Editor’s note: Read this story in print in the February 2020 edition of the Crimson Quarterly magazine.
Around 9 p.m. on March 8, 2015, Isaiah Flowers’ power went out in Couch Center.
Moments later, he received a group message that brought even more darkness. Flowers opened the message and watched as a group of OU students from the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity sang a racist song with racial slurs and references to lynching.
“There will never be a n----- in SAE! There will never be a n----- in SAE! You can hang ’em from a tree, but they’ll never sign with me. There will never be a n----- in SAE!”
The video had gone viral.
Flowers didn’t sleep that night. Instead, he prepared and waited for the march he would attend at 6 a.m. He showed up on the North Oval dressed in all black. He wrote “UNHEARD” on a piece of tape, placed it over his mouth and marched across campus with hundreds of others.
“My life when I first got here, it was great,” Flowers said. “I was having the time of my life. But then when that event happened, it was just like a dark time.”
The weeks following the video consisted of marches, conversations and consequences. OU’s chapter of SAE was quickly disbanded by its national organization, and members were forced out of the fraternity house. Two students identified in the video withdrew under threat of expulsion, a new vice president role was created to focus on improving the university’s diversity and inclusion efforts, and more diversity training was promised.
Now, five years after the university cut all ties with SAE, OU's administration continues to look for ways to get diversity right on a campus that still feels the effects of that video over 1,800 days later.
Despite the changes made in the years since, racist incidents have continued to occur on OU’s campus. In February 2020, an OU Gaylord College professor used a racial slur during a class discussion sparking conversation and the call for changes. In 2019, rallies and marches were held after two instances of blackface. The Black Emergency Response Team formed to hold the administration accountable about making OU a more inclusive environment. OU Unheard had been created in January 2015 with similar goals.
With a new, renovated space for the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, along with a new vice president in Belinda Higgs Hyppolite, the university may appear to be headed in the right direction. However, with racist incidents occurring as recently as February 2020, some students and faculty feel there hasn’t been enough change and accountability across campus.
And many students, faculty and members of the administration are hoping they can be the difference.
“What’s changed?” said sophomore Jamelia Reed, an officer for BERT. “People have changed, but we're in the same rotation ... Unheard, they started almost (five) years ago, and we barely see a difference in what happened with them and then what it is now.
“What are you actually doing (OU)?”
Read about the changes to OU's diversity and inclusion and worries members of the OU community still have here.