of handling that encounter. I try and remind myself that even though it’s not a good representation of who I am as a person, that it’s one moment in my life where I did make a mistake. Unfortunately, it was put on YouTube, but it is just one moment in my life and I was there trying to do the right thing. 

Famuliner: What would you have done differently?

Click: Well things moved very quickly that day. Things felt hectic. And I see myself in the video being very flustered and unprepared to handle that situation. I definitely would’ve slowed down. I would’ve had a more respectful conversation with the person I encountered (Mark Schierbecker). The person I encountered broke through this spontaneous circle that had formed around the students to give them some time and he didn’t introduce himself the way the professional journalists I had encountered that day commonly introduced themselves. Given that the students were under threat, I was concerned about who he was. So my intention was to protect the students, but I could have done that in a much more peaceful way. 

Famuliner: So would you still do that again if you had the opportunity to- not the way you did it, as you’re saying- but to still try to defend their efforts to have a space for them to meet without press presence?

Click: Well I think there’s a lot of the context of the story that hasn’t been reported. Part of that the students had been speaking to the media all day. They asked for a temporary break to prepare for a press conference they would have in front of the press that day. And so I do believe the students had a right to ask for that quiet moment to plan, to prepare for the press conference. So I still believe in that. How I would handle that differently, I’m not sure I can give you the particulars on that but it would’ve been a lot more peaceful and respectful. 

Famuliner: Afterward, what kind of conversations did you have with the students, the journalists who were students there recording, that you came into contact with in the video?

Click: The day afterward I reached out to both of them and offered my apologies to both of them.

Famuliner: And it’s been reported that one of them (Schierbecker) did not accept the apology.

Click: That’s correct.

Famuliner: And so that obviously, how did that affect your ability to have resolution from this too, I guess? You’ve got somebody who’s not accepting your apology for the thing that you do regret doing.

Click: I think all people can probably identify with making a mistake in their life, and you can only hope that when you make that mistake you are not being recorded. The way that I’ve come to understand that I can’t control how people react to the mistake, I can only say that I’m sorry. The situation became a bit more complicated because the person wouldn’t accept my apology. I don’t know what to say other than that. I wish that he would accept my apology, I wish that I could say it in a way that would be meaningful to him and I’m happy to keep trying. 

Famuliner: This obviously, not just your actions, but others there that day set off a big conversation about the First Amendment and the way it applies in these types of situations. And there are even some state laws that apply interestingly to campuses. Did this experience change your understanding of the First Amendment in any way?

Click: Well I really like what Ken Paulson- who is the president of the First Amendment Center- said in his reflection on the video. He said he didn’t see a violation of the First Amendment, he saw people struggling for their First Amendment rights. And I do believe, while I’m not a First Amendment scholar by any means, the First Amendment’s a bit more complex than the way it’s been reported in many instances reflecting on the video. The students were using their First Amendment rights to assembly to be present, as were the MU faculty and staff who were there. And so again, I didn’t believe the person who approached me was working for the media. And I in fact learned afterward that he was not on assignment that day and was not a journalism student. So my instincts told me that there was something I should be concerned about there. And so my goal was that I should protect the students, who I believed were under threat, and I wanted to protect their First Amendment rights to assembly. 

Famuliner:  There have been calls from state legislators, other people in the community, a curator, for you to be fired or for you to resign. Have you thought about resigning? 

Click: I think people have brought it up enough that it would be foolish for me to tell you I haven’t thought about it. But I would say that I love the University of Missouri, I love working there. I believe that in my 12 years on faculty I have been a steadfast support of MU’s mission and its students. I don’t believe that anyone’s career should be judged by one mistake, and so I would ask the people who feel I should resign or feel I should be fired to please give me due process, to please put the mistake that I made in context, to keep in mind that even the night before this video was recorded there was a truck driving around the student’s camp to intimidate them. The students were under threat. There weren’t campus police present that I saw. And that left the faculty and staff who were present that day to try and keep peace. I did my best, I made a mistake, I apologized for it. The University of Missouri had some difficulties last fall. I believe that the new administration is really bringing a lot of positivity to campus and I’m really excited about MU’s future and I believe that I can play an important role in that future and I’m going to fight for my job. 

Famuliner: There have been some legislators saying this could affect funding for the university. And there’s stories of donors saying they won’t donate until you don’t work here anymore. How does that affect this equation on thinking about how this could affect the university?

Click: I think that many public universities are finding their missions at odds with the boards and legislators that govern them. And you know, having reported in the state of Missouri I’m guessing for a long time, that there has been some antagonism between the legislature and the University of Missouri. So I think I’ve become sort of a symbol of that, but I’m by no means the origin of that. I think I might be a convenient symbol at this moment. 

Famuliner: What makes that so? Why do you think you’re a convenient symbol?

Click: Well I think the fact that the video recorded of my mistake went viral and called attention to me and to what happened that day makes it convenient. I also believe that it’s somewhat convenient to be angry with me instead of the students who actually were the ones- I’m not blaming the students- but it was their movement that caused the change that happened that day. It wasn’t my mistake. I made a mistake as a guest at their camp. But I think it’s easier to express anger at a woman who got flustered and made a mistake than to really engage with the deep racial issues raised by the students. (14:15)

Famuliner: There’s a moment in the video, a few moments before you show up in the video, where there are two African American students talking to each other and one of them has been in a confrontation with one of the journalists and he whispers- no, not whispers. He says to the other one, “Don’t change the story, man. Don’t change the story.” Is that what happened here?

Click: As someone who analyzes the media, I’d say there’s a lot going on here. What has happened is very complex. But I do think that’s part of it. I think there’s a lot of anger directed at the students, directed at the football players, people wanting someone to be held accountable for their president’s resignation. And I see why I might be a convenient target for that. But I think, while I did make a mistake- I’m not trying to justify, by any means, my actions. I regret them and I’m sorry for them. I do think I’m somewhat a convenient target in this situation. 

Famuliner: There’s also been some criticism of your work too. Studying things like Fifty Shades of Grey, Lady Gaga. And that’s something from legislators saying, “We need to look at what we’re teaching at our universities- how our tax dollars are being spent.” To that criticism, why is your work fitting here and worth tax dollars?

Click: Well you’ve asked me a really big question. I think that criticizing the mistake that I’ve made and apologized for doesn’t take very long. And I think to continue to express the hatred and animosity toward me that so many people have felt they had to migrate to other aspects of my career to do that. Ironically, the work that I do is to analyze how media audiences respond to particular media phenomenon. I’m particularly drawn to ones that tend to be things that are criticized and demeaned in popular culture. So I’m not particularly surprised that there would be criticism of my work. But I do think that- as someone who teaches students how to enter the world of entertainment media- that certainly the legislators and anyone else who dismisses my work could understand that understanding how audiences respond to billion dollar media phenomena is an important skill for students wanting to work in the media industry. 

Famuliner: So right now, we mentioned earlier, the university board of curators has suspended you with pay while they undergo an investigation. So you’re not teaching classes right now. Do you have any indication or idea of what the future holds in that process?

Click: Well I think it sets a dangerous precedence when a board of curators disregards university policy and decides to take matters into their own hands. It concerns me about academic freedom, it concerns me about the fairness of the processes I’ll be subjected to. I haven’t had any communication with them since they suspended me two weeks ago. I was told it would be a brief investigation. I’ve had to find many substitutes for my classes that meet without me. I’m very eager to be back in the classroom. I miss my students; I know they miss me. I have a lot of good work left to do here at the University of Missouri and I’m ready to be back in the classroom. 

Famuliner: Was there communication with the board before this decision to suspend you and what were those communications like?

Click: I didn’t have any communication with them before that.

Famuliner: Okay. Shortly before the board’s decision, the interim chancellor, Hank Foley, held a press conference the day after charges were pressed against you by the city prosecutor that later were- those charges were suspended. The chancellor basically announced that there was going to be no action, it was kind of a non-announcement. But did say that your tenure review process is coming up and that process would proceed as it would have normally. What do you think your chances are for tenure?

Click: Well again, I would have to say that I’m concerned by the board of curator’s actions because I believe they have created an environment in which I can’t be evaluated fairly. And so that is an ongoing concern that I have. I do wish, and I’m happy for the investigation because I want people to know why I did what I did and that I’m sorry for it. I did make a mistake but I would hope that if the mistake I made would be put in the context of my 12 years of steadfast service to the university that I would be treated fairly. My hope is this will all work out in the end.

Famuliner: If you are able to stay at the University of Missouri, how can you make it right? Will you try to make it right, to get past everything that’s happened?

Click: Well, I don’t know what more I need to do beyond apologizing and admitting I made a mistake. I’ve never been involved in anything like this before. I’ve won teaching awards, my scholarship is well-respected. I have a lot to offer the university. I would like to help put the event, and all of the events from that day because certainly that day was an historic day, much bigger than my mistake. I would like to help the university grow and develop. I think there’s a lot that’s exciting about the university’s future. I think I have a lot to offer it. 

Famuliner: What do you think your life would look like if you don’t work at MU anymore?

Click: I’m a resourceful person, I’m sure I will survive that. But it’s not something I think of very much because I do intend to fight for my job. I made a mistake, and I would like that mistake to be put in the context of my 12 years of good service.

Famuliner: What have you learned from all of this?

Click: I’ve learned more things than I could probably answer in the few minutes we have left. I’ve learned a lot about the way the media works. Certainly the other side of a viral event, I’ve learned a lot about that. I’ve learned about the importance of being sensitive to students’ needs. I’ve learned a lot about the complexity of the issues facing many college campuses right now. Many things. My list could go on forever. (

Famuliner: Sure. How has this changed your life? I mean, you’ve been the focus of not just all of this official scrutiny from legislators, but also social media, and blogs, and media in general. How has that changed your day-to-day existence?

Click: I tend to be a fairly upbeat person. I hope for the best. I try and give my best to other people. One of unexpected outcomes is really the amount of support I’ve received from people I didn’t even know very well. It’s reconnected me with old friends who saw this story in the media. So, you know, I could certainly dwell on the negative things that this incident has brought to my life but I would say I’ve learned a lot. I’ve grown a lot as a person. And I certainly feel the support of my friends and colleagues. 

Famuliner: is there anything else you’d like to add?

Click: I think you asked me a good amount of questions. I guess I would continue to say that I made a mistake, I apologized for it. I wish I could go back and do it again. I would really like for people to understand the context of that day: That the students were speaking to journalists and did so both before and after that incident. That the students were under threat, and we were trying to protect them. That it wasn’t just me; there were many faculty and staff present. And that I feel like I still have a lot to offer the university and I’m hoping this is going to turn out alright for everybody.