University and community leaders worked throughout the summer to advance OU’s diversity and inclusion plan into its second phase, which includes extensive programming, training sessions and other events set to begin this week.
Students and faculty leaders met Aug. 5 to discuss implementation of the plan’s second phase and release an outline of the university’s goals.
Phase one of the university’s diversity and inclusion plan was announced by former OU President James Gallogly in March 2019, amid five racist incidents that OU and Norman experienced during the spring semester. Two involved OU students.
Teara Lander, director of campus and community engagement, said major steps were taken to prepare for the next academic year and strategize for the plan’s second phase soon after interim OU President Joseph Harroz was appointed May 15, following Gallogly’s May 12 retirement announcement.
“One of the largest things we've done is we created a culture building and belongingness committee,” Lander said.
The committee met weekly throughout the summer, Landers said, and is made up of about 10 to 12 students, faculty and staff from various campus communities including athletics, the graduate college and OU Outreach.
Lander said the committee has been responsible for shaping a new campaign OU will use to encourage a diverse community and establish the university’s values.
Jane Irungu, interim vice president of diversity and inclusion, said that during the summer, a major priority for the Office of Diversity and Inclusion was communicating that a plan was in place to create a more diverse campus community.
The "We Are" campaign will include a number of events and advertising efforts to spread awareness of the diversity plan and its goals, Lander said.
“Some of the things that we chose to look at was how to create ... a campaign that emphasizes who we are as an institution, so that if another incident happens, we're not saying who we are not — we're saying who we are,” Lander said.
The new campaign will be launched Aug. 29, Lander said, at the Office of Diversity and Inclusion’s fall welcome reception.
The campaign will introduce several new event series, including a "common read," which encourages faculty, staff and students to read a book that will focus on underrepresented groups.
Lander said the first book will be David Grann’s “Killers of the Flower Moon,” which details the murders of members of the Osage Nation. The committee has invited Marvin Stepson, former chief trial court judge of the Osage Nation, to speak about the book on Nov. 7.
The "We Are" campaign also includes plans to regularly hold “community conversations,” which Lander said would cover topics such as unlearning racism. The first community conversation is scheduled for Sept. 24, Lander said.
Lander added that plans are in motion for a "We Are" week to take place in January, and that the Office of Diversity and Inclusion has created diversity ally training, an optional five-part series of courses available to students and faculty. The course’s parts are unlearning racism, sexism, ableism, classism and trans- and homo-negativity, which will be provided alongside the Gender + Equality Center.
Irungu said that as the fall semester continues, the Diversity and Inclusivity Academic Council, which is responsible for coordinating and managing OU diversity initiatives, will begin to meet regularly to review feedback it has received on the plan and review the progress made on completing phase one and phase two objectives in the plan.
Some of the objectives for phase two include conducting an internal review of OU’s colleges and their student body diversity, establishing annual awards celebrating “diversity champions and/or innovations” and establishing stronger institutional infrastructure for diversity efforts.
OU’s colleges will now be asked to provide a report to the Office of Diversity and Inclusion as part of the internal climate survey, Irungu said, to help benchmark individual colleges' progress toward the goals laid out by the diversity plan.
Irungu said the specifics of how often diversity liaisons will meet with the office, as well as how often reports are provided, are still being discussed.
“Each college is required to appoint a diversity liaison ... who's going to work directly with the Office of Diversity and Inclusion,” Irungu said. “Whoever is appointed as a diversity officer in the college will work directly with me and my team so that we can support them as they work through the strategic plans, making sure their diversity goals align with the institutional goals and making sure that there’s accountability and that they are benchmarking their progress.”
Colleges’ reports to the Office of Diversity and Inclusion will be available online, Irungu said.
“I'll create a hub for all the reports from these colleges,” Irungu said. “Everybody will have access to that — we shall see who's doing what and who’s not doing what, making ourselves more transparent as colleges, but also as an office.”
The colleges will have relative autonomy in deciding which strategies they employ to increase diversity, Irungu said.
“We are not dictating action steps to the colleges — we're just providing a roadmap,” Irungu said. “I will be very careful not to dictate what steps they take ... these are the goals, these are the outcomes, tell me how you're getting there. Obviously, if they're getting there, if they're achieving the outcome that we are looking for, that means their strategies are good.”
Eddie R. Cole, associate professor of higher education at the College of William and Mary and an expert on college presidents and race, said that while the plan has many positive aspects, changes in OU’s administration could influence the effectiveness of the plan’s implementation.
“The college president is an extremely important piece to the execution and effectiveness of a diversity and inclusion plan,” Cole said. “You cannot underestimate the importance of having a president in place who’s fully behind the plan and can help lead the effort to implement said plan.”
With interim OU President Joseph Harroz appointed for a term of at least 15 months by the OU Board of Regents, and Irungu serving in an interim role as vice president of diversity and inclusion, Cole said questions could arise regarding who will steward the movement in the long term.
Harroz has said that diversity and inclusion is one of his top priorities as president.
“The absolute most important thing to me,” Harroz told The Daily in June, “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.”
Under Gallogly, some criticized the administration’s response to spring’s racist incidents — particularly that his rhetoric was weak and refused to explicitly name racism as the problem. Cole said unclear rhetoric can lead to the recurrence of racist issues on campus, and a president who specifically names the issue can help discourage the behavior.
“What a college president says in the immediate aftermath of a racial incident sets the tone for what is important and what should be addressed,” Cole said. “Most college presidents give a very generic statement ... That's exactly what (Gallogly) said initially. And what happens in that situation is, when you're so vague, and you're so generic in what you say, you're not actually naming racism, you're not actually naming what does not align with the university values.”
Cole said that an official university response to racist incidents can be one of the most important steps in “setting in motion” and testing the university’s diversity plan.
While recruiting a more diverse student body is important, Cole said, recruiting a more diverse faculty and staff can be more challenging.
“Diversity is the easier part. Inclusion is the more difficult,” Cole said. “And there are numerous studies around the importance of engaging with people ... who look like you and seeing yourself represented across a variety of university spaces. So if I'm a student of color who arrived at OU, and all of a sudden I go well into my junior year before I have a faculty member of color, what does that say?”
OU’s diversity plan includes goals for an “increased number and percentage of historically underrepresented faculty, staff and administrators” to be considered for positions as candidates and hired as employees, as well as more active hiring through the Affirmative Action Plan.
How Harroz — or any candidate — handles diversity and inclusion should be an important factor for the Board of Regents to consider when the time comes to appoint a permanent university president, Cole said.
“College presidents answer to a variety of constituent stakeholders,” Cole said. "Most often, the people responsible for hiring do not think about a college president’s skills when it comes to dealing with diversity and inclusion and racism in the same manner that they think about ... fundraising, or when they think about a college president when it comes to building the academic profile of a university."