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'It’s your turn to step up': BERT holds press conference following blackface incident

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Leaders of BERT speak to a crowd in front of Dale Hall Sept. 25.

OU’s Black Emergency Response Team held a press conference Tuesday addressing racism and issues of diversity and inclusion on campus.

BERT held the press conference after it alerted the community on Sunday to an incident in which an OU student posted a picture on his social media story in a charcoal face mask with the caption “another day, another case,” according to images tweeted by BERT.

The press conference saw BERT members call for more action from OU’s administration and the community. Destinee Dickson, a BERT member, ended the press conference with the same chant as January’s "Better Together" march, which was held after multiple blackface instances in the spring.

Jamelia Reed, BERT co-director, said not enough change has been made.

“I am truly exhausted. We are truly exhausted,” Reed said. “This trauma is further placed on us when those we have to sit and interact with in the classroom and outside the classroom still do not understand the impacts of blackface and racism, and find those topics to be comedic relief.”

Members of BERT who spoke at the press conference said they were thankful for the work the administration is doing but that more has to be done by the administration to educate students on issues of diversity and inclusion, and by allies supporting marginalized communities.

“I am angry,” Reed said. “We are angry. And rightfully so. … Oppression isn’t just a buzzword — it’s stuff we have to live through every day. And too often at the University of Oklahoma.”

During the discussion, Reed asked how diversity and inclusion can be a top priority when Kyle Harper, senior vice president and provost, “is not trusted by marginalized students, staff and faculty.” 

Dickson said during the press conference that BERT specifically discussed the provost because he has been in the position for a long time but hasn’t spoken up.

“Harper has never really spoken about multiple occurrences of racism that have happened over the years,” Dickson said.

Reed said the university must go further than diversity and inclusion training.

“Diversity and inclusion training does not work,” Reed said. “How could a student possibly understand the complexities of racism and oppression in a three-hour training when it takes a (semester-long) five-hour course to learn chemistry … The university must find a better solution.”

Some students who have gone through diversity training still do not understand why blackface is an issue, Dickson said.

“Obviously it is an issue within our administration if we do not understand what blackface is with these students,” Dickson said. “And honestly, our administration needs to go further than a three-hour diversity training in Camp Crimson.”

Members of the community must also do more to help marginalized students, Reed said.

“White students, faculty and staff — it is time for you to step up,” Reed said. “The marginalized communities have done their job. We’ve told you what is going on. It’s your turn to step up. … You have work to do. This work will not be easy, but you cannot continue to stand idly by as racism circles around you, as (homophobia) and trans-negativity runs rampant, and xenophobia becomes the norm.”

Members of BERT said they will continue to hold the administration accountable and maintain a dialogue. Reed said BERT met with interim OU President Joseph Harroz this week and has regular meetings with members of administration, including David Surratt, vice president of student affairs and dean of students.

Some of those discussions have explored financial support for diversity and inclusion efforts, Reed said — making sure the administration is not just speaking about diversity and inclusion efforts, but providing support financially.

“What we’re bringing to them are the issues we know in the black community, that’s what’s close to us as well as those of other marginalized identities that we may represent or we may know of,” Reed said.

Carlos Jackson, African and African American Studies senior and BERT member, said the press conference and the university’s “We Are” campaign are good steps.

“The efforts are going in the right direction,” Jackson said. “Like we said (in the press conference), we are tired of having to be the ones facilitating and leading the conversation around racism and inclusivity, and what that looks like. With the ‘We Are’ campaign, it gives us hope that the university actually can change.”

Jackson said turnout at the press conference was good.

“The conference wasn’t so much to pull the community out and get them to march and show solidarity,” Jackson said. “We’ve been together, and we’re tired of taking the steps. It’s time for somebody else to take the lead and take the steps. If we keep having to fight, we don’t have time to be students — and that’s what we pay for. We shouldn’t have to wake up and deal with racism when we pay to go to class.”

Scott Kirker is a letters and Spanish senior and assistant news managing editor for The Daily. Previously he worked as summer editor-in-chief and as a news reporter covering research and administrative searches.

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