Op Ed: Student Loans

By Armeen Namjou

As a child I either wanted to be one of three things when I grew up: a mailman, a firefighter or a paleontologist. In hindsight I don’t understand my desire to become either one of the former two, however the latter still seems really cool—but I digress. Today, I am a psychology pre-med student with little conviction if I want to pursue either of those careers, and riddled with so much self-doubt that even my advisor asked me why I always look so serious. If my childhood self knew what the reality of college was, I think he would have opted for mailman. Bottom line, I don’t know what I’m doing. That’s not a shocker to anyone who’s been or is in college right now, but it doesn’t make it any less stressful. So when I was asked to write for the blog this week, though I enjoy it, the anxiety-ridden part of my mind bemoaned the idea. I couldn’t help but think about all the other obligations, exams, and papers that were just trying to agitate my epilepsy. However, in all of this negative thinking, I thought of a topic that is universally hated and gives everyone profuse amounts of stress—student loans. And, since this is Students for Social Justice, I tried to see if student loans were in anyway connected to social justice—for example: did racial bias exist in relation to student loans, or do minority groups suffer more from college debt? Spoilers: they do, and the findings—unsurprisingly—have often been contradictory and have implications that are not black and white.

For my own sanity (and because this isn’t for a grade) I focused on only one sociological study that (I felt) did a nice job of grounding a lot of its claims in prior research, and even discuss research that contradicts their findings. The study, by Brandon A. Jackson and John R. Reynolds and published by sociological inquiry, sampled 8740 non-Hispanic white and non-Hispanic black college students ranging from age 16-25. The study then examined student loan use, cumulative student loans, enrollment persistence, those who received a bachelor’s degree, and any student who ever defaulted loans in each group and compared the two groups. The overall theme of the findings was: black college students seeking degrees will end up facing more debt vs. white college students.

In general, black college students had more student loans than white college students—58% of 48% respectively. Only about 10% of black college students received a bachelors degree with no federal loans—compared to 31% of white college students. When comparing students who did not complete a degree the racial contrast is even starker: one-third of black college students who took out federal student loans and didn’t finish a degree also defaulted on a federal student loan—the rate for white students is just under 9 percent. So not only does there seems to be greater consequences for black college students if they don’t complete a degree, but (as mentioned before) it seems that they will just in general face more debt compared to white college students.

So, what could be causing these discrepancies between white and black college students? The authors of the paper quote a phrase that (I think) nicely characterizes the issue—“sedimentation of racial inequality”. The term describes how racial disparities are a reflection of the cumulative disadvantages that past generations of had to face. So, black college students’ greater need for financial aid is can in part be explained by racial gaps in their parent’s income, wealth and education. So, basically, the effects of centuries of racism and oppression still linger (shocker). It seems then that (and I really wish I had thought of this analogy) the authors compare student’s loans for black college students as a Catch-22. Loans do attempt to bridge the racial gaps in parent’s socioeconomic status, thus increasing black students chances to attend college and complete college. Conversely, black students will more than likely, face more college debt to pay off and have higher chances of defaulting. It seems that for black colleges students, there is, compared to most, higher price to pay to pursue higher education.

Of course, like all scientific studies, this study is by no means prefect. Though, a lot of similar scientific literature has found similar racial disparities when, some of the evidence, the authors explain, is mixed. Also, a key argument this paper wants to make is that ultimately the pros of student loans outweigh the cons for black college students, however the authors cite a study by Kim Dongbin in which she comes to the opposite conclusion. On top of that, this study—along with the other studies it cites—analyzed data of college students from the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. So these reported racial disparities could have widened or shortened since then. Ultimately (like the end of every single scientific paper I have ever read states) we will have to wait for future studies to reassess and further explore these claims.

College is a wondrous place—that also happens to be littered in copious amounts of bullshit. It has allowed me to make myself feel like more of a grown up than I actually am. It’s a place where someone can someone can drunkenly approach you and proudly reminiscence about the threesome they had the night before (and to that girl, fucking rock on). It’s a place that gives you the rare opportunity to listen to both your heart and your brain and lets you decide what to do. But it also feels opulent in a way that I never appreciate but also resent: the pseudo-adulthood that it provides me sometimes makes me act like a privileged ass, and then I consequently resent college and myself in general for allowing me to act like a person I hate. And, what’s worse is that all of it so fucking transient. I mean out of the 100 (minus 95) friends I have made, how many will I actually try and keep in touch with? How many of them will want to keep in touch with me? I (hopefully) have another seven decades of life left, and you mean to tell me that a piece of paper, and paying loans off till that sixth decade is worth it? Is four years really long enough for me to know what I want to do for the next seven decades? I don’t know, and I’ve become oddly okay with that. I do know this: when I initially wrote this, I was consumed and agitated. And though those feelings are valid, when I started writing this I realized that the privileged asshole side of me was what was making me feel this way. I’ve grown up with family that’s very much academic orientated and have grown up in relative middle-class suburban comfort. And though I’ve gone through (and will continue to) go through shit that my friends and family will not have to go through I felt humbled reading that study. Student loans are a big part of that pile of bullshit that college has, and for some it will be worse and be more perverse in their lives than others. That’s not news to anyone, but sometimes I feel like we distance ourselves from that reality willingly or not—I know I can sometimes. It’s disheartening that someone’s pile of college bullshit will be statistically, larger than someone else’s, but I don’t want to end this with some TED talk faux hope. I’ll leave with this: if you want to work for a piece of paper, that’ll cost tens of thousands of dollars, definitely does not have the same value it once had, feel pressured to do it because everyone else is doing it, have to take classes that are irrelevant to your interests, deal with people that are irrelevant, and so much stress that your resting face is now a scowl—you should be able to do it without the side effects of centuries of prejudice.

Op Ed: Mental Health in Oklahoma

By Armeen Namjou

A friend of mine told me that Griffin Memorial hospital would be closing down soon. After my initial shock, and thanks to my best friend Google, it turns out Griffin will eventually be moved from where it’s at now—but, my Googling session turned out to be much longer than I anticipated. As a psychology pre-med student at OU I know enough about my field to understand, firstly, that there is a massive stigma surrounding the mentally ill and, secondly, that budgets to care for the mentally ill are generally low. As someone who has struggled with bouts of depression, this issue has stuck with me, so I decided to investigate how much Oklahoma invests in caring for the mentally ill—and, spoiler alert, what I found was discouraging.

To start, according to the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services or ODMHSAS for short, Oklahoma only spends $53.05 per capita to provide mental health services—the national average is $120.56. This is quite alarming considering that 22.4% of all Oklahomans experience some sort of mental illness—which is the 3rd highest ranking among states—and 11.9% of Oklahomans suffer from some sort of substance abuse, which is the 2nd highest ranking among the states. Given Oklahoma’s seemingly rampant mental health problem, it is discouraging to know that 6 out of 10 adults and 4 out of 10 youth do not receive treatment. Perhaps it is this lack of treatment that leads to the statistic that 4.4% of Oklahoman adults report serious thoughts of suicides—the 5th highest rate in the nation.

Though I didn’t realize how bad the mental health problem was in Oklahoma, in some ways it is not too surprising. In general, we’re a very physically unhealthy state, so is it any real surprise that we would have serious issues with mental health, too? We are also a state that firmly believes in working hard and making it to the top, which is a wonderful way to approach many aspects of life, but as a side effect this approach has led to stigmas surrounding mental health. I mean, think about your general health care physician: have you ever brought up any negative psychological symptoms you’ve had with them or have they asked you?

The way we address mental health problems in Oklahoma is through extremes. People won’t receive help until they are calling crisis centers; or, their mental illness will manifest until they become incarcerated. This blog, and this club as a whole, aim to tackle and discuss the social injustices that plague our community—mental illness is a part of that. In fact, it is a universal affliction, no matter who you are or where you come from. And, granted, many mental illnesses stem from the environment you grow up in, which relates back to social justice and economic, racial, and social inequalities, but if we can’t even provide sufficient services for people who have reached a point where the way they think or act negatively affects their everyday lives—then what are we doing?

Conscious Consumerism: Broke College Kid Edition

by Audra Brulc

Money. I have none of it. And I’m guessing I’m not alone. But the problem is, when you have no money, it’s pretty hard to feel like you’re spending what you do have in a socially responsible way. Our current economic system pretty much forces us to prioritize cost over morals, so the idea of “conscious consumerism” has become a hot topic lately. And that’s great, but here’s the thing: a lot of alternatives just aren’t that feasible for people living on a fixed income. Yes, I would love to buy shirts and shoes made exclusively from fair-trade, organically harvested items for the totally reasonable price of $85. Unfortunately, I have about $24 left each pay period after my living and academic expenses are factored in. As a result, I’ve had to look for the little ways to dig my heels in and resist completely giving in to the cold embrace of heartless capitalism. I’ve gathered some of these tips here for our readers, and though some of them might seem pretty obvious, it doesn’t hurt to think about new ways that we can integrate these habits into our patterns of consumption.


1.) Embrace Your Local Hipster Hideout Coffee Shop

Wait! Please don’t roll your eyes, snort derisively, and close the tab! Hear me out. I am a flagrant over-consumer of caffeine. I know my coffee, especially here in Norman. I know my shops, too, as I’m always on the hunt for the perfect studying-with-coffee ambiance. I used to be a pretty open hater of non-chain coffeeshops, insistent that Starbucks would always be the slightly burnt but more affordable option. (Am I allowed to say that here? Will I be hearing from their lawyers?) However, while you still might pay a little more at a smaller, local operation, both the coffee and the environment are usually far superior. This might not be news to anyone, but ending our reliance on large chains and constantly trying to shift to local businesses when possible is definitely worth it.

2.) Support the Arts (No, Really, You Can Do It)

Feminist Sticker Club

This is a pretty specific tip, but it’s cheap as heck so I’m throwing it in here. One of the wonderful women I work with told me about the Feminist Sticker Club, which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. For a cool $2.50/month, you get a snazzy new sticker designed by an activist artist that touches on some aspect of (intersectional!) feminism. Last month, the theme was self-love, and this month’s sticker proudly promotes trans-inclusivity. Even though I’m broke AF 90% of the time, I’m a sticker fan. Like, a HUGE sticker fan. Like, I’m running out of room on my laptop to express my opinions so that people know what they’re getting into before they even approach me. This is a great, low-cost way to support badass artists, and I actually have found that these stickers are even better quality than retail sites like Redbubble.

I have a few opinions. Like five, tops.

Going to local music shows just to support the artists and their art

As much as it pains me to admit it, I don’t have the money to see my favorite artists (looking at you, Florence Welch) at an expensive music festival (directly at you, ACL). But do I have an extra ten bucks after payday to buy a ticket to a local, artist-driven showcase? Sure, why not! Even if you’ve never heard of an artist, going to their show with a few friends can be a fun, cheap night out – and you might even discover someone who will completely rock your world. (Is that a pun? It’s not supposed to be a pun.) I was lucky enough to experience this a few weeks ago at Oxford Karma’s Endless Summer event, and now I already have plans to see one of the performers, Samantha Crain, next month. I risked $10, and in return gained some lovely memories and an artist whose lyrics shake my very soul. Not a bad tradeoff, in my opinion.

Decorate your lair/space/enclave with prints and drawings from friends/local artists instead of buying mass-produced, often culturally-appropriative things from Urban Outfitters

Okay, I guess I pretty much showed my hand with this subtitle. As we move into the realm of tentative adulthood and start decorating our overpriced apartments, the desire to nest in a cool and aesthetically appealing way is strong. There are approximately 82 million reasons not to support Urban Outfitters, but from a pragmatic standpoint, things like this horrendously overpriced lamp are just one of many. When it comes to decorating, there are actually plenty of ways to think outside the box! Local shows and festivals provide a great opportunity to meet the people or organizations producing artwork, and you can rest easy knowing that you’ve done what you can to support your local art scene.

3.) Book It

When you realize you have no money but you still have to order all 14 of your textbooks
When you realize you have no money but you still have to order all 14 of your textbooks

This also might not be new information to most people, but lately I’ve realized just how many sites are available that provide cheap used textbooks and novels. It’s not always immediately apparent, but there are a lot of sites besides Chegg (which I’m still a fan of, don’t get me wrong) that provide even better prices for used books. I think it’s amazing that the world of used books has reached the internet – as Thrift Books points out, buying used textbooks and novels keeps books out of landfills and greenhouse gases out of our atmosphere. Also, while I realize that some may regard Amazon as one of the Worst Things Ever, sometimes it is the best or fastest option. For those times when we have to resort to its almighty stocking powers, we can at least use their charitable giving option, Amazon Smile, to do a little bit of good while we’re there (and retain Amazon Prime/Student shipping options). Below are three of the sites I’ve had luck with!

4.) Decolonize Your Meals

Because coffee just isn’t enough for me, let’s talk meals as well.


With a little creativity and a tiny bit (like, ten minutes, I swear) of planning, even us broke college kids can take steps to decolonize our diets. No, groceries aren’t cheap – but that’s where the creativity comes in. Here’s what I’m suggesting: instead of stocking up solely on pasta and Prego, for one meal a week, get the ingredients to make something vegan if you’re not vegan. Make something Mexican if your family is totally assimilated and you’re not about that shit. A package of fideo noodles and a can of crushed tomatoes are about as simple as it gets and available at most grocery stores, but they also represent a meal that my great grandmother passed along to my mother, her granddaughter-in-law. It doesn’t have to be fancy; it just has to be different. Substitution is a way to change your mindset and purchasing habits, which can ultimately lead to a shift in how we consume and approach food.

5.) Make Like Macklemore and Embrace Thrifting

Just kidding. I would never endorse Macklemore references on this blog. And really, I don’t think I even need to say it, but don’t discount (hehe) hitting up local thrift stores the next time you’re in need of some new-to-you clothing. The stigmatization of thrift store shopping can come from intensely classist assumptions, intentionally or not. If we really want to minimize our consumption and turn our support away from the often-unjust fast fashion industry, what better way to do it than putting reuse first?

The man has a point.

I get it. You’re not always going to find exactly what you want at a thrift store. But you might find a custom-made “Bob’s Wife” sweatshirt, and, in the process, you’ll be making reuse the norm while supporting local charities and small businesses.

Did you think I was kidding? Think again. This is serious business.

Bonus for Normanites: Guestroom Records’ $5 CD grab bags

I’ll be totally honest: the first time I went to Guestroom, it was in some sort of abstract hope that I would walk away magically cooler and more in tune with my own musical sensibilities. Do I have a record player? No. Do I have any money to buy a record player? Definitely no. (You’ve gathered that by now.) However, I was and am pee-your-pants excited about their CD grab bags, which are pretty much exactly what they sound like. For $5, you get a hefty and very random assortment of CDs to enjoy. Not every single one might be a winner (unrelated note: is anyone interested in a thirdhand copy of the Twilight: Breaking Dawn score?), but it’s a fun and cheap way to support a smaller business and expose yourself to some random new artists.

Thanks for reading, y’all. I hope some of these suggestions have empowered you to seek affordable transitions to conscious consumerism. Comment below with your own tips!

Artist Highlight: Shawntal Brown

By Madison Lowry


                              Shawntal Brown is currently a junior studying Psychology and Women & Gender studies. With her studies, Shawntal plans to go into Social Psychology research, and study the impact of gender, race, and sexuality on our society. She is also a writer, her poetry focusing on her experiences as a black woman in America and how she finds and understands herself within that identity.                                     

                      Shawntal began to follow social justice issues in 2011 during the Trayvon Martin case. She is an advocate of the Black Lives Matter campaign which focuses on cases of police brutality caused by racial profiling and discrimination. Shawntal believes police brutality to be one of the most pressing issues of today, especially in the wake of the Sandra Bland case, which took an emotional toil on her.

                       “It could have been me. It could have been my friend. It could have been my mom.”

                     Shawntal defines social justice as awareness of what is going on in the world and says that better understanding of the issues helps us find ways to quicken the change to alleviate injustices. She knows that is not simple, though, and people can be overwhelmed by the amount of problems our society faces. Shawntal encourages advocates to not pick and choose their issues, and instead, work collectively  to combat against all oppression.

                     She believes that OU has progressed since her freshman year, but still has a long way to go. She knows there will always be work to do, and the university must continue educating students through diversity training and dialogues about race on campus. She would also like to see more open, safe places for students of color on campus.

Her poetry is featured below.  Continue reading Artist Highlight: Shawntal Brown

Discussion Recap: 09/08/15

With the new semester, we’re back!  We’ll have weekly op eds and discussion recaps.  Stay tuned!

By Mady Duarte

This week we discussed the topic of prostitution, specifically whether legalization would be safer for sex workers and more beneficial to society. To guide the discussion, we read a series of opinion editorials published in the New York Times expressing a range of views on the subject.

To begin, one of our members asked for a show of hands to see where most people’s opinions fell on the subject. Almost everyone present raised their hand in favor of legalization, although when a third option was presented to the effect of ‘I think legalization is a complex action that doesn’t fall neatly into an unequivocal yes or no,’ every member cast their vote again. This is a safe response to an extent, but it doesn’t really tell us where to go. For many people interested in social justice, the knee-jerk response to prostitution is legalization– no one should be legislating a woman’s bodily autonomy! However, it is undeniable that there are issues needing addressed in tandem that do not have clear solutions.

One of our members seemed especially concerned with regulation. How would the government keep tabs on all sex workers and their STI status? Would they also be responsible for keeping record of clients’ STI status? The government already has access to medical health records so it doesn’t seem insurmountable to extend the record keeping to this industry. Additionally, it could create the potential for a safe ‘pos’ community where both parties already have the same STI and fully consent knowing their partner’s status. A database would ensure testing stayed up-to-date and would help create a standard of STI testing.

In an ideal world, legalization holistically supports the autonomy of women, but in reality many people who go into sex work did not exactly make a fully autonomous decision to do so. It is often very difficult to differentiate those who entered sex work of their own volition from those who were trafficked. Part of the article expressed concerns that legalization would open avenues that would make sex trafficking easier to hide or disguise. Additionally, people question whether the decision to enter sex work can be considered fully autonomous if it is financially driven in the extreme– in essence, forced by circumstance. However, at root, this is an issue with capitalism, not specifically exchanging sex for money, though the same argument is not applied as vehemently to any other job. It is common to be forced to make career decisions based on money. This doesn’t definitively mean sex work is singularly manipulative, rather, it is singularly stigmatized.

Some question if legalizing sex work would do any good without changing the stigma, but perhaps legalization would have to come first as a step towards confronting the stigma. People would no longer be able to fall back on the circular argument that sex work is morally wrong because it is illegal, and prostitutes could not be met with law-sanctioned police brutality as the current standard allows. Many would still morally object, but we would reduce the amount of harm that can come to prostitutes by creating a space for them to turn to police in cases of abuse or whatever else the police are supposed to be able to help any person with.

It is also worth noting that while the discussion and this recap continually reference women’s autonomy and make use of female pronouns, we recognize the presence of other genders in sex work and do not mean to limit the scope to only one gender.

Here is the link to the article, let us know what you think!


The Hunting Ground

The Hunting Ground is a new documentary currently showing in theaters across the nation. We were lucky enough to host a screening of it tonight (April 16th) thanks to the Women’s Outreach Center and the Norman Women’s Resource Center. The documentary was featured in the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, and its director and producer are both Academy Award nominees and Emmy Award winners.

The film is about sexual assault on college campuses in the United States. Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Berkley, North Carolina at Chapel Hill, UVA, Dartmouth, Cornell, Johns Hopkins, Columbia, Florida State, the University of Tulsa, and more were all touched on in the documentary. In particular, it followed the journey of two students at UNC. Both were victims of rape. Both were ignored by the college administration. Neither were satisfied.

The film features so many stories from survivors across the nation. From a Harvard law student drugged and assaulted by a close friend, to a freshman at UNC dragged into a bathroom during the middle of a crowded party, both men and women were represented as victims in this film. The wide variety yet astonishing similarities between the stories confirm a major theme in the documentary: this could happen to you.

Institutions have a financial incentive to cover up these crimes in order to preserve their reputations. They aim to artificially minimize their crime rates, and in doing so they shamelessly abuse victims. In the film, the survivors repeatedly reported having been blamed for their rapes. One was asked what she was wearing. Another was asked if she had been drinking. A male victim was asked why he didn’t fight back. One of the featured women, after sharing her rape with an administrator, was immediately told, “Rape is like a football game. Looking back, what would you have done differently?” There was not a single story in the documentary in which the institution offered its entire support to the victim. No university, from Harvard to Tulsa, was willing to do whatever it took to give these survivors the justice they deserve.

As for the perpetrators, the film provided a variety of statistics and examples of punishments. Some were expelled (after graduation, of course) and others were fined an entire $75. Expulsions related to issues of academic integrity were astronomical compared to expulsions for sexual assault. All of the schools mentioned above had approximately three or less expulsions in a year compared with over one hundred sexual assault claims. One in four college women are raped. It is obvious that institutions simply do not take these situations seriously, despite their adamant claims, particularly in the recruitment process, that they will make for their students a loving, supportive home. They put up as many obstacles as they can to make sure these claims are as weak and as slow as possible.

You can watch the documentary and find screenings at http://www.thehuntinggroundfilm.com. I highly recommend it. Everyone needs to see this film, whether you’re a student, a parent, or a faculty member.

Can you imagine the amount of courage it takes to come forward as a rape victim, to have to re-live that experience each time you tell your story? And then to be accused of lying or to be blamed for the crime?– it’s absolutely appalling. 2%-8% of rape claims are false, so why does our society and our institutions treat each claim as if it’s probably false? Why do people think claiming the most intimate of crimes is something done on a whim or for attention? By not expelling or imprisoning rapists, institutions are saying to the victims, “Your body is not worth it.” Letting athletes play until summertime is equivalent to: “Well, he’s really monetarily important to our school, even if he did rape you.” How could an institution think charging a perpetrator $75 is justice?

In addition to an array of relevant and shocking statistics, this documentary illuminates some extremely valid questions which we should all be asking our universities. Please watch the film! It will not be a waste.

Discussion Recap: 3/29/15

By Amanda Ahadizadeh 

This week we had a guest speaker, Rance Weryackwe, who was kind enough to attend our meeting and read his recently published article, “Savages, Settlers, and Slaves.” The primary focus of Rance’s article is our university’s mascot: the Sooner.

At football games, gymnastics meets, softball tournaments, and basically every single other kind of campus activity, we celebrate ourselves by using the word “sooner.” We don’t think of the history of the word when we scream it at the tops of our lungs; we don’t recognize the weight it carries as we wear it proudly on our sweatshirts. We hear “Sooner” and we think of our university, our sports teams, and our collegiate identity. Native American students think of the land run. They think of how land that rightfully belonged to the native tribes was stolen, even against state law, and never returned. Imagine being reminded of such a painful history every time you saw the word “sooner” on the University of Oklahoma’s campus. I mean, how many times a day do we hear “Boomer” followed by “Sooner”? How many people on campus wear their (probably free) t-shirts, proudly exhibiting the word like a badge of pride?

Rance’s article called into question our university’s choice of mascot and pointed out the hypocrisy of it particularly in light of the SAE scandal. In the moment when racial discrimination was finally gaining attention, our campus glossed over this racially charged phenomenon: “You should not have the privilege of calling yourselves ‘Sooners.'”

Of course we all love President Boren, and it makes sense for him to use this word in this context. But why have we allowed this phenomenon to continue? Why have we not yet asked to change the names of our sports teams? Why do we continually perpetuate this racially biased system? Our organization changed our name not because we’re A+ human beings, but because we realized our own ignorance in using that word to represent ourselves. We realized the irony. How can a university attempt to ameliorate itself, particularly in regards to institutional racism, when its very identity is intrinsically supremacist?

Please, read Rance’s article! It’s short, sweet, and to the point. Let us know what you think!


Name Change

We’ve decided to change our organization’s name to “Students for Social Justice.” When creating this organization, we wanted a noun specific to OU students to describe our intention to create an inclusive, localized community. I grew up in Oklahoma and throughout my formal education was reminded of the glory of Oklahoma’s beginnings and statehood. I ran in a mock land run in the third grade, celebrating the accomplishments of the “Sooners” as many other elementary school students did. Even in high school the consequences of the land run were glossed over; the success and bravery of Oklahoma’s new residents trumped the Native Americans’ deaths and suffering. I’ve only recently realized how emphatically “Sooners” celebrates the genocide of a people. We are sorry to have participated in this trivialization of Native Americans’ historic and current struggles. We’re sorry for our callousness in the naming of this club and sorry that statewide education continues to celebrate the murders of Native Americans.  Clearly, Oklahoma culture celebrates our beginnings and the concept of the Sooners.  We, however, no longer want to associate ourselves with that.

The Guide to Help You Fight Racism on College Campuses

By Lester Asamoah

In the wake of the University of Oklahoma incident, numbers of students, faculty, and staff are asking the inevitable question: what are their individual roles in helping their campus become an inclusive community? Let’s go into detail about things that can be done every day by students, faculty, and staff to mitigate the marginalization of people of color.

Defining Racism

What happened with SAE was an example of overt racism. Clearly, no rational person in America can deny the racism of that video. However, that video is a result of covert racism, or racism that you don’t see every day. What does this look like? It is institutional. At the University of Oklahoma (OU) there are no people of color [POC] in high administrative offices and in 2013-2014 there were only 1,006 black students in a population of 20,000 undergrads. It is also microaggressive. What is microaggression? It’s judging black people on what they wear. It’s asking black students to be the spokesperson of their entire race in history class. It’s staring at groups of black people in your cafeteria or the Student Union. It’s making rude comments or accosting white women who are with black men, or black men who are with white women. Or black women with white men. Or anyone of any color, gender, or race with anyone else they love. A lot goes into this, and it is scientifically proven. I suggest reading a scientific study or reputable publication for more into this. Institutions are still pretty marginalizing. And nobody is overtly racist anymore, but people may not know they are acting covertly racist.

Are your eyes and ears working?

People of color have expressed, through many avenues, how their experience is on their college campuses. OU Unheard movement, among many, many other groups have been expressing their experiences. LISTEN. Everything in this post is not new. At Washington State University, a black woman was kicked out of a fraternity party and called a “n—-r bitch.” At UCLA and Michigan (among other major and minor institutions), they faced issues with microaggressions mounting and people getting fed up. This isn’t new. This is far from new. The next time you see a person of color tweet, post to facebook, or say something in class about race, LISTEN, READ, THINK.

Far too often on social media and in classrooms, white people try to (I want to borrow from the recent feminist term “mansplain” or when a man puts his two cents where it isn’t necessary – something that should also stop) “whitesplain” something because they haven’t felt the same experience. And it whittles people of color down over time they’re being told that their experiences aren’t as valid. People of color on campus have every reason under the sun to not fully trust all white people, between the awful things said after Ferguson and the things SAE said. Keep that in mind. People of color have every right to be wary of white people. So LISTEN. And stop invalidating their experiences.

Think about your n-words

As an American (or at least living in America), you have the right to say what you want. Quite frankly, you can be racist if you want. But, I assume you’re not racist if you’re reading this. The big argument with the n-word is that “Well if rappers say the n-word, I can say it too!!!!!!!!!!!” Stop. First, “nigga” is a reappropriated term. It was transformed into a term of endearment among black people. Let’s repeat those last three words, AMONG BLACK PEOPLE. With that being said, I have absolutely zero confidence that people will stop saying the n-word. But at the very least, contemplate the implications of that word. Because one of the biggest issues on college campuses is how white people use the n-word among each other as if it’s in style. And they listen to loud rap, and love black comedians, but when the social justice hits the fan, people really like being white. At the very least, do the research behind the history of that word and how it got to be what it is today before you keep using it.

Oh, and if you call your black friend “nigga,” know that it is always awkward no matter what they say. We will never admit face-to-face the awkwardness that pierces our souls. But, at the bare minimum, think about why you’re saying the n-word if you say it amongst your friends and you’re not black. There are many other words of endearment like “bro, cus, homie, friend, pal, comrade, dude, bruh (not to be confused with bro), dog, dawg (not to be confused with dog), and, but not limited to, fam.” Also, always remember if you call your black friends “nigga,” they will feel awkward and probably not tell you.

Taking practical steps

If you’ve made it this far (or you skipped to this part), you want to know “what can I do?” Okay. Well, if you haven’t already, you should read and understand everything above because I explain various issues. But, actually do these things:

— Understand that you may not be overtly racist, but your words and actions can still be harmful over long periods of time. And understand that universities, fraternities, and the justice system were not made for black people. I repeat, the creation of universities, fraternities, and the justice system, historically, was not meant for the black person. Things are changing, but there are still issues. So be patient with people that are frustrated.

— Listen, don’t interrupt or argue, or say “I’m not racist because,” or say “my black friend….” Actually, go ahead and delete those phrases from your repertoire NOW. Listen first. Ask questions. Understand. Be slow to judge. Don’t “whitesplain.”

— Think about the use, or your friends’ use of the n-word. And know that if you think it’s cool to call your black friend the n-word, she or he will think it’s awkward, every single time.

— Remember black people are people too (shocking, right?). Not just your campus’s athletes, your favorite slam poets, or the girl that sits in your class. Say hi to black people on campus. Invite us to things. Ask us about our lives and what our hobbies are. Sit with us. If we are athletes, don’t just talk to us about our sport. Ask us about our lives.

— Don’t say “not all frats, or not all students”–that’s obvious. In fact, people saying that raises the question if it really is all fraternities or all students (because if you have to keep saying something isn’t something, well…).  And it’s unhelpful. Focus on what you’re going to do to PROVE, REPEAT PROVE–YOU KNOW, THROUGH ACTION–that your frat or school is different. Because, as I said before, people of color have a right to be at least a little wary. Remember that.

— Don’t blanket any social movements. Marching with your black friends is fun, but understand systemic and cultural change is long and slow. And it starts with me and you. No, this is not about just Greek Life, how awesome your campus is, or anything positive when it comes to social movements. What happened at the University of Oklahoma and what continues to happen across campuses nationwide are extremely negative and we should not cover those negativities up with positives. That is actually doing the opposite of what people who care about change want.

Remember, civil rights marches used to be violent. People had to take BEATINGS. Civil rights were violent. We, as this generation of students, have the privilege of not expecting to be attacked, so don’t make rallies and marches your self-masturbatory events you put on Instagram. Also, don’t make your black friends or kids in African countries that either. Stop it.

— Don’t appropriate any movements. Don’t act like your friends or organization are the best shining example of diversity in the world. Because clearly people of color on your campus can prove why that’s not true. Just sit back and understand the movements. Don’t brag. Improve, and show that you are.

— Don’t take attacks against “white America” personally. If someone says they have an issue with white people, chances are they have a very specific one that has no bearing on all of white society. And if you listen long enough, they’ll tell you what it is. Keep in mind that America was built on the backs of slaves. And, well, Selma happened only 50 years ago. Our parents were alive when black people were being beaten by police. Keep that in mind. And keep in mind that every black person in America is somehow affected by institutions and systems that are a legacy of deeply violent and exclusionary history.

Finally, keep in mind that these guidelines can loosely be applied to a number of things like sexism, transphobia, Islamphobia, ablism, etc. We learn in elementary school to treat others how we want to be treated. Somehow that important lesson is lost, but let’s get it back America.

Op Ed: Inclusivity on Campus

By Blessing Ikpa

I’m grateful for SAE. Truly, I am. That may come as a shock to some, but I’m grateful that true colors of certain people were shown on that fateful party bus. I’m proud that the University and the SAE National Chapter acted as swiftly as they did. From this (not isolated) incident, topics can be introduced. The tough conversations can start to be had, and the floor opened for discussions.

Studying abroad in a foreign country has given me the necessary space to take a step back, and truly examine how OU operates. This unfortunate SAE incident is not the first, or the last, that an aspect of racism will rear its ugly head. Everyone has come together as a community and let these young men know that what they did was wrong. Their actions were shameful for the University, their fraternity, and their families. When they were saying “Nigger”, it felt like they were talking to me. To my family, my Black friends, my community. Hearing that word rips me apart inside because I can feel the deeply rooted pain of my ancestors. The pain of both my parents who immigrated to America from Nigeria in order to give me and my siblings a better life. Feeling these emotions has given me clarity and premonition about what could happen next, on what the next topic of discussion can be in the face of this tragedy that has hurt many people across campus.

Which brings me to this: Inclusivity.


I’ve been doing my daily scroll through social media these last few days, and most of what I see is, “OU is SO inclusive! We are one of the most diverse campuses EVER. People have equal opportunity on our campus, for sure!”

But do they really?

Growing up in Norman, I always viewed OU as the most diverse part of Norman. Probably even all of Oklahoma. I thought that OU would have people who looked like me, other than the handful of Black people in my high school. People who were as progressive as me and could have deep discussions on tough subjects. I thought that I would finally feel included in a bigger picture.

That is, until I started getting involved.

Being a “campus leader” is all the rage throughout the OU community. If you’re not a campus leader or highly involved, then what are you doing?! I thought that I would finally get the community I have always wanted and fulfill the longings I’ve always dreamed of. As I went through my freshman year, throwing myself into activities, and into my sophomore year, things started to become strange to me. Where was the Black community? Where were all the Hispanics? Asian community? Native Americans? What about the LGBTQ community? How many of us ARE there on campus? I almost thought of myself as “better than them” because I was getting myself out there and networking with people from different crevices of campus. Until I stopped and realized what was truly going on.

When I became the Multicultural Affairs officer for the Student Government Association last semester, I was able to fully engage with the Multicultural community. I was listening. I took the blinders off of my eyes and did my research. People in the Black community, the Hispanic community, LGBTQ community, the Asian community, the Native American community….they didn’t feel as though they belonged. They didn’t think that they could be apart of these University-wide campus activities or win the big campus awards because, in a way, they weren’t made for them. Why were the same people, year after year, winning all of these OU awards–and why was there no consideration given to the Multicultural community? Why do we see the same people, over and over, in positions of leadership but hardly anyone from these communities I have mentioned (and more)? I know I can’t be the only one who sees this.

If we want to say that we are an inclusive community, the “Sooner Family,” we truly need to start acting that way. We need to start asking ourselves the hard questions. “Does such-and-such organization REALLY include everyone?” “Does my club give everyone the equal opportunity to try and succeed?” Feelings are hurt all over campus. People are let down. People are scared. People’s hearts are bleeding. Those men in the video showed us, and told us, that people of minority are not welcome. They are not valued on this campus. Their joyful singing brought up old, painful wounds that cannot be covered with a band-aid this time. People are demanding answers now. We need to make sure that every single person on this campus feels as though they have the opportunity to be included as much, or as little, as they want to be. We can no longer act as if we are the most diverse and inclusive University to have ever lived unless we take a step back and see the hidden problems.

If we are who we say we are, we need to start acting like it.