Hundreds of University of Oklahoma students gathered in front of Dale Hall Thursday afternoon to take part in the Better Together March after a second blackface incident in Norman over the past week.
The event was organized by the Black Student Association (BSA); members of the BSA’s leadership team led students to Evans Hall, where they delivered a letter with a list of demands to the office of OU President Jim Gallogly, who was not in his office. Students then walked through the cafeteria in the OU Memorial Union before concluding the rally on the steps of the union with speeches, chants and a song.
“We felt it was important to join together in solidarity, in all black, with one another and our allies,” organizer Miles Francisco said. “I think the turnout is a huge accomplishment, and we’re letting the administration and the board of regents know that we’re here to stay, that we’ll fight for what we believe in, and that we need change.”
The walk, which included dozens of faculty and staff, was silent from Dale to Evans Hall, after which students began to chant: “Tell me what you want? Justice! How are we going to get it? People, power!” and “Better together!”
“I feel like we need to speak out and support black students on campus, because they haven’t been given a space where they can communicate what they want and how they feel on campus,” junior Muneeb Ata said as he carried the front page of the OU Daily that read ‘Enough is Enough’ with his friend, graduate research assistant Steven Kappen. “There is systematic racism in this country, and in order to combat that, we need to bring in more education. We don’t want people to hide their racism, we want to eradicate it, and that comes with understanding.”
Several students said they and others didn’t feel safe on campus after the two blackface incidents, and they called on both students and the university administration to take action.
“I think the administration was in shock and surprise [after the first blackface incident]; now they need to work with us, with the BSA Emergency Response Team,” BSA member Destinee Dickson said. “They need to sit down with us to see what we can do administratively, legally, with the code of conduct, to figure out what we need to do to make our campus better and safer for people of color; people don’t feel safe right now, not just the black community, but all minorities on campus.”
The letter the BSA delivered to Gallogly’s office called for a zero-tolerance policy toward hate speech in the student and faculty codes of conduct; a four year curriculum dedicated to educating students, faculty and staff on social and cultural issues; an increase in multicultural faculty and staff, particularly in higher administration and on the board of regents; and additional financial assistance for multicultural students and programs.
“I’m here to stand in unity with my brothers and sisters, and something has to change. It’s time,” senior Nadja Theodore said. “We need people who are for us; some students don’t care, some faculty don’t care. We need people who care about us, and who are willing to go above and beyond to help us make change.”
Gallogly released a statement prior to the walk that said the administration expected students to “continue respectful dialogue at multiple gatherings and marches to address the important issues of racism and equity that have been the theme of meetings across our campus in the past week.”
“The opportunity for real change comes when the voices are raised in a civil and respectful manner, listening occurs, and the energy is focused on improving systems now and for future generations,” the statement reads. “There are number of actions currently being vetted with key stakeholders which I hope to share soon. In the past week I have had intense discussions with students, input from faculty and staff, and feedback from both inside and outside our university community. You have my assurance I am committed to creating a culture on campus where everyone feels safe and welcome as they continue the pursuit of learning and civil dialogue.”
Francisco said he looks forward to Gallogly putting his words into action.
“I hope he realizes we need action, we need transparency, we need to see what his administration is doing and what changes he’s going to bring about on this campus,” he said. “If he’s really passionate, you have to walk the walk. We need to see that change.”
Francisco said he appreciated white students who participated in the rally, but that those who believe the incidents don’t affect them are complicit in them.
“To these white students, the ones who were here: we appreciate you, we love you, continue to be good allies, continue to be here for your brothers and sisters, your siblings,” he said. “For the white people who feel unaffected by this, who don’t feel this is for them: this is on you. Your silence is deafening, you are complicit in this white supremacist system on this campus and in this community.”