BERT sit-in

Members of the OU BERT hold signs as they have a sit-in in the provost's office, Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020, at Evans Hall. (Kyle Phillips / The Transcript)

Update 6:45 p.m.: OU Interim President Joe Harroz announced Thursday night that OU will not be removing Kyle Harper from his position as provost, despite student demands that the university do so. 

Harroz issued a statement hours after BERT members met with Harper for the first time since the organization demanded his resignation. The interim president said Thursday night that he has evaluated student demands and "cannot engage the demand for the immediate resignation of the provost."

"I am confident in Provost Harper's abilities and willingness to work constructively to advance the university," Harroz said in the statement. "What many do not know is that nearly a year ago, Provost Harper requested to return to the faculty. Even as provost, he is a distinguished scholar and teacher...there is no doubt that he loves our university and serves it tirelessly."

In response to Harroz' stance on Harper, BERT is creating six new demands that would "ensure a system of checks and balances between the offices of the president and provost," the OU Daily reports. BERT leaders have said throughout the day that they will not leave Evans until their demands are met.

Update 1 p.m.: As of noon, Black Emergency Response Team members were meeting in an undisclosed location with OU Provost Kyle Harper, whose resignation BERT has demanded. 

The provost did not appear at the first floor of Evans Hall — where more than 60 students were still sitting in — all of Thursday morning. 

The university released a statement Thursday morning announcing that OU is working on some of BERT's demands, noting that OU leadership "believe(s) that these are in the best interest of the university."

The university will implement mandatory equity training for faculty and staff, create a semester-long general education course for the student diversity training experience and work to expand mental health resources on campus, according to OU's statement. The statement does not mention BERT's demand that Harper resign, that the university provide a multicultural center on campus, or that the university specifically provide more black counselors and therapists.

In response to OU's Thursday morning statement, BERT leadership announced that as all of their demands have not been met, they will continue sitting in. Six BERT executive members are also on hunger strike, and have not eaten since at least 8 a.m. Wednesday. 

This post will be updated as BERT members return from their meeting with Harper and OU releases another statement.

The group of students and faculty started small Wednesday morning, barely spilling out of the OU provost’s suite as they sat in protest.

By 5 p.m., the group had swelled to more than 100 students, faculty and staff, most sitting on the ground throughout the first and second levels of Evans Hall.

The administration building, home to OU’s president and provost offices, was occupied throughout the day and overnight Wednesday with students who are sitting in until their list of demands for dealing with racism on campus is met.

OU’s Black Emergency Response Team kicked off the sit-in shortly after 8 a.m. Wednesday, announcing to a small crowd outside Evans Hall that members would be taking direct action to push OU’s administration for several demands.

BERT members, joined by other students and several faculty members, then commenced the sit-in outside of Provost Kyle Harper’s office, eventually branching out to the other side of the building and the next floor up. Some of the students sitting in are also on hunger strike.

Faculty from OU’s offices of Student Affairs and Diversity and Inclusion stayed with students through Wednesday night.

The sit-in and strike come two days after an OU professor read the n-word from a historical document in class, and a little over two weeks after a professor said the slur in his class, comparing its use to the use of the phrase “OK, Boomer.”

“We are here today as Black students who are fed up,” BERT co-director Miles Francisco said Wednesday morning. “...We’re tired of talking, we’re tired of meeting, we’re tired of sitting, we’re tired of waiting.”

The most immediate demand from BERT’s announcement Wednesday is the immediate resignation of OU provost Kyle Harper. While other administrators flowed in and out of the building throughout the day, Harper was not at Evans Hall Wednesday.

Francisco said that Harper, who had been provost since 2015, “has failed students and his own faculty time and time again.” BERT also started a Twitter campaign Wednesday afternoon to push for Harper’s removal with the tag #HarperHasToGo, citing Harper’s silence on student demands and campus racism throughout the years.

Harper released a statement about Monday’s classroom incident after being questioned by the OU Daily, but has otherwise not publicly commented on racism at the university this year. In his role as provost, Harper is the chief academic officer at OU’s Norman campus, overseeing students and faculty.

As of Wednesday at 5 p.m., OU senior Destinee Dickson said that while students heard that OU's administration is working on their demands for a new multicultural center and for a transformed diversity training program, students had received no update on their demand that Provost Kyle Harper resign.

Interim President Harroz, dean of students David Surratt and vice president for diversity and inclusion Belinda Hyppolite met with members of BERT in the interim president’s office around 5:30 p.m. The university released a statement signed by the three university officials late Wednesday night.

"Today, a group of students, who speak for themselves and others, instituted a sit-in and with it, issued a list of specific concerns and demands. This evening, we had the opportunity to sit with the students to better understand their concerns," the statement said. "We identified areas of agreement that will move our University forward. We have agreed to continue these discussions. We will also advance these conversations with other student, faculty, and staff leadership."

A statement the university released earlier Wednesday said officials were comparing BERT's list of demands with "OU’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion plan, efforts to date, and the action items the University is actively working to implement.”

BERT’s demands also include implementing mandatory equity training for all faculty, an action OU announced on Monday that it will be taking soon. The student organization is also asking that OU’s student diversity training, currently a one-time experience, be transformed into a semester-long class mandatory for all incoming and transfer students.

Last on BERT’s list is the demand for a multicultural student center for marginalized student groups on campus. The center would include office, study and meeting spaces, a multimedia lab and computer lab, an auditorium and a Popeye’s.

Along with the demand for the center is a demand that OU hire significantly more black therapists and counselors to help students adequately process racism and trauma.

“We will not leave Evans Hall until we have a signed resignation letter from Provost Harper and a signed contract from President Harroz, VP (David) Surratt, and the Interim Provost affirming a specific timeline to get these demands met fully,” BERT announced in a Wednesday morning statement. “We will be sitting in Evans Hall permanently until these demands are met. To the upper administration: there will be no meetings, you either meet our demands or you starve us of our freedom. Join us.”

Emma Keith


Follow me @emma_ckeith 

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