Hundreds joined the University of Oklahoma’s Black Student Association (OU BSA) Thursday afternoon in a march across campus after a video of a person wearing blackface near campus surfaced Jan 23. This is the second such incident within a week. Another video of a student in blackface using a racial slur began circulating Friday, Jan 18.
The “Better Together” marchers linked arms and walked silently to the student union. Some held signs. Others wore tape over their mouths bearing the words #StillUnheard. Inside the building, Destinee Dickson, a junior, used a megaphone to chant, “What do we want?” “Justice!,” the crowd yelled back.
The march continued to OU President James Gallogly’s office where student Miles Francisco announced OU BSA had delivered a list of demands. Following the first blackface video, OU BSA released a statement demanding the administration to add a “zero-tolerance policy of hate speech” to the university’s student conduct code, create curriculum “dedicated to the education of social and cultural competency for all students,” increase “multicultural” faculty and staff and put more resources toward programs for African American students.
Gallogly was criticized for his initial response to the first video. He and interim Associate Vice President of the Office of University Community Jane Irungu released a statement the same day news of the first video broke.
“The University of Oklahoma abhors such conduct and condemns the students’ actions and behavior in the strongest terms possible. While students have the freedom of expression, the negative impact of such conduct cannot be underestimated,” it read in part. The statement also noted the two students involved in the initial video, Olivia Urban and Frances Ford, offered to apologize. OU released their apology letters on Tuesday morning.
"On the night of Jan. 18, I made the most regrettable decision of my life. I went against my common knowledge and disrespected a community I love,” wrote Urban. “I’m deeply sorry to the individuals, families, and communities that I hurt. My heart hurts to see the traumatic impact my words and actions have had on those who have been hurt of my behalf. There is no excuse for this behavior, in private or in public. My intent was not to hurt, diminish, or degrade anybody inside or outside the OU community… and hope to learn from my mistake."
In a press conference a day earlier Gallogly said he will consider revising the student code of conduct and make efforts to recruit more students, faculty and staff of color. No concrete plans have been announced.
But the students’ apologies and Gallogly’s words did little to quell frustration on campus. Many gathered Tuesday evening for an event called the Rally To End Racism, where tensions flared. Professor Suzette Grillot called for Gallogly’s resignation, and others expressed disillusionment with campus culture.
Assistant Professor Dr. Mirelsie Velazquez read the same speech she says she gave in 2015, after a video of Sigma Alpha Epsilon members singing about lynching made national headlines.
"I am not reading anything new," Velazquez said, "and I'm going to keep this ready. Because this is not about the video that surfaced recently. It's about everyday experiences here on campus and on campuses across the country."
Miles Francisco, one of the students leading Thursday’s march, expressed similar thoughts.
“Your just anger, your rightful anger has to be geared at the system and the culture here at the University of Oklahoma that attempts to keep people of color, that attempts to keep black people subservient,” Francisco said before Thursday’s march dispersed. “These videos keep coming out... These diversity and inclusion initiatives, they have to address the system from the top to the bottom.”
OU BSA says it has created an emergency response team to address instances of racism on campus.