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Campus Conversation asks students to consider personal role in countering racism

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The third Campus Conversation of the semester begged the question: What is a student’s role in creating a campus and community free of racism? Over 50 students packed into Baker 240 in an effort to answer.

Participants sat in small groups, each discussing one of four topics that related to the overall theme: community action steps for individuals, community action steps for institutions, hate versus hateful speech and how we embody multiple identities.

Assistant Dean of Students Jamie Patton introduced the conversation by stressing the importance of a safe place for the community to discuss and share its feelings on how to make OU a better place. Patton asked that participants not be identified by name and no photos or recordings be taken.

Tamekia Scott, the assistant dean of University College in the Academic Advancement Center, was one of the small group moderators who questioned whether OU was truly committed to diversity.

“Once we get diversity here, do we have the support and services to actually make sure that they stay?” Scott asked. “If we’re not willing to grow, and we’re just really comfortable saying that we’re diverse and not actually looking at what diversity looks like and the level of conclusion that is connected to diversity, that’s the hard stuff. It’s a matter of are we willing to look at the hard stuff.”

Scott said the university’s strength is its commitment to creating a diverse campus, but the community needs to do a better job advocating for these diverse groups. By applying diversity and making sure that diverse students and faculty feel comfortable here, Scott said, OU can foster an open environment where everyone can succeed.

“One of the biggest takeaways was being able to identify that more than likely we have multiple identities and how they impact our experience, and how they impact how we respond to other people,” Scott said. “Once we’re able to identify it and embody it and embrace it, then how do we actively go out and make sure that we’re informing others to remove some of those biases, to remove some of that stereotypical language that others may assume about us and being comfortable doing that as well.”

One participant noted that if OU calls itself a public university, it should remain open, free and embrace different cultures.

Junior Alex Bailey’s group focused on hate speech on campus. She said they wanted to define the difference between hate, hate speech and who is affected by the definition.

“What we discovered is that hate speech is meant to provoke harm and is mostly thought of in the physical sense of harm, not the emotional sense,” Bailey said. “Which kind of makes it more difficult, especially with the university being involved, so it’s kind of difficult to police that.”

In response to the graphic imagery that was found on OU’s graffiti wall, she said the image of the lynching implied violence and was meant to provoke people into being uncomfortable. Bailey said the best way to address the problem is to have open conversations where both sides understand each other.

“It’s important to educate ourselves and each other on what our different experiences are … and not speaking for people or going based on stereotypes,” Bailey said.

Ultimately, Bailey said, it is students’ responsibility to stop racism on campus.

“I’m not sure that there’s much the university can do,” she said. “A lot of it is up to the students and what we want OU to be representative of … if we are a Bobcat family, we should be able to have more conversations like this.”

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