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Opinion: The time is now to strengthen OU's Student Code of Conduct

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Dr. Karlos Hill (copy)

Karlos Hill is the chair of the African and African-American Studies department at OU.

Editor's note: This story contains graphic and racist language.

For the second time in as many years, the OU community has garnered national headlines for some of its students posting anti-black hate speech on social media. While the OU student’s recent blackface social media post is an isolated incident, it sits inside a context of other events.  

We should remember that lesser known instances of anti-black hate speech have occurred, not just the recent blackface video or the Sigma Alpha Epsilon “hang them from a tree” video. There was a December 2018 incident in which an Oklahoma State student who was visiting Norman wrote “Nigger” on a receipt in Logie’s on Campus Corner after being served by a black female waitress. In November 2016, there was an incident involving an OU student whose GroupMe posts featured a mass lynching with the caption “I Love America” and called for a "daily lynching" of a black person. Taken together, these incidents illustrate an ignorance of African American history that should never be associated with any institution of higher education. They also demonstrate a callous dismissal of black students on our campus.

With this context acknowledged, I stand in solidarity with the Black Student Association’s call for a zero-tolerance policy on the dissemination of racist hate speech by any OU student, faculty, or staff. Full stop.

Whether we like it or not, anti-black hate speech on our campus that spills into the national headlines has created a public perception that our beloved OU community harbors a racially intolerant culture. In 2015, even though I was not yet a faculty at the University of Oklahoma, I applauded then-OU President David Boren’s swift and decisive response to SAE, but I believe, as does the Black Student Association, that the work that was started in 2015 remains incomplete.

I believe a clear, transparent, and zero-tolerance policy specifically geared toward the willful and malicious dissemination of racist hate speech by any OU student, faculty, or staff. A policy will help redefine our public perception, but more importantly it should not be a mystery how leadership will handle racist hate speech when it occurs on our campus. I commend our students for planning and gathering in response to this racist hate speech, but protests and rallies should not be needed to clarify where we stand as a community in relation to racist hate speech. In the interest of creating a truly inclusive community, we owe it to our students to take this necessary step.

As chair of African and African American Studies, I pledge to redouble my department’s efforts to offer courses to the OU community that expose and explain historical and contemporary racism, as well as the anti-racism movements that have sought to make our society more inclusive. It is high time for a clear and unequivocal policy that is enshrined in the OU Student Code of Conduct regarding how the University of Oklahoma will deal with the willful and malicious dissemination of racist hate speech by OU students, faculty, and staff. It is time to come together as one community to do this important work.

Karlos Hill is the chair of OU's Department of African and African American Studies.

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