A small group of black students at the University of Oklahoma were thrust into the national spotlight last week after a video surfaced of Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity members singing a racist chant.
In the days after that video surfaced, member of black social justice group Unheard seemed to be everywhere, including CNN, ABC and NPR.
“People have my number that I don’t know how they got my number,” Unheard co-founder Chelsea Davis said. “I’ve got New York calling me, Maryland calling me, DC, California. I’m like, ‘Where did you get my number?’ They called my mom and I’m like ‘Wait, how did you get her number?’”
Members of the group Unheard say racism usually isn’t blatant like the infamous video in which frat members chant “There will never be a n****r in SAE” and reference lynching. Regardless, they say racism is pervasive on campus.
Davis, a junior from San Antonio, Texas, is a pre-med student. All but one of the executive board members of Unheard are studying a STEM field.
“We’re really just a big group of friends,” Davis said. “We were sitting down right after the Mike Brown verdict was released and we decided that we needed to do something, that we wanted to do something. We got to talking and we wanted to see change on our own campus, at home.”
They drafted eleven pages of grievances that they believe are plaguing the black community at OU. They hand-delivered them to President David Boren and other university leaders.
“An increase in black faculty. An increase retention rates of black students. Equitable funding for black student organizations. A lack of hierarchy within the executive hierarchy. The Sooner experience. Financial assistance and scholarships for black students,” Davis said.
One of those requests was addressed last week when president Boren announced he would hire a vice president for the university community who will have oversight of diversity programs.
Unheard chose a powerful visual message to get their point across - a piece of tape, stuck across the mouth, bearing the word ‘unheard.’ Last week, the tape was plastered across faces and statues all over campus.
“It just symbolizes the fact that we have not been given that voice, not been given that space, not necessarily that we can’t speak up but the space necessarily wasn’t there prior to this movement happening. So the tape just symbolizes continuously being unheard,” Davis said.
Davis said most racist incidents on campus are not as blatant as the infamous SAE video. She says it’s more microaggressions -- and always being noticed for the color of her skin.
“When I walk into a classroom and I’m one black student in a room of 300 white students, it’s definitely a disadvantage. I’m definitely looked at differently. I’m talked to differently. I’m already at a disadvantage and I haven’t even said anything just because when I walk into the room you know automatically that I’m a black woman as opposed to being culturally ambiguous where you may not know what my race is,” Davis said.
Davis and other members of Unheard say they’re ready for a little down time --- a break from the events of last week and long nights studying science and math. This week the group is taking a little time off, together, to take a trip for Spring Break.
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