OU’s Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion hosted a presentation on Wednesday where speakers shared what it meant to belong at OU, how to better foster belonging at the university and shared the DEI progress report as part of its annual DEI week.
The event, called Pathway to Belonging, featured an interview with Tulsa connection coach, Jonathan Sprinkles, as well as speakers such as community health senior Angel Karloh, Roksana Alavi, associate professor of integrative studies, and Nicole Been, associate athletics director of diversity, equity, and inclusion, who spoke about what belonging means to them.
Karloh said through OU, she was able to get involved in organizations like the Black Student Association and African Students Organization, which allowed her to find a sense of belonging.
“I would often look around and not see people that looked like me, sounded like me, dressed like me, but (there) was a feeling of similarity whenever we could get together and find organizations on campus that would allow us to get to know each other beyond our outside appearances and differences,” Karloh said.
Belonging is best fostered through connection, Sprinkles said during his interview with Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion Belinda Higgs-Hyppolite. The best way to improve connection, Sprinkles said, is to gather a strong sense of self by getting involved in spaces as Karloh did.
“You might be the only person who is of color, the only (Native American), only female, the only however you define yourself, but you get to say, I'm going to be the best representation of what this looks like in this class, on this campus, on this team,” Sprinkles said. “That's an opportunity for you to not be small, but instead let your light shine.”
Following the interview with Sprinkles, Higgs-Hyppolite shared the DEI Offices’ progress this year. Higgs-Hyppolite said much research and work that OU faculty and staff has been barred by recent legislation such as House Bill 1775, which bans schools from knowingly or unknowingly teaching that a person, because of their race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive.
Higgs-Hyppolite said the DEI Office is continuing to examine what they can do to be responsive to the campus community while still being in full compliance with the law. This year, the DEI impacted 10,000 individuals on this campus through its impact data through university-wide online training for diversity and inclusion, Higgs-Hyppolite said.
The office has also held over 216 training and workshop sessions, 42 campus climate initiatives in partnership with others across the university and has given out over $18,000 in scholarships to support students in paying off Bursar bills and student organizations for their on-campus initiatives, Higgs-Hyppolite said.
“We want this to be a place of true belonging for our campus community and belonging is not just a one-time experience,” Higgs-Hyppolite said. “It’s an everyday experience that you need to have in all of the spaces that you go into.”