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LIVE UPDATES: OU Black Emergency Response Team ends sit-in at Evans Hall after administration agrees to new demands

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BERT Sit-in

Members of the Black Emergency Response Team during a sit-in inside Evans Hall on Feb. 26.

This is a developing situation. This post will be updated as more information and details become available. Follow along with @arriifife on Twitter for live updates from this event. 

Day 3: Friday, Feb. 28

4:48 p.m.

People are now cleaning up Evans Hall after the conclusion of the sit-in.

4:34 p.m.

Minutes ago, BERT leadership announced the sit-in and hunger strike have ended. According to the BERT statement, the administration committed to the creation of a student advisory council for the provost's office and the regularization of a 360 review process for senior leadership beginning with Senior Vice President and Provost Kyle Harper.

Other demands the administration previously committed to meet included establishing a feasibility committee for a multicultural center, equity training for faculty and a course on diversity. According to the statement, demands met will be included in the university's strategic framework that will be presented to the OU Board of Regents in March.

BERT tweeted its full statement.

4:10 p.m. 

The OU National Black Alumni Society sent a statement in support of BERT's sit-in to The Daily:

In 2015 the members of the University of Oklahoma National Black Alumni Society stood in solidarity with the Black Student Association (BSA) and UNHEARD. In 2020 we stand in solidarity with the BSA and students of the Black Emergency Response Team (BERT). The Black Emergency Response Team students are standing on the shoulders of Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher, Sylvia A. Lewis, Melvin B. Tolson Jr. and George Henderson, former legends from our community who organized for civil rights, social equality and systemic change at OU.

We will continue to work with the OU administration on the issues that consistently affect our black community; students and faculty/staff on campus. If the focus is on diversity & inclusion, actions speak louder than words! The time is now to make a difference!

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” ― Martin Luther King, Jr.

Respectfully,

Sonia Aikins

OU National Black Alumni Society President

3:47 p.m.

According to a statement from an OU spokesperson, interim OU President Joseph Harroz is working from the Health Sciences Center today on the campus' strategic plan, but he is in communication with the Norman campus executive team. The administration informed BERT leadership yesterday that he would be there, according to the statement.

Provost Kyle Harper is working from the Norman campus today, according to the statement.

1:55 p.m.

The Undergraduate Student Congress released a statement from its chair Emma DeAngeli in support of the Black Emergency Response Team's sit-in and condemning the use of the N-word in any context. The statement reads as follows:

After several racist incidents this past month, we as the Undergraduate Student Congress support the members of Black Emergency Response Team in their passion and dedication for alleviating the inequity seen, felt, and heard on campus. BERT and many other students are fighting to secure a more inclusive, compassionate community.

We recognize the pain the word spoken incurs, and we condemn its usage in any context. We share BERT's need for change, considering this and other forms of racism have persisted in our community for entirely too long. We commend them for their commitment to justice and equality.

Sincerely,

Emma DeAngeli

Chair of Undergraduate Student Congress

1:39 p.m.

BERT members left the president's office.

1:03 p.m.

The latest headcount of people at the sit-in is about 50 people.

12:30 p.m.

Members of BERT have just entered the president's office.

11:23 a.m.

A university statement is likely to come between noon and 2 p.m., said OU Director of Media Relations Kesha Keith, and BERT may release its new demands around that time as well. Administrators have been meeting this morning to discuss next steps, Keith said.

10:30 a.m.

The attendance is still around 30 to 40 people.

9:05 a.m. 

David Surratt and Belinda Higgs Hyppolite have returned to Evans Hall on the third day of the protest. 

8:37 a.m.

Around 30 people are present in Evans Hall at this time.

8:08 a.m.

The Evans Hall sit-in continues. Sometime during the night, the sidewalk on both the North and South Ovals was chalked with hashtags in support of the sit-in, including #BlackStudentsMatter, #HarperHasToGo, and #TheHateYouHire.

Day 2: Thursday, Feb. 27

7:27 p.m.

Interim OU President Joseph Harroz left Evans Hall shortly before 7:30 p.m.

7:20 p.m.

Jamelia Reed and SGA President Justin Norris have entered into a meeting with Harroz.

7:00 p.m.

OU Director of Media Relations Kesha Keith said Goddard Health Center employees came to Evans Hall earlier Thursday to provide counseling services or other health services for willing students at the sit-in.

6:51 p.m.

Approximately 90 to 100 students remain in the building after announcements from the university administration and BERT, and are beginning to settle in for the night.

6:46 p.m.

Shortly after the university stated it would not acquiesce to BERT's demand for Provost Kyle Harper's resignation, BERT said it will create six new demands that will ensure a system of checks and balances between the offices of the president and provost.

6:34 p.m.

The university released a statement from interim OU President Joseph Harroz in which he said he would not agree to BERT's demand for Provost Kyle Harper's resignation. The statement reads as follows:

In a university setting, and especially at OU, input is not just welcome and appreciated, it is necessary. But decisions are not made in a vacuum and they are not made in response to ultimatums. Recommendations received are considered carefully, and if in line with the strategic direction of the university, are brought by the president to the Board of Regents for review and approval. I have done this and will continue to.

I cannot engage the demand for the immediate resignation of the Provost. I listened to BERT’s concerns and will always listen to concerns from our students. However, I told them I will not meet this demand. My reasons are based on principle, fairness, and precedent. As a matter of practice, we do not discuss personnel evaluations of employees in this public manner. We can never allow our desire for expediency to deter us from being fair in our evaluations.

I am confident in Provost Harper’s abilities and willingness to work constructively to advance the university. 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. I personally asked him to continue to serve through an important period of transition and to help us complete and launch the strategic plan. He put his personal pursuits on hold to serve his alma mater. There is no doubt that he loves our university and serves it tirelessly.

OU is a special place we all care deeply about. It’s at the university that we learn and grow, both individually and as a society. I look forward to working with our entire university community to make OU a place of true belonging.

Sincerely,

Joseph Harroz, Jr.

Interim President

6:33 p.m.

BERT leadership and interim OU President Joseph Harroz left the same room after meeting for about an hour.

6:27 p.m.

Former Oklahoma Senator Anastasia Pittman is at the sit-in.

5:40 p.m.

OU BERT leaders exited the conference room and entered into the president's office. 

5:35 p.m.

Members of the OU International Advisory Committee released a statement announcing their support and solidarity for OU BSA and OU BERT's efforts.

5:05 p.m.

Shortly before 5 p.m., Evans Hall employees began locking the president's wing of Evans Hall.

4:15 p.m.

BERT member Destinee Dickson said that the policy will be the same on the Evans Hall doors as they were last night, that anyone in the building at 5 p.m. will be allowed to stay and leave at will, but no new people will be allowed to enter. 

2:58 p.m. 

Administrators are communicating with BERT and creating a statement regarding the "next steps" in the discussion. Keith said the statement would come within a couple hours. 

2:08 p.m.

Members of the OU Faculty Senate released a statement at 1:24 p.m. recommending methods for faculty members to support students "in disrupting and dismantling systemic racism across the university."

1:54 p.m.

BERT co-director Jamelia Reed said the organization met with Provost Kyle Harper and the organization's demands have still not been met. Reed said the hunger strike and sit-in will continue.

1:15 p.m.

Earlier this morning, the Big XII Council on Black Student Government tweeted a letter in response to the sit-in, which read that the organization is “standing in complete solidarity with” the students currently participating.

12:56 p.m.

Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion Belinda Higgs Hyppolite and Vice President for Student Affairs David Surratt have returned to Evans Hall and entered the president's office, about 48 minutes after it was confirmed BERT leaders were meeting with Provost Kyle Harper. OU Director of Media Relations Kesha Keith said Higgs Hyppolite and Surratt would be involved in that meeting.

12:14 p.m.

BERT leadership is now meeting with Provost Kyle Harper at an undisclosed location, OU Director of Media Relations Kesha Keith said.

11:20 a.m. 

Dean of Students David Surratt has arrived in Evans Hall during the second day of the sit-in. 

10:48 a.m.

OU Black Emergency Response Team co-director Jamelia Reed said the protest would continue until all demands are met, after an OU spokesperson passed out a statement of initiatives that would be included in the university's strategic plan to be presented to the Board of Regents. She also said BERT's six executive leaders are those on the hunger strike.

10:45 a.m.

OU Director of Media Relations Kesha Keith distributed a statement to media at Evans Hall, explaining that some of the initiatives asked for in BERT's demands are already included in the strategic plan to be presented to the Board of Regents March 10–11 — such as mandatory equity training for faculty and staff, an equity and inclusion course for students, and expanded mental health resources.

8:55 a.m.

OU Director of Media Relations Kesha Keith said BERT leadership will soon be allowed to meet again with administrators, including Kyle Harper. That meeting may occur around 11 or 11:30 a.m.

8:42 a.m.

Interim OU President Harroz arrived to his office in Evans Hall.

7:45 a.m.

A banner hung on the Seed Sower statue calls for the resignation of Provost Kyle Harper — one of the demands of the OU Black Emergency Response Team's sit-in.

Day 1: Wednesday, Feb. 26

11:10 p.m.

BERT will not make a statement tonight, and the sit-in will continue.

10:54 p.m.

Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion Belinda Higgs Hyppolite left Evans Hall.

10:49 p.m.

OU released a new statement as students continue to hold the sit-in at Evans Hall, nearly six hours after the building closed at 5 p.m.

10:45 p.m.

Interim OU President Joseph Harroz left Evans Hall. BERT leadership headed up to the second floor.

10:30 p.m.

Several BERT leaders just went in and sat in Harroz’s office. However, it is not clear if negotiations are back on.

9:37 p.m.

OU spokesperson Kesha Keith said the statement will come closer to 10 p.m. because “some movements are being made in regards to BERT” before the statement can be sent. 

8:38 p.m.

Fuzzy’s was brought in for protesters and supplies keep being dropped off. There are roughly 30 to 40 demonstrators left in the building. Most protesters are in the Office of the Provost, and many are singing and laughing.

7:34 p.m.

BERT leadership said not all demands have been met, and they plan to stay until the demands have been met. It is unclear at this time how late negotiations may continue.

7:09 p.m.

BERT leadership left the meeting with administrators and entered another meeting to talk privately. They had met with interim OU President Joseph Harroz and other administrators for more than an hour.

6:45 p.m. 

OU spokesperson Kesha Keith clarified that unarmed OUPD officers will be at Evans Hall overnight for student safety. Approximately 65 protesters are still in the building.

5:49 p.m.

A few protesters have left, but many are prepared to stay for a long time.

5:36 p.m.

Interim OU President Joe Harroz, Dean David Surratt and Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion Belinda Higgs Hyppolite invited BERT leadership back into the president's office.

5:29 p.m.

Interim OU President Joseph Harroz arrived at Evans Hall after he was out of state this morning.

5:10 p.m.

OU Director of Media Relations Kesha Keith said in an email that Evans Hall closed at 5 p.m. as normal. Those who choose to stay can, but additional people will not be allowed to enter. Reentry will also not be allowed.

"Throughout the night, we will have security on site along with members of the Divisions of Student Affairs and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion," Keith said in the email.

Only university officials will be allowed in and out of the building after 5 p.m., Keith said in the email.

4:57 p.m.

BERT member Destinee Dickson said students will be allowed to remain in Evans Hall after 5 p.m., but if they leave they will not be able to return. Dickson also said police will not be in the building.

4:52 p.m.

OU spokesperson Kesha Keith told The Daily an announcement would be made at 5 p.m.

4:30 p.m.

OU general counsel Anil Gollahalli told The Daily that he did not have comment and referred to an OU spokesperson.

3:43 p.m.

OU Unheard, an organization created in January 2015 to hold the administration accountable for making OU a more inclusive environment, tweeted the document of recommendation from the search committee that recommended Kyle Harper in 2015, which lists his strengths and weaknesses as a candidate.

3:00 p.m. 

BERT leader Jamelia Reed has asked demonstrators to start moving to the second floor as the sit-in continues to grow. 

2:15 p.m.

The sit-in at Evans Hall is ongoing. For further information about OU sit-ins and an ongoing 10-day sit-in at Syracuse University, read more here.

1:29 p.m.

BERT released a statement on Twitter describing grievances against Provost Kyle Harper. 

12:15 p.m.

BERT member Destinee Dickson exited a conference room, telling attendees to get more people at the sit-in and that the sit-in would not end anytime soon.

11:54 a.m.

Dean of Students David Surratt and Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion Belinda Higgs Hyppolite left the conference room after meeting with BERT members for about 40 minutes.

11:15 a.m. 

Members of BERT are currently meeting with Dean of Students David Surratt and Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion Belinda Higgs Hyppolite. 

10:50 a.m. 

An email from OU's Marketing and Communications team said Harroz was out of state today, but Harper will be returning this afternoon. 

"Interim President Harroz is currently out-of-state and is working remotely as he travels back to Oklahoma," the email said. "Provost Harper had scheduled meetings with students this morning, is attending services today, and will be on campus this afternoon."

10:10 a.m.

When asked by The Daily about the protest, OU Police Department Major Bruce Chan said it's not OUPD's decision to decide how long a protest will be allowed to continue and that the question should be posed to OU's Marketing and Communications team. Clarification: This section was updated to reflect the fact that a member of OU's Marketing and Communications team is in the office, despite a comment from an employee that said otherwise. 

9:40 a.m. 

OU told Emma Keith of the Norman Transcript that OU's administration is now comparing BERT's demands with the university's current "Diversity, Equity and Inclusion" plan.

9:05 a.m.

The Daily has learned that Provost Kyle Harper ⁠— whom the protesters have called on to resign ⁠— is not in his office today. Interim OU President Joseph Harroz will not be in his office today.

8:15 a.m. 

OU's Black Emergency Response Team is currently protesting with a sit-in hunger strike in OU's administrative building Evans Hall, demanding the resignation of Provost Kyle Harper, among other things. 

The gathering was organized late last night in response to two recent incidents in which professors used a racial slur in class within the last two weeks. 

The protesting students have called for Harper's resignation from his position as OU's provost, the creation of a multicultural center on campus and a semester-long class to replace OU's current diversity training. BERT has also demanded mandatory diversity and equity training for faculty members. 

The gathering comes after OU history professor Kathleen Brosnan used a racial slur “repeatedly” in her class while reading a historical document, according to a statement from interim OU President Joseph Harroz. Another OU professor, Gaylord Family Endowed Chair Peter Gade, used the slur in a comparison to the phrase "OK, boomer" on Feb. 11. 

Harper said in a statement yesterday that he would work to make students feel comfortable on campus while also respecting the "fundamental boundaries of the First Amendment." 

Jordan Miller, Scott Kirker and Bailey Lewis contributed to this report.

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