University of Oklahoma promises changes after student sit-in protests use of racial slurs

KOCO-TV(NORMAN, Okla.) — University of Oklahoma administrators say they will make changes in the wake of a sit-in by students protesting two incidents in which professors used racial slurs while teaching class.

The first incident occured on Feb. 11, when journalism professor Peter Gade compared the offensiveness of the phrase “OK, Boomer” and the use of the “N-word.”

The second incident occurred on Monday, when a history professor read from a historical document that used the N-word “repeatedly,” the university said in a statement, which also denounced her use of the word. That professor was not named.

In response to the incidents, the university’s Black Emergency Response Team staged a sit-in outside the president’s office in Evans Hall on Wednesday.

University officials condemned both incidents, saying that the school “must serve as an example to our society of both freedom of expression and understanding and tolerance,” according to ABC Oklahoma City affiliate KOCO-TV.

Regarding Professor Gade, administrators said in a statement that “While the professor’s comments are protected by the First Amendment and academic freedom, his comment and word choice are fundamentally offensive and wrong.” Gade did not immediately respond to ABC News’ request for comment.

In response to the professor who read aloud the historical document, a university statement said that “While she could have made the point without reciting the actual word, she chose otherwise. Her issuance of a ‘trigger warning’ before her recitation does not lessen the pain caused by the use of the word. For students in her class, as well as members of our community, this was another painful experience. It is common sense to avoid uttering the most offensive word in the English language, especially in an environment where the speaker holds power.”

Students at the resulting sit-in posted a list of demands that includes the resignation of university provost Kyle Harper, mandatory equity training for all faculty, shifting the one-time diversity training to a semester-long class taken by all incoming and transfer students, and creating a multicultural center for all marginalized groups on campus.

The students refused to leave the building until all of their demands were met, the group wrote on Twitter. Some students remained in the building for more than 13 hours, KOCO reported.

“At this time I can say that not all of the demands have been met, but we will still be here as long as we need to until those demands have been met,” a member of the group, who is also a KOCO employee, said on video.

University administrators met with students Wednesday evening to discuss the demands and “better understand their concerns,” according to a statement released by the university.

“We identified areas of agreement that will move our University forward,” the statement read. “We have agreed to continue these discussions. We will also advance those discussions with other student, faculty, and staff leadership.

The document the university gave to the group in response to their demands was provided to ABC News by OU Director of Media Relations Kesha Keith. It outlines a plan that will be presented to the Board of Regents in draft form on March 11 and 12.

The tentative plans includes mandatory equity training for all faculty and staff, to be implemented by the fall; the development and implementation of a student course to promote respect for all students, to be piloted in the upcoming fall semester and included in the general education curriculum during Fall 2021; and the expansion of mental health resources for students.

“We believe these are in the best interests of the University,” the document read.

Dozens of students remained at the sit-in on Thursday morning, Emma Keith, a reporter for The Norman Transcript, tweeted.

 University administrators said in response to the protests that they “join with OU’s concerned and hurt students, faculty, staff, alumni, and friends, and we echo the need for equal respect for everyone.”

“Our community has experienced incidents in the last two weeks that have certainly caused pain, but more importantly have been reminders of trauma caused by racism and structural issues both past and present,” the statement read. “As a University, one of our responsibilities is to not simply reflect society, but to engage in productive, positive discourse, come together, and make society better.”

The statement was signed by UO Interim President Joseph Harroz, Jr., Vice President for Diversity, Equality and Inclusion Dr. Belinda Higgs Hyppolite and Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Dr. David Surratt.

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