University of Oklahoma officials say they’re taking action after two blackface incidents near campus in less than a week. But it’s unclear whether they will be able to meet some students’ demands.
The OU Black Student Association hosted two rallies on campus last week. Hundreds of students marched and chanted, some wearing all black and tape over their mouths.
They were calling for action after two racist videos surfaced on social media. The first showed two white OU students, one with black paint on her face using a racial slur to refer to herself.
University president Jim Gallogly condemned the students’ actions and they withdrew from the school and issued apologies.
A few days later, a man in blackface was recorded walking near campus.
“After the second [video, I] was feeling overwhelmed and feeling sad,” said Miles Francisco, OU junior and Black Student Association member.
“I was in class and my phone was just blowing up,” Francisco said.
“I walk out of class and I watch the video and my stomach drops.”
Francisco, who attended both campus rallies, said he worried the second video would turn violent.
The two incidents came about four years after members of OU’s Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity were filmed performing a racist chant. The fraternity was expelled from campus.
“Right now, the majority of black students, the majority of students of color...simply don’t believe President Gallogly when he says things like ‘We’re committed to change. We’re committed to bringing about a culture of diversity and inclusion,’” Francisco said.
He said many students want to see officials taking action.
“There’s a lot that we’ve been working on,” said Gallogly, who became president of OU in July 2018.
“Now there [are] some further things that we need to continue to work on.”
All incoming University of Oklahoma students take diversity training. They complete either a three-part summer orientation or a three hour session during their first academic year. According to the school’s website, the training covers topics like understanding stereotypes and implicit bias, as well as providing students with templates for inclusive language and behavior.
But Gallogly said he agrees with those who feel OU has not done enough to create a more inclusive campus environment.
The Black Student Association has presented administrators with a set of demands, including adding a “zero-tolerance policy of hate speech” to the OU student code of conduct.
Gallogly is organizing a committee to look into this. The group includes African and African-American Studies Department Chair Karlos Hill and constitutional law professor Joseph Thai. Gallogly said he is also inviting members from different OU student organizations.
“First, we have to determine what is zero tolerance? And what can we touch and what can’t we touch? [It’s] a very complicated legal area,” Gallogly said.
“I’m not sure that we’ll be able to stretch that code to pick up something like that because of the First Amendment and a variety of other things.”
The Black Student Association has also requested “an enhanced curriculum dedicated to the education of social and cultural competency for all students” and “additional financial assistance and support of African-American programs.”
The demands push for an increase in multicultural faculty and staff as well.
According to Gallogly, the university is making an effort to hire more diverse faculty and administrators. David Surratt will join OU as Vice President of Student Affairs, pending approval by the Board of Regents, Gallogly said in a letter Friday.
Jane Irungu, OU’s Interim Associate Vice President for University Community, said she is working with faculty and staff to see what additional training might be needed. Her office has organized a campus conversation for Wednesday afternoon “to address racial justice issues.”
Irungu said officials need to communicate with students as they work to address diversity and inclusion on campus.
“If the process requires a week or two weeks, then we shall communicate that to them. And I totally believe that we can communicate concrete steps that we are taking,” she said.
Irungu said the university community also needs to focus on positive messages.
“We need to enhance our unity, our love and respect and the human dignity for each other. I’m a firm believer in bringing each other up and not bringing people down.”
Student Miles Francisco said his ideal OU is one where students have at least two professors that look and identify as they do.
“That you have a community and that you have a home here on this campus. And that you have spaces where you can be authentically, wholly yourself,” he said.
Francisco said he and other students will hold officials accountable.
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