OU President David Boren said in a statement Monday that the only way OU would change the words "boomer" and "sooner" is if its almost 245,000 alumni agreed to it.
Recently, members of Indigenize OU have called to inspire the eradication of the word “sooner” from the university’s identity due to its historical context of the Oklahoma land run.
“I think the words in their modern context are no longer tied to the history of the Oklahoma land settlement,” Boren said in the statement. “They have taken on a meaning of their own, which stands mainly for strong support for our state and university.”
The Indigenize OU members said the words offend Native students and make them feel unwelcome on campus. However, Boren said that the process to change the words would be arduous.
“The only way I can see it being changed is for our almost 245,000 alumni to ask for it. Given the new definition which all of us in the OU community have established, and the pride that we have in the heritage of the university, I believe the vast majority would be opposed,” Boren said in the statement.
According to Sooner Sports, "boomers" refer to those who believed that Native American land in the late 1800s should be deemed public.
Additionally, a “sooner” is a person who settles on government land before it is legally opened to settlers in order to gain the choice of location.
Nevertheless, Boren said the history of the words is not as important as what they stand for today.
“The term today stands for a spirit which is very inclusive, sets high standards of excellence and represents a strong sense of a common family,” according to Boren’s statement.
Sydne Gray of Indigenize OU said that although Boren may feel the words have different meaning, the Native American community does not feel that way.
"I don't think it's that easy to just redefine "boomer sooner" whenever it carries such a heavy, historical background," she said. "I wish he would understand ... how this impacts a much greater community outside of OU."
Indigenize OU will not give up on changing the name, Gray said.
"This is part of what our mission is," she said. "To make this place a better environment for Native students and to bring justice to Native people who are affected by the many continuations of these historical atrocities."
Ashley McCray of Indigenize OU said she is taken aback by Boren's statement and that the motto leaves out a lot of people.
"I really feel like when he’s saying that history doesn’t matter, and it takes on a new whole connotation, that’s really just a way of whitewashing our history and silencing those of us who are saying it does matter," McCray said.
McCray said she encourages Boren to look deeper into the history of the term.
"I don’t think that it is creating an inclusive environment when you say that history doesn’t matter, because for Native people, history does matter," McCray said.
McCray said Indigenize OU plans to work with other disenfranchised and marginalized groups to release a statement regarding the issue.
Boren's full statement:
"I think the words "boomer" and "sooner" in their modern context are no longer tied to the history of the Oklahoma land settlement. They have taken on a meaning of their own, which stands mainly for strong support for our state and university. The university was not even in existence when the western lands of Oklahoma were open to settlement by homesteaders. The term today stands for a spirit which is very inclusive, sets high standards of excellence, and represents a strong sense of a common family. The only way I can see it being changed is for our almost 245,000 alumni to ask for it. Given the new definition which all of us in the OU community have established, and the pride that we have in the heritage of the university, I believe the vast majority would be opposed. The history of the term is not nearly as important as what it stands for today."
Indigenize OU's full statement, via Facebook:
We are disappointed (but not surprised) by President Boren's insistence that the words "Boomer" and "Sooner" mean something completely different than and separate from their historical context. These terms are not inclusive of indigenous communities (nor any other marginalized community - when this term was selected by OU, only wealthy white students were able to attend). We think it is dangerous when histories of oppressed and marginalized communities are whitewashed - it isdangerous and frightening to be told that our history doesn't matter. For us, the words "Boomer" and "Sooner" are inextricably tied to the Oklahoma Land Runs (which began in 1889, only one year before the University of Oklahoma was founded), and for many tribal nations in Oklahoma, these words invoke collective historical memories of displacement(s) and cultural genocide.
We understand that many of our people uplift and support this term and we respect our people's decision to connect to OU through these terms, but we imagine a place where we can decolonize our communities and reclaim spaces that have excluded us both in practice and in language. This means collaborating and moving forward in a new way and through a new lens.