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Focus on diversity intensifies at OU with appointment of Eric Stevenson to board of regents

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Eric Stevenson addresses the crowd as his wife, Davia, and Dr. Leslie Rainbolt-Forbes, Chair of the Board, look on.Gov. Stitt names Eric Stevenson to the University of Oklahoma Board of Regents in the Blue Room at the Capitol Friday, March 1, 2019. [DOUG HOKE/THE OKLAHOMAN]
Eric Stevenson addresses the crowd as his wife, Davia, and Dr. Leslie Rainbolt-Forbes, Chair of the Board, look on.Gov. Stitt names Eric Stevenson to the University of Oklahoma Board of Regents in the Blue Room at the Capitol Friday, March 1, 2019. [DOUG HOKE/THE OKLAHOMAN]

It was movie night on Thursday for the University of Oklahoma Black Student Association.

Junior Taylor Wilson, who serves as president for the organization while working toward a degree in professional writing and pre-law, was busy preparing the room inside Walker Tower for a night of food and watching “Love and Basketball.”

“I think everyone is just pretty exhausted,” Wilson said. “It’s a relief to have an event where we just come together just to relax and have a good time.”

It was a nice break, a reminder of the normal college life that’s been put on hold the past few months.

Since the start of the spring semester, the University of Oklahoma has experienced a number of racist events that have shaken the campus, sparked massive rallies and demonstrations, and hurried calls for sensitivity and diversity training among students, faculty and staff.

On Jan. 18 a member of Tri-Delta sorority was seen wearing blackface on social media and using racial slurs.

The next week an unidentified man walked around Campus Corner wearing blackface.

On Feb. 15 a video circulated around social media of a former OU student hanging a stuffed duck by a noose and using racial slurs.

Earlier this month, leaked screenshots from the OU College Republicans GroupMe chat, a mass communication platform, showed members making racist, misogynistic and anti-Islam remarks as well as messages advocating violence against an OU faculty member.

No punishment was dealt to the students involved, though two members of Tri-Delta sorority, Frances Ford and Olivia Urban, both voluntarily withdrew from the school.

OU President James Gallogly said the comments from members of OU College Republicans is protected speech.

The appointment of Eric Stevenson, a black man, to OU’s Board of Regents by Gov. Kevin Stitt earlier this month was seen by many as a positive first step to address a lack of diversity and representation on campus.

Stevenson, 55, of Columbus, Ohio, will serve a 7-year term that was previously held by Clayton I. Bennett. Stevenson's appointment is still waiting confirmation by the state Senate.

Wilson said the Black Student Association is interested to see how Stevenson’s appointment will change the conversation about race on campus.

“We don’t know him but we hope that this is a step in the right direction,” she said. “You have to hire someone that legitimately has the best interest of the students. Just because he’s black doesn’t mean he necessarily has certain views.”

Members of the Oklahoma Legislative Black Caucus aren’t sold either.

In an interview with KFOR earlier this week, Sen. George Young said Stevenson was not on the list of candidates the caucus put together for Stitt’s consideration.

He is concerned that because Stevenson plans to reside full time in Ohio he will not have a good pulse on the needs of OU’s student body.

"This is another guy who falls in line with what the administration wants,” said Young, D-Oklahoma City. “And that is 'We're looking at the bottom line at OU' and not at the development of students as citizens and individuals."

Many OU higher ups are promising change and accountability. The board of regents went through diversity training on Tuesday, the first time in school history the board has undergone any such training.

Gallogly said the training was a good refresher on listening.

“It was partly being sensitive to things that you accidentally do or say,” he said. “It’s watching out for perceptions. … Sometimes we are accidentally insensitive to others' differences and it can accidentally hurt people.”

Adam Kemp

Adam Kemp is the Higher Education reporter for The Oklahoman and Newsok.com. Kemp grew up in Oklahoma City before attending Oklahoma State University. Kemp has interned for the Oklahoman, the Oklahoma Gazette and covered Oklahoma State Football... Read more ›

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