Meet Our Members: Cara Alizadeh-Fard

Once in kindergarten I tried telling one of my African American friends that he wasn’t black: he was brown. I pointed at the box of crayons and said his skin matched the Crayola brown, not the black. Five year old Cara didn’t realize the implications of telling my friends that they were wrong about what they were calling themselves. Little Cara didn’t understand why they were upset but decided that if they said they were black, then they were black, regardless of what I thought.

I grew up in the OKC/Edmond area, was raised Baptist, and am the middle child of a family that was the result of the marriage between a first generation Iranian immigrant and an immigration attorney. I am white but hold my non-European heritage dear (I do jokingly refer to myself as beige sometimes) and recognize the many privileges granted to me. Diversity and tolerance are important to me and I believe that the exploration, understanding, and acceptance of other cultures is essential to being a decent contributing member of society.

I study Letters and Art History, as well as am a feminist and an advocate for autism awareness, body positivity, LGBTIQAP rights, increased minority representation, and more.

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out —

Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out —

Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out —

Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.”

-Attributed to Pastor Martin Niemöller

Change has to start somewhere–so why not with us?

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Meet Our Members: Aly Clarkson

Hi, hello, my name is Aly Clarkson.

I’m your standard white female from Rural, Oklahoma. Being from a rural Oklahoma town, I’ve always been fascinated by the need to “fit in.” Rather, the need to ostracize those who have any difference from the majority – no matter how marginal or irrelevant. For me, this was primarily emphasized by my socioeconomic status, as I was “less blessed” than others around me.  However, as time went by and adolescents chose to be more cutting and hurtful, the insults and alienation became more focused on the idea of self and personal identity.  In my experience, these pubescent tactics were employed in making jokes out of my not-so-conventional beauty or personal style.

This issue, failing to die the instant I graduated high school, persists even today.  Because I have shorter hair, or have (on occasion) refused to wear makeup, or even because I do not regularly sexualize myself, I am a “dyke.”  A younger me felt humiliated by the lack of positive attention I received.  I, though somewhat ashamed to admit it now, was horrified by the fact that I was called a lesbian.  Now I understand that I was most directly upset by the fact that others chose to label me as whatever they saw as being the most humorous, or would alienate me most from my peers.  I was broken by the fact that I was wholly unable to define myself or create a persona that didn’t get ridiculed in school hallways.  There is nothing wrong with being a lesbian, but in Rural, OK there is something wrong with sinning against God.  Barefaced in baggy clothes I embraced a religion that shamed me for something that I thought to be untrue, because I desired so much to be a part of the majority.  At least, I hoped to find a sense of identity in something that would be accepted by the community of which I was a part.  I desired so much to be accepted by others that I poured myself into the Church and let it become my identity.  I was not myself, I was part of something bigger and I failed to see that I was belittling my experiences or hardships by claiming they were all part of God’s plan and would ultimately bring him glory.  I allowed others to tell me that tragedies and trauma were not significant, because God would take care of me.  I rationalized crimes committed against me, the bullying I faced, and my own inner battles as being something that had nothing to do with me – that I was not my own.

Why did I try so hard to be like everybody else and be a part of their culture? Why is it that people have to know that you’re not the same? Why does there need to be an individual or separate entity for the majority to bond over hating? I wasn’t alone in my high school – others were mocked more ferociously than I could’ve handled.  Two girls were banned from a Valentine’s competition and sent home to tell their parents that they were “sinning together.”  At the time, I faced nothing so severe as the school’s administration shaming me in that way.  At most I was questioned “why don’t you wear makeup?” – “don’t you know that boys like long hair on girls?” – “wouldn’t a skirt be more appropriate?”

Coming from a family that calls Norman the “liberal shit-stain of Oklahoma,” I didn’t find much solace at home.  Being surrounded by people who refused to cease use of the N word and hung a black Santa Claus by a yarn noose on our Christmas tree (accidentally purchased by my horrified grandmother at Cracker Barrel), I didn’t dare venture into conversations about equality with my family.  This was, and continues to be, excruciatingly painful for me.  In fact, it wasn’t until I arrived at the University of Oklahoma that I felt comfortable voicing any interest in women’s rights, racial issues, or even my own identity.

As a “dyke” everything is more difficult than it should be.  Post a picture with your best friend on Instagram: she’s your “lesbian girlfriend.” Talk to a cool-looking girl at a party: you’re hitting on her.  Voice that issues of social justice are important: another “queer” looking for attention.  Things like good old fashioned heterosexual sex aren’t even safe! While re-dressing myself, a man once asked me, “so are you straight?” Being more frustrated than I can express in the remaining portion of this post, I clung to my Christian upbringing and the bigoted morals of my family and avoided answering directly.  “Your dick was just in me, wasn’t it?”

Sleeping with men and eyeliner weren’t even enough to rid me of my dykey aura.  I tried so hard to convince people that I was straight – and maybe to convince myself that I was straight.  I became frustrated when the guys I dated weren’t bothered when I made out with girls at parties. “It’s not the same,” they’d say.  It IS the same.  Because the insolent men I allowed in my life didn’t value same-sex relationships, they failed to feel threatened by my affection toward women.  The biggest issue is that I feel compelled to hide aspects of myself or even lie about them outright due to a continued fear of being alienated or ridiculed by the society that I’m a part of.  Some of the most integral parts of who a person is can be terrifying to reveal, because conformity is still so widely embraced.  For me, becoming comfortable with my attraction to multiple genders was hard to do, because it had been tattooed on my thoughts as being something that was sinful or wrong.  In the state of Oklahoma it is heavy to carry the weight of being a non-Christian, non-heterosexual person or being any race other than white.

I dream of the day that it isn’t scary for us to claim our identities.

I love you for who you are,

Aly

Meet Our Members: Armeen Namjou

When asked to write a “Meet Our Members” piece, I was hesitant, and I only exacerbated my uncertainty by writing this piece past the deadline I was given (for some reason I can just feel Amanda glaring at me while I write this). But, when contemplating writing this piece, this little anecdote from two years ago crept in my mind, and both heightened my reluctance in writing for this blog and oddly enough also heightened my desire to write for it, too.

There was this art walk on Main St. that my friends and I were loitering at, when this man approached us, asking us to sign this petition which would allow openly gay men and women to donate blood. I think that whenever I remember that night, I can’t help but internally let out a sigh—really? That is so fucking sad. Did I need another reason to ever so slightly hate myself? Were we not even human? We signed the petition, this petition asking for most basic rights, but a petition that was necessary anyway. We knew that it was countering the ridiculous piece of legislation that was still in place. It should have been a sign—along with a million others throughout my life—that said, “Hey, times are changing!”  But why am I literally sweating while I’m writing this? Why is it that I—often without realizing it initially—act and behave slightly differently when I’m around my male straight friends?

Now a lot of this is just how I am. I’m introverted and I tend to keep to myself by nature: Binge-watching Game of Thrones while eating junk food in my bed will forever remain an all time highlight as far as weekend shenanigans go. I sometimes take for granted the lovely people in my life.  But I don’t think that my worries are totally unwarranted either.

By growing up in Oklahoma (or just hearing the name Oklahoma), you quickly realize it is not the most open-minded place in the world—though I will say growing up in Norman was a nice benefit. Being Iranian didn’t help much either. Not that I don’t love my culture, but whenever I think of Iranian culture, especially in Oklahoma I can’t help but think of The Sopranos. Though Iranian men are too short and hairy to be a really intimidating mafia, they are oftentimes just as homophobic. And as (maybe not so) shocking as this may seem, being gay and growing up, you quickly realize being gay or being called a women is the worst thing ever—that tends to hurt one’s self-esteem, especially if it was already a tad too low to begin with. And then I got introduced to feminine gay men, and hyper-masculine gay men, and continually heard sob stories, and read books about the horrors of growing up gay.

But what life seemingly failed to show, or what I failed to see, was relatable gay people—no extremities, no caricatures.  But I do now. I know now I don’t have an obligation to come out to people or feel I have to unless I feel it necessary. I know now I don’t have an obligation to allow what people will think affect me so badly that I unhealthily internalize it for my entire adolescence. But it’s unfortunate that I know that only now. So here’s hoping that this post will let people know now. Here’s hoping this organization will help people know now, and especially when they are young, because I’m tired of seeing and hearing sob stories that really just amount to stories of self-hate. So ultimately I write this post for two reasons. I need to remind myself that, firstly, what I’m going through isn’t some personal fable. Many of the themes and issues I’m dealing with countless others have and will continue to face, and so I would like to remind others they aren’t alone (as cliché as that may sound). But I think most importantly I would like to think that if you allow yourself to be vulnerable, the world in turn (for the most part) will reciprocate your feelings. So please, love you. I’m still working on it.

Cheers,

Armeen Namjou

Meet Our Members: Natasha Hadijjah Sebunya

Ongoing series focusing on giving our members a platform to voice their experiences and opinions


Dinau Mengestu tells a story about a strange village. They’re the things of folklore. African tradition (my tradition) is rich in stories. The strange village is so because it disappears with the sun. When night falls, all the things inside the village–like the buildings, the market place, the houses, the courthouse, the mini-police station–everything goes, even the mango tree in the backyard and the tyre swing underneath it. Everything goes away except for the people. The people have an obligation: They have to dream about the village to make sure that it comes back with the sun. For a while everything is okay, and everyone likes to dream about their home, but as time passes, the people get bored. They wish they could dream about different things, like the stars above, or their neighbors’ houses, or the cashew trees that cannot grow in their village. The elders warn the villagers, they tell them about their obligations, and, although some rebel, enough take heed. But as time passes, they grow restless again. At the brink of revolt, one man that no one had heard of gets onto the radio and tells the people that he will take on the task of dreaming about the city. The people agree and each night they dream new things and they are happy. After too long of a while, the people realize that things are missing in the village, but they cannot remember what was and what was not, and surely enough the village disappears altogether.

My name is Natasha Hadijjah Sebunya and I strongly believe that even though one man can change the world, no one man should change the world.

Meet Our Members: Brittany Plange

Ongoing series focusing on giving our members a platform to voice their experiences and opinions


Hey everyone! I’m Brittany Plange and I’m a freshman studying International Studies. I got involved in this organization by showing up to post fliers on campus last December. There I met Alice and a whole bunch of other cool people and this is the result of that chance meeting. 

I have always been into social justice and I think that’s mostly due to my unique social location. I’m a first-generation Ghanaian who grew up in predominantly white places. When my parents first moved to the United States, we briefly lived in Chicago but then moved to Hammond, Indiana for 5-8 years and then Moore, OK for the remainder of our lives. In both places we were the only people of color on our street. I learned very quickly that because I was black my experiences in life would be different than from those of a white person. I also learned that because I was Ghanaian my experiences would be different from an African-American’s. I do not remember the exact day I learned those things but I do know that ever since that day I have had a passion to figure out why these differences exist.

Because my parents are from Ghana the way they deal with things is different than how most people would. Living in Indiana we had to deal with more than our fair share of racism and discrimination. We were excluded from our church, neighborhood, and even had to drive 30 minutes to a private school because the local public schools weren’t safe enough for me and my sister to attend. But my parents, in light of all of that and some, never let it phase them. We didn’t move churches and we stayed in the neighborhood. My parents didn’t have the need to go out and make the community less racist because that wasn’t their responsibility. Instead, we just lived our lives, and they ensured we could have the same opportunities as anyone else. Ironically, that did ultimately make the community a little less racist. Watching how my parents responded to adversity shaped the way I do now. They taught me to fight for what I believe, stand up for others, and never back down. They told me that we must all do our part to make the world a better place. That is what I am attempting to do by being a part of this organization. So many people, including myself, are suffering in this bankrupt country and around the world and it’s time that changed. Equality, fairness, and justice are achievable and it is our responsibility as the next generation of leaders of the world to make that happen.

Meet Our Members: Audra Brulc

Ongoing series focusing on giving our members a platform to voice their experiences and opinions


Hello! I’m Audra, and I’ll be one of the officers and bloggers for Sooners for Social Justice.

I’m not really sure I can identify an exact date or event when I truly became passionate about social issues. “Social justice” was a phrase that I was fortunate enough to grow up hearing. My mother has always been active in social justice causes, and has spent time working with the children of migrant farm workers, the homeless, and immigrant families. She is a devout Roman Catholic, and while I no longer consider myself part of that particular religious tradition, I will always be thankful for the values that my mother’s practice of her faith helped to instill in me. However, as I reached adolescence, I quickly realized that my experience was not universal.

I grew up in Arizona, a child of mixed ethnicity and lower middle-class income masked by my pale skin and scholarship, which paid for the Catholic school I attended. As I’m sure you know, Arizona is a state sharply divided along several intersecting economic and racial lines. My childhood was my first indication of the condescending attitude that many held towards people of color and those from lower income brackets, especially immigrants. When we moved to Oklahoma after my freshman year of high school, I was once again jarred by the derisive comments that my peers openly made about “those Hispanics.” They didn’t realize it, but those were the exact types of remarks that almost certainly had been directed at my grandmother, visibly of Mexican descent, some sixty years earlier. Thankfully, with the help of some passionately informed speech and debate coaches and teammates, I was able to find others who shared similar viewpoints.

As I transitioned from high school to the University of Oklahoma, I’ve been able to maintain a peer group of educated, talented, and thoughtful individuals. It can sometimes be discouraging to hear all the ignorance around us at such a large and predominantly white institution, but I made the conscious choice from day one to be very public about my viewpoints on social and political issues, and would encourage everyone to do the same. I went to Sooner Ally events. I took Intro to Women’s and Gender Studies. I wrote spoken word poetry about gender-based oppression. I joined this cool group my friends started called Sooners for Social Justice. Now, partly because of my own experiences and struggles, economic justice and LGBTQ+ equality form the center of the network of issues about which I am deeply passionate and outspoken.

When we examine social justice issues, it can be easy to talk the talk, but hard to walk the walk. Telling a close friend (or a new acquaintance) that something they have said or done is offensive is uncomfortable. So is examining our own privilege and ingrained biases. But our discomfort is nothing compared to the liberation and love that comes out of community building and activism. Promise. And that’s why I’m here. Welcome to the family.

Meet Our Members: Ivey Dyson

Ongoing series focusing on giving our members a platform to voice their experiences and opinions


My journey to caring about social justice has been a long and (honestly) boring journey.

When I was 6 years old, my father abandoned me and my family. Although this ultimately led to psychological issues that I would have to deal with later on, it gave me the opportunity to understand the social problems that exist in our society today.

In The Beginning

Although my mom had her Bachelors degree, her little experience caused her to have a difficult time to get back into the workforce with a job that she deserved. She resorted to waiting tables day and night to feed and clothe me. I quickly learned THE WORLD IS HARD ON SINGLE PARENT FAMILIES. I attended a very good elementary school way back when, but I never truly fit in. My clothes never fit right and were from thrift store shelves, and I didn’t have a dad which alienated me from EVERY kid I wanted to be friends with. (Daddy Donut Day would have been a disaster if it weren’t for my papa.) Even parents had predisposed ideas about my situation. I didn’t realize these things when I was young, but looking back on that time, I am upset and hurt at how hard my mom had to struggle to make ends meet just to be judged by those around us. The stigma needs to end.

In The Middle

My life did a complete turn around when my mom married my wonderful step dad who brought with him two sisters. I was no longer an only child! I changed schools and moved out to a cute rural town. This is when my incline to the privileged middle class began. Things got easier. My parents could now afford to splurge. We were normal. But, as many of you may know, we see the world through our own lense, whether that be a socioeconomic lense, a racial lense, or a gender lense. Our background and experiences shape how we perceive others.  Being a middle class, fairly white-looking mixed girl in Oklahoma opens the door to a lot of opportunity but it also opens your eyes to how other less fortunate (or even wealthier) people are treated. (A note on using the words “less fortunate” to describe people with less money: others may have fewer material items than I do, but that doesn’t mean that their “fortune” is really less than mine. They may see fortune as relationships or experiences.) As I grew into middle school and high school, I noticed how cliques formed. I’m going to be blunt. The wealthy kids stuck together, the artsy kids stuck together, the stoners stuck together, minorities stuck together, overachievers stuck together–basically it was as if a cliché high school movie was my life. I don’t blame these people whatsoever. It is more comfortable for us to stick with people who understand our background. What really worried me was how different groups treated each other. Yes, there were moments when everyone coexisted and the world was in harmony, but there were other times when groups were generalized and laughed at. Racism was a prominent issue. We didn’t think that we were racist, but the jokes we slipped into casual conversation proved enough. These thoughts have even permeated into college which brings us to…

In The Present

Although not as bad as the past, this idea that we know someone’s story based on their nationality, the color of their skin, their income, the type of car they drive, the clothes they wear, their sexual orientation, or their gender still exists even in higher education. I plan on being a successful person. I work hard in the classroom and in daily life because I would like to be a lawyer that will one day fight against the social problems we’re talking about, but the backlash I receive is more than I could’ve imagined. It’s amazing how scared people are of a strong female. (You should see the looks I get when I tell people that I’m minoring in Women and Gender Studies. It’s hilarious.) The point is that, in the present, I want to eradicate stereotypes and social issues because I can see

In The Future

My children should be able to be confident with who they are and not have to fight the same issues that we are currently fighting.

I should be able to achieve whatever goals I work towards and, when the time comes, I should be paid the same as a man for the same job because I DESERVE it and deserve to be treated with respect.

These are the things that I have been through that brought me to Sooners for Social Justice. Each person has a different reasons for reading this post, but, whatever your reason, I encourage you to think about social issues that affect you in your life and how you can change those for the better.

XOXO

Ivey


Ivey Dyson is a freshman double-majoring in International Security Studies and Arabic Pre-Law with a minor in Women and Gender Studies at the University of Oklahoma. She loves on-campus leadership, watching The Mindy Project, and running (when her foot isn’t broken).

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iveydyson.com

Meet Our Members: Shreya Patel

Ongoing series focusing on giving our members a platform to voice their experiences and opinions


Hello, hello! I’m Shreya Patel and I am a Sociology/Pre-Medicine sophomore at the University of Oklahoma. One day during finals week in December, I ran into Alice Barrett in the library. She told me that she and a group of people had put up informative posters around campus after the recent Ferguson decision to raise awareness about police brutality. I thought this was very important, not to get people to think one way or another, but rather to have an opinion that is informed. In today’s society, we are much too quick to make judgments based on very little information or stereotypes. I was appalled when Alice told me about reactions students had when reading the posters being put up – many of them alarmingly disrespectful. What frustrated me was that many students preferred to reject these social problems as nonexistent rather than acknowledge them. Our conversation in the library went from police brutality to racial stereotypes to gender inequalities, earning icy glares from passing students. I quickly realized that though I find it important to acknowledge such problems, keeping it to myself is not enough. Discussing social issues almost a taboo on campus. Those who express their opinions are harshly judged, disregarded, or even asked to tone it down. I don’t think everyone should or will have the same opinions on every issue, but it’s important that we feel comfortable enough to share them in a respectable manner. It’s a conversation that needs to be started, and that conversation starts here.

Meet Our Members: Alice Barrett

Ongoing series focusing on giving our members a platform to voice their experiences and opinions


Hello, everyone!  My name is Alice Barrett, and I am a Letters sophomore here at OU.  I am from Edmond, Oklahoma, I’m white, I’m female, and I receive many privileges daily because of these characteristics.  This series is intended mostly to give students who don’t receive these privileges–and in fact receive discrimination–a platform, so perhaps my introduction will be shorter and less compelling.

I get really sad when I read the news and hear about all of the inequalities and oppression that most people choose to ignore.  I feel so, so overwhelmed by how little some people care about the things that don’t immediately affect them.  When my brother spews sexist or subtly racist remarks–“white people are killed too!”–and ultimately ignores the reality that young black men are 21 times more likely to get shot than their white counterparts, I feel sad, and feel even sadder when his behavior is excused because he’s a young boy discovering the world and is able to hold harmful views for now.

(Perhaps I should explain why I find changing “#blacklivesmatter” to “all lives matter” so thoughtless and irrelevant.  This unnecessary change directs a necessary conversation about the devaluation of black lives in the United States to a blanket statement that is easily true and important.  As one person on twitter has famously said, we do not go to cancer support group and try to change the conversation to the fact that there are other diseases, and that these diseases are more important. Further, “black lives matter” does NOT say that white lives don’t.  It is simply focusing on the inequalities black people face.)

“Really sad” feels bad but doesn’t actually compare to how the people feel who are less privileged, or who grew up in poverty, or who have to work 30 hours a week to pay for school, or who are black and feel betrayed by the justice system and threatened by the cops.  “Really sad,” though, is important for gaining awareness and a dedication to attaining equality.  Many people are not really sad or slightly sad or even remotely affected by the oppression that others experience.  But I do think that if these people heard unbiased news or saw the multitudes of injustices, they would maybe begin to feel sad, then mad, and then would want to change things.  I feel overwhelmed by the misrepresentation of minorities in the media; I feel horrified by the lack of women in politics; I feel terribly saddened by the continued violence against minorities.  I also feel like change is possible, and that this generation is new, and that small steps are most important when facing enormous and misguided power.