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.