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Support Grows For University Of Missouri Student Protests

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COLUMBIA, Missouri -

Student protests over racial incidents at the University of Missouri escalated over the weekend when at least 30 black football players announced they wouldn't participate in team activities until the university system's president is removed.

President Tim Wolfe gave no indication he has any intention of stepping down, but agreed in a statement Sunday that "change is needed" and said the university is working to draw up a plan by April to promote diversity and tolerance.

Late Sunday, the university system's governing body, the Board of Curators, announced a special meeting had been set for Monday. A statement indicated part of the meeting will be closed to the public.

A university spokesman didn't immediately respond to questions about whether the group would address Wolfe's status.

For months, black student groups have complained of racial slurs and other slights on the overwhelmingly white, 35,000-student campus. Their frustrations flared during the homecoming parade Oct. 10 when black protesters blocked Wolfe's car and he would not get out and talk to them. They were removed by police.

On Saturday night, black members of the football team joined the outcry, and on Sunday, faculty members and state lawmakers were weighing in.

11/8/2015 Related Story: Mizzou Football Players Announce Boycott Over School President

The athletes didn't say explicitly whether they would boycott the team's three remaining games this season. The Tigers' next game is Saturday against Brigham Young University at Arrowhead Stadium, the home of the NFL's Kansas City Chiefs, and canceling it could cost the school more than $1 million.

"The athletes of color on the University of Missouri football team truly believe 'Injustice Anywhere is a threat to Justice Everywhere,'" the players said in a statement. "We will no longer participate in any football related activities until President Tim Wolfe resigns or is removed due to his negligence toward marginalized students' experience. WE ARE UNITED!!!!!"

Head football coach Gary Pinkel expressed solidarity with the black players on Twitter by posting a picture of the team and coaches locking arms:

Practice and other team activities were cancelled on Sunday, Pinkel and Missouri athletic director Mack Rhoades said in a joint statement. The statement linked the return of the protesting football players to the end of a hunger strike by a black graduate student who has vowed to not eat until Wolfe is gone.

"Our focus right now is on the health of Jonathan Butler, the concerns of our student-athletes and working with our community to address this serious issue," the statement said.

At least 150 students gathered Sunday night to pray, sing and read Bible verses. Many planned to camp there overnight amid temperatures that had dropped into the low 40s.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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