Monday's events at the University of Missouri were in the national spotlight for several reasons. Tim Wolfe, the University President had resigned in the morning secondary to mounting pressure he had received for his alleged poor handling of multiple racist incidents on the campus in this autumn. Students, including the football team - who with the support of their coach had refused to play, were the primary activists which brought this change. When members of the press attempted to photograph, video, interview and document the events (including the celebration of Wolfe's resignation) - they were met with intimidation and force.
The intent of this post is not to comment on the original inciting racist events, Wolfe's apparent mishandling of them - or the call for his resignation. Rather it is to showcase the nonverbal behavior exemplified here - specifically with respect to violation of personal and intimate space.
At 2:17, Janna Basler, assistant director of Greek Life & Leadership at the University of Missouri, appears to be pushing Tim Tai. Immediately after this image was captured, Mr. Tai says, "Don't push me."
Here (5:52) and unidentified student appears to be pushing against Tim Tai as he is also seems to be grabbing for Tai's camera with Janna Basler in facing Mr. Tai. Just after this Tai again says, "Don't push me."
At this moment (6:08) the crowd is deliberately moving forward with their collective focus pushing on Mr. Tai as he says, "You're pushing me."
Melissa Click, who at the time was an assistant professor in the Department of Communication at University of Missouri, and has now resigned - is shown here grabbing the camera of Mark Schierbecker.
This is of course a small subset of all the events at the University of Missouri on Monday, and as Mr. Tai has said, "A lot of hardworking journalists were physically blocked from doing their jobs – I just happened to be on video. I didn't ask for notoriety." It should also be noted that photo and video credit for all those included here goes to Mark Schierbecker.
Many attorneys would conclude that the physicality shown involved in the direct touching, pushing, poking, etc. of Schierbecker and Tai constitutes assault. They both exhibit much greater than average emotional control by not, in some capacity, physically retaliating.
When personal space is encroached (at approximately 18 - 48 inches) and even further into our intimate space (from touching out to 18 inches) in the context of a typical subway ride, we tend to subdue our emotions, facial expressions and our other body language. Our arms and legs tend to be held significantly closer. We put on what is essentially physiologic crowd mask as our proxemic tolerance increases.
Yet in many other scenarios - and whenever emotions are even slightly elevated, our tolerance for such physical closeness with others diminishes significantly. We grow uneasy. Our adrenaline escalates along with our tempers. The probability of physical altercation becomes logarithmically more likely. That is what very clearly occurred here. These multiple and deliberate acts of encroachment coupled with the phenomenon of herd mentality (even if direct touching and pushing had not occurred) would have in most circumstances led to physical altercation. Deliberately entering into others' personal or intimate space (even once, let alone multiple times) is interpreted as a threat. This is not hyperbole, but normal physiology. To ignore or trivialize this behavior is naive at best - and more typically violence-provoking.
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