Editor’s note: This article contains links to and descriptions of racist imagery targeting Black Americans. It also quotes a source, whose identity is known to The Daily, who has been granted anonymity for fear of reprisal. This source is denoted by an asterisk and pseudonym.
Photos circulated online late Tuesday featuring an OU freshman repeatedly using racist slurs and imagery in social media posts.
In the Twitter thread, OU freshman Jaxon Moore is seen posting photos of himself edited to cover his face in black. Moore captioned one of the photos “I am (n-word),” similar to a video circulated in 2019 of OU Tri Delta members doing the same with black facemasks. In another photo, Moore drew black stick figures with nooses around their necks.
In a statement to The Daily, the university wrote it is aware of the photos and OU officials are “facilitating dialogue” with the student.
“According to the student, those photos originate from his time as a high school student, prior to attending OU or receiving any diversity, equity, and inclusion training or education,” the statement read. “This harmful event is a prime example of why training and education are so important for students to receive during their first year of college.”
OU is currently working to implement a semester-long, required diversity course titled “Gateway to Belonging.” An interview with the first of four candidates to become director of the new course took place Tuesday afternoon. Joshua Nelson, chair of the search committee responsible for hiring the director, wrote in an email to The Daily the program’s primary goal is to help students build “intercultural awareness” and develop an understanding of others’ identities.
Moore issued an apology statement to The Daily at 1:20 p.m. Wednesday.
“I apologize for my involvement in an incident that occurred in my past. I would like everyone to know how deeply sorry I am and know that I feel great remorse for my prior actions. Please know that this is in no way an accurate reflection of the person I am today,” Moore wrote. “During my time in high school I experienced relentless torment and hate from athletes and other classmates after coming out as a gay person. The anguish it caused led me to a very dark time in my life. I was hurting and stupidly lashed out in the most unacceptable way imaginable. This is not an excuse for my actions.”
Moore wrote OU has provided “an amazing environment” to grow beyond his “immature mistake.”
“My experience at OU has shown me that there are people who are accepting of others, no matter their differences,” Moore wrote. “I plan to use this regrettable incident to better myself and to help others in any way that I am able. In no way do I feel hate for any other human being.”
Jane Johnson*, who said she was friends with students in Moore’s circle during his time at Aledo High School — roughly 30 minutes west of Fort Worth — said Moore’s behavior in the social media posts was “not a rare thing.”
“I would hear him say the N-word (with) hard-R, and I remember at one point I asked one of his closer friends why don't y’all ever call him out,” Johnson said. “I mean, it felt like we were all uncomfortable here, because no one else seems to do that. And they were like ‘Oh, you don’t call him out … if you call him out, he’ll come for you, (and) you don’t want that.”
Johnson said Moore viewed this behavior as “a joke” and racist behavior “was more normalized than it should have been” at the high school.
After being selected as interim president in 2019, now-OU President Joseph Harroz said diversity and inclusion had to remain a top priority for the university. The tenure of Harroz’s predecessor, former OU President James Gallogly, was fraught with racial incidents including the Tri Delta incident, a September 2019 incident featuring another OU student in blackface and an individual being spotted in blackface on Campus Corner.
“The absolute most important thing to me,” Harroz said in a 2019 interview with The Daily, “is that we get it right around diversity and inclusion … Race and ethnicity have to be — we have to get that right. If we don't get that right, nothing else matters. I mean, period.”
Former OU Board of Regents Chairman Gary Pierson, who recently departed the board following the expiration of his term, also voiced his support of the Gateway to Belonging course at the March 5 regents meeting. He noted there was a degree of pushback, however.
“People have been very supportive,” Pierson said. “Other people not so much. I want to tell you about that course. It has a specific design, and it’s to teach freshmen how to engage (with) one another, and everybody they encounter with dignity and respect. … This is going to enable young people in the world in which they live to be productive citizens.”
During former President Donald Trump’s administration, he signed an executive order prohibiting certain government agencies from conducting diversity training that the former president claimed amounted to “divisive, anti-American propaganda” painting the country as “irredeemably racist and sexist.”
In Oklahoma, measures like House Bill 1888 have targeted gender identity training in state-funded environments like public universities. That bill, co-authored by Reps. Justin Humphrey (R-Lane), Kevin West (R-Moore) and Jim Olsen (R-Roland), was originally stalled on the house floor then revived in Senate Bill 627. SB 627 was first intended to establish a Red River Border Commission, but the entirety of the bill was amended to address gender identity training. The bill was listed as removed from the senate on April 1.
Sen. Rob Standridge (R-Norman) co-authored Senate Bill 803, which seeks to prohibit public and charter schools from “teaching or training students to believe certain divisive concepts.” The bill text defines divisive concepts, including that “one race or sex is inherently superior,” “the United States is fundamentally racist or sexist,” or an individual being “inherently racist, sexist or oppressive” by virtue of their race or sex. The bill has yet to see further action.
Other incidents predating and during Harroz’s tenure illustrate the ongoing race relations struggle at OU. A 2015 video made national headlines after a bus of Sigma Alpha Epsilon members were recorded performing a racist chant. In February 2020, two professors used the same slur in their classes — one repeatedly using the word while reading from a historical document and the other comparing the slur to the phrase “OK, boomer.” These incidents were followed by the three-day BERT sit-in at Evans Hall, during which BERT leaders demanded reforms to OU’s diversity training, including a semester-long course like Gateway to Belonging.
The university has attempted to minimize the occurrence of such incidents by building diversity initiatives into its strategic plan. The plan’s fourth pillar, to become a “place of belonging” for students, faculty and staff, includes plans to increase recruitment and retention of faculty and students from underrepresented communities. In the year after the BERT sit-in, OU has also retooled its required online diversity training and introduced the Gateway to Belonging course as part of the plan.
The incident coincides with an ongoing national reckoning with race. The COVID-19 pandemic ushered in an unprecedented rise in hate attacks against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Over the summer, the killings of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery sparked protests nationwide, while just days ago in Minnesota, protests erupted again after Daunte Wright was killed by police on April 11. The shooting occured 10 miles from the courthouse holding the ongoing trial of Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis Police Department officer responsible for the death of Floyd.
“While the university implemented such training in hopes of eliminating events like these, we aren’t naïve enough to think that such instances will instantly dissipate,” the university statement read. “But we do know that this act, like those before it, is not representative of who we are as an OU community, and it underscores the need for our prioritization of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging at OU. OU’s Strategic Plan puts this work at its center, and we will continue our efforts in making OU a place of true belonging for all.”
Jillian Taylor contributed to this report