It has been seven days since a racist incident by OU students reignited an important dialogue on our campus about racism. I use the word reignited because we have traveled this path before in 2015. And, like our students who felt the disrespect and anger from this incident, I want to do everything in our power to eradicate racism and disregard for the inherent value of every person.
I cannot fully empathize with our students of color or anyone who feels marginalized, but I am hurt on behalf of the students that I came to OU to support and help succeed.
Last Sunday, I promised a group of student leaders representing a number of multi-cultural groups in a listening session that I would take action and make progress. We must address these actions immediately.
I am prepared to update our community on our progress.
- Pending approval by the OU Board of Regents, Dr. David Surratt will join OU as Vice President of Student Affairs. Dr. Surratt has committed his career to supporting students in higher education, particularly students marginalized by social, economic and racial circumstances. He comes to OU from the University of California, Berkeley as Assistant Vice Chancellor & Associate Dean of Students. He has bachelor’s and master’s degrees from OU and received his doctorate from George Washington University.
- Dr. Surratt has already agreed to start work to form the Student Code of Conduct Review Committee. Two OU professors have agreed to join that Review Committee: Dr. Karlos Hill, Chair of Luper Department of African and African-American Studies, and Joseph Thai, OU College of Law, who specializes in the Constitution and Supreme Court. Student, faculty and staff representatives are currently being invited to join the committee following recommendations from several across the University.
- Next week I will meet again with leaders from the Student Government Association and student multi-cultural groups including the Black Student Association. That meeting is scheduled and we will continue our dialogue from the first meeting.
- Next week, the Office of University Community will hold a Campus Conversation for students, faculty and staff to address racial justice issues and the incidents associated with OU students. The event will be held at 4 p.m., Wednesday, Jan. 30 in the Scholars Room, Oklahoma Memorial Union.
This work will complement the work that we’ve already started since I came to campus in May:
- At my request, we launched a review of our diversity plans within each of the colleges in May. Those are contributing to a full University diversity plan, a draft of which is expected early February.
- To elevate the emphasis on our affirmative action program, I relocated it from the Title IX office to Human Resources in order to drive the recruitment of diverse and multicultural candidates. I also realigned Human Resources to report directly to me.
- We’ve aimed for a broader and more structured administrative leadership search process, including shared governance, cross-university participation and national recruiting efforts.
- We introduced Crimson Commitment, which makes OU more affordable and accessible to underrepresented populations. Tuition and fees were also held flat this year to make an OU education more affordable to all students.
Yesterday, students marched on our campus to demonstrate their desire for racial justice and action. They delivered to my office a list of demands from the Black Student Association. They had a strong message of anger and frustration with the experiences that people of color endure on our campus and in our state. University campuses have historically been a place to demonstrate and debate essential civil and human right issues. I am proud that our OU students focused their attention on this issue on behalf of all of us. Our responsibility is to answer with actions. No one should have to worry about being mistreated or threatened while pursuing their degrees or working at our University. Everyone deserves a healthy and respectful place to live, learn and work.