As students begin to return to campus after a summer that has forced this nation to confront its deep-rooted history of racism and anti-Blackness, it’s crucial to re-examine and address the University of Oklahoma’s own history of exclusion. Throughout the past few months, the senseless killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and George Floyd, among numerous others, have reminded us of the anguish that the United States has inflicted upon Black communities throughout the past 400 years.
The University of Oklahoma is no stranger to racial tensions. The past few years have been plagued with brazen racist incidents, which have consistently resulted in promises to cultivate an inclusive campus climate, support communities of color, and confront anti-Blackness; however, the subordination of marginalized groups stretches far beyond Blackface and racial slurs. It is embedded within the structures of organizations across campus, including the ones that we have learned to call home.
Campus Activities Council is OU’s largest umbrella organization — with 14 events and nearly 800 students applying each year. On its website, CAC says it is “responsible for programming inclusive, campus-wide events that serve all students.” However, the commonly used moniker, “Caucasian Activities Council,” highlights the overwhelming sentiment that there is a pervasive lack of representation, access, and opportunity for students with marginalized identities. As members of CAC, having served on the executive committee for the High School Leadership Conference since we were freshmen, we feel obligated to publicly address these shortcomings in order to better serve all students moving forward.
In a 2016 column by former SGA President J.D. Baker, he challenged CAC to create more equitable spaces that fully celebrate the identities of all their members. Baker used the term “qualitative diversity,” which was coined by Harvard Law professor Tomiko Brown-Nagin, to analyze the quality of students’ experiences rather than being merely concerned with using their identities to satisfy a quota.
While CAC has implemented various initiatives to address these issues, such as conducting general social climate surveys, introducing blind grading and automatic interviews, and creating the Community Experience Council, it’s important to situate their effectiveness through the lens of the lived experiences of the students they were intended to serve.
Throughout the past several years in HSLC, we have personally seen the abilities of competent leaders be constantly scrutinized due to their race, gender, or sexual orientation. Due to the overwhelming lack of historical precedence on campus, when students from marginalized communities obtain executive positions, their merit is oftentimes undermined and they encounter unwarranted claims that they’re only in these positions for the sake of mere tokenism.
Qualitative diversity focuses on four main components: representation, voice, community and accountability. Baker believed that by addressing these four areas, we would create more “equitable and fair experiences.” However, in the four years since his article was published, we have only seen these issues intensify as CAC has continued to fail marginalized communities.
CAC greatly appeals to many of its members, but this is unfortunately not the case for all students on campus. Intimate conversations reveal that many students assume if they do not possess identities that align with the dominant demographics found within CAC — i.e. white, greek, and affluent — there is no point in applying. We cannot pretend to wonder why students from marginalized communities do not want to join organizations like CAC when its reputation and outward perception screams “you do not belong here.”
If CAC is truly interested in creating more inclusive spaces that celebrate diversity, it must aim to genuinely listen, engage, and serve students who have historically been outside of CAC’s target audience. This could mean co-programming with organizations like the Gender + Equality Center, racial affinity groups, or Project Threshold to put on events that are truly intended for all students. Moreover, CAC must create avenues to amplify the voices of students from marginalized communities who have already found their way into CAC, while pairing listening with action to create tangible change when these students address existing barriers for their respective communities.
To the students who have yet to find a home within CAC, we need you to apply for these positions in order to continue to advocate and hold CAC accountable for its shortcomings. Alone, our voices may seem quiet in these spaces, but together we can draw the necessary attention to create positive social change. With the CAC common application opening this week, CAC needs you. You bring unique ideas, identities, and experiences that deserve to be shared and heard.
To all readers, we urge you to critically analyze the organizations you call home. Without this transformative criticism, we cannot find growth. And without growth, the world, country, and OU are allowed to remain stagnant in their damaging ways.
We are cautiously hopeful that CAC will continue to blossom into the organization that it is intended to be: one that serves all students on campus. James Baldwin insisted on his right to criticize the U.S. in order for it to ultimately become what he knew it could and should be. In this same vein, we extend this criticism because of the love we share for CAC and the home we have been able to find within it. As an organization that has provided a home for so many students at OU, we only wish that this home was easier for everyone to access.
That is your responsibility, and yours alone, CAC.
Yours for the cause of transformative change,
Lafonzo Spigner, CAC High School Leadership Conference Recruitment Team & Counselor CAC University Sing Performance Exec
Miguel Chavez, CAC High School Leadership Conference Counselor
Devin Brown, CAC High School Leadership Conference Counselor