Some University of Oklahoma student groups see the appointment of Eric Stevenson to the Board of Regents as a positive step toward the change they desire to see at the university.
Last week, Gov. Kevin Stitt announced Stevenson, a 1985 OU graduate and senior vice president at Nationwide, will fill one of two vacant spots on the board. Stitt and board chair Dr. Leslie Rainbolt-Forbes praised Stevenson's business experience and success.
Stevenson is also the first black regent since Melvin Hall, who became the first black chair of the board in 1998. Following weeks of marches, rallies, reaction and calls to action over blackface videos, and with President James Gallogly promising change, the appointment comes with some added meaning.
"As a student of color your obvious response to someone that looks like you being appointed to the most powerful board at this university is a positive one," reads a statement from the recently founded Black Emergency Response Team (B.E.R.T.) at OU. "The appointment of Eric Stevenson is a much needed change to the status quo that the board of regents has upheld for quite some time."
B.E.R.T. co-founder Miles Francisco, a junior at OU, sent the statement that also includes the thoughts of fellow co-founder Jamelia Reed. The organization was founded in the wake of racist videos posted within a week of each other that showed an OU student and later an unidentified individual walking across campus wearing blackface.
They also said the appointment appears to be more reactive than proactive.
"With this said, it would be naive for us to be blindly pleased with this appointment and for it to not be looked at as a tokenization of our community in order to appease our outrage at the racism that is inherent in the culture here at OU," the statement reads. "We appreciate Governor Stitt's intention in looking for a person of color to serve on the board of regents, but that does not mean that all of our concerns have been met. By no means.
"In actuality we are aware that this appointment was likely carried out in this way as a result of the racist incidents that have plagued our campus in recent months. This continuance of the trend of reacting rather than being proactive is something that needs to change."
Black Student Association President Taylor Wilson gave a similar response.
"We hope that this appointment is a step in the right direction," Wilson said. "We're looking forward to future conversations with Mr. Stevenson."
But Wilson also added that it is only a first step. Stevenson, who currently resides in Ohio, is not known to BSA members.
"Mr. Stevenson is new to us, and we do not know where he stands as of yet," Wilson said. "Simply because he is of color does not mean that his views and actions will align with ours."
Wilson said the hope is that this signals a desire to proactively improve the situation, rather than an attempt at a quick fix.
"The governor appoints the regents, so hopefully this appointment was not made in order to temporarily fix the larger issues at hand," Wilson said. "Future appointments should be made with careful consideration and represent the underrepresented."
Francisco and Reed wanted to point out that one appointment will not suddenly solve the issues with racism they see at OU. But Stevenson's appointment is a positive move and could bring much needed change.
"This one person of color will not suddenly end racism on this campus," the B.E.R.T. statement reads. "But we have to start somewhere and we look forward to future appointments and hires throughout this university being candidates and hires that come from marginalized communities. And that these hires will not be used to tokenize but rather to actually bring equity to this campus."
Stevenson's first opportunity to take part in a meeting will come next week. The regents are scheduled to meet on either March 12 or 13.