Campus leaders initiate bridge-building dialogue to engage community
With the nation transfixed by a momentous civil rights movement, OSU diversity leaders raised their voices Friday afternoon, inviting members of the OSU community to join the conversation.
The Community Advancing Conversation Virtual Panel session, the first of a monthly series, was streamed live at ostate.tv, featuring thought-provoking perspectives on race and inclusion from OSU men’s basketball coach Mike Boynton, OSU Police Chief Leon Jones and OSU administration and faculty members Dr. Jason F. Kirksey, Dr. Toby Nelson, Dr. Alexis Washington, Dr. Taryn Price, Dr. Leon McClinton, Dr. Clyde Wilson, Office of Equal Opportunity Director Jackson Landrum, Assistant Athletic Director for women’s basketball Patsy Armstrong and Dr. Jovette Dew, assistant vice president for institutional diversity and the third black woman to hold an executive level title at OSU.
Kirksey, OSU’s chief diversity officer, called it a special and meaningful conversation. He noted that OSU is the most decorated institution nationwide for its diversity efforts over the last decade but called Friday’s conversation a new beginning.
“This is an important first step,” he said. “We didn't cover everything. That wasn’t the intent. The intent was to start laying a foundation for conversations amongst ourselves and within the OSU community to identify ways we can grow and build and deepen and broaden the strong commitment that’s been here at Oklahoma State.
“We’re fortunate that we have a president who has been here for 13 years who gets it, who understands it. Now we have an opportunity to build and grow and simply become better.”
Washington, an associate professor of management in the Spears School of Business, said the country is currently battling two pandemics — coronavirus and racism — and each member of the university community must do their part to combat both.
She called these kinds of conversations bridges and community builders, saying they are particularly important for this time and place.
“I think the role of college really goes far beyond the classroom,” Washington said. “What we do here is give people that space between being a child and being your own person, your own adult. So, how we manage that window and what we teach these students is going to affect generations.”
Coach Boynton said now is the time to make a plan — not the time to run away from the problem.
“We have to be OK with people not liking to hear this,” he said. “This isn’t about personal attacks, but they need to hear that this is a real pandemic that’s been going on for a long time. And we need your help. We need you to challenge your friends when you hear them saying something inappropriate. … If you are complicit and you allow racist activities in your area, how different are you?”
Boynton said the same athletes celebrated on the field and the court are often feared away from it. That, he said, needs to change.
Landrum said there’s something different about the current movement that gives him hope. As a child of the ’60s, he said he grew up feeling that the African American community was alone in the fight for justice. Now, he sees people of every race joining the movement.
“This is not a black-only matter,” he said. “This is a matter that Oklahoma State University is concerned about, that the nation is concerned about. Everyone’s listening. This is that opportunity to really make a difference and a change that’s everlasting.”
While all of the panelists expressed love for the Stillwater community, they were most invested in looking forward and finding ways to advance the conversation and OSU’s culture of inclusivity.
“We have to speak up, but we also have to recognize that we need to step out of our comfort zone,” Jones, the police chief, said. “A lot of times we do have to look at our past for a better future. … For my future, I’m going to step out there and say ‘I’m going to make it better.’”
For more information about OSU’s diversity and inclusion initiatives, visit diversity.okstate.edu.
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