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Unheard members discuss grievances at town hall meeting

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OU Unheard Town Hall meeting

Oklahoma NAACP President Anthony Douglas addresses the attendants of the OU Unheard Town Hall meeting on Thursday night at George Lynn Cross. 

Students took the stage and unleashed their voices Thursday evening as they discussed their experiences as black members of the OU community.

The OU Unheard town hall meeting was held at 8 p.m. Thursday in George Lynn Cross Hall, Room 123. During the meeting, students who organized a unity march Wednesday afternoon went through their list of grievances with the university, which they will be discussing with OU President David Boren Jan. 21.

“We on this stage are unheard,” mechanical engineering junior Meagan Johnson said as the meeting began.

The students of Unheard told attendees that this was their chance to discuss the seven grievances that the group had outlined.

OU Unheard decided to hold the meeting because they wanted to strengthen their argument with the voices and opinions of other students before they went into Boren’s office next week, accounting junior Naome Kadira said.

“We wanted to know that when we go in, we go in strong, we go in united, and we go in as one,” Kadira said.

The first grievance that the students discussed was the lack of black faculty at OU.

There are few black professors at OU, especially in the STEM departments, mechanical engineering junior Alexis Hall said. Throughout her time at OU, she has never had a black professor within her major, she said.

The students then talked about low retention rates among black students at OU—often due to a lack of financial aid and support on campus, group members said.

Johnson has been at OU for six semesters, and she can name at least two black students who have left the university during each term, she said. They either couldn’t afford to keep attending or did not feel welcome on campus, Johnson said.

Directly related to low retention, the students of Unheard talked about a lack of financial aid for black students, many of whom need to work throughout their college careers to make it through.

“Our grievances, they’re a domino effect,” Kadira said. “One affects the other.”

Hall recounted times that she had been to the financial aid office and had been turned away. It was discouraging to meet with white financial advisers who she felt couldn’t fully understand her situation, Hall said.

In addition to funding, supportive programs for black students are also necessary to make all students on campus feel welcome, the students of Unheard said.

Health and exercise science junior Chelsea Davis talked about how many of her friends in engineering credit the Multicultural Engineering Program as the reason they are still in school. She wishes the College of Arts and Sciences had a similar program, she said.

The students then went on to talk about the Sooner experience as black students.

“OU prides itself as being a family,” Hall said “But are black students included in this family?”

As one of few black students, it easy to feel excluded from OU’s family, Johnson said.

Many students do not understand black history or culture and will act in insensitive or offensive ways, Kadira said.

Black representatives are also missing from OU’s executive hierarchy, and there is a lack of funding for multicultural organizations such as the Black Student Association, the students said.

Johnson wants OU to hire a vice president devoted to diversity so that minority students will have more of a voice within OU administration, she said. 

After the discussion of the grievances, the leaders of Unheard collected notecards that had been distributed to the attendees at the beginning of the event for them to write down questions or discussion points.

The cards spurred further discussion of how to recruit a more diverse student body, cultural appropriation on campus and stereotypes.

Little things, such as when people assume that black students all like rap music or know all the lyrics to hip hop music, are painful and frustrating, said Erin Thornton, an environmental engineering graduate student who was in the audience.

“The black experience is different for every individual,” Thornton said.

After the meeting, Kadira felt pleased with the turnout and confident for the group’s meeting with Boren, she said.

 “This is only the beginning,” Kadira said. “This is not the end of us. We are unheard, but we will be heard.”

Kate Bergum is a professional writing and English senior and a copy chief at the Daily. She has also worked for the Daily as an assistant news editor and campus reporter.

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