By Arthur Kane at Watchdog.org
After a high-profile racist incident, the University of Oklahoma will require all freshman to take diversity training, but figures obtained by Watchdog.org show there have been very few racial incidents reported to school authorities in the past five years.
In March, members of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity were videotaped in a racist chant, and the University acted swiftly, expelling two of the students and suspending the chapter for a year.
“We should always be trying at the beginning of the college experience to introduce people to different communities and give them the opportunity to get this kind of information,” Shumate told Watchdog.org. “It’s not as much about changing people’s minds but as to introducing them to a whole list of new experiences.”By the end of March, OU president David Boren hired Jabar Shumate, his former press spokesman and a former state legislator, as OU’s vice president of university community. Shumate’s first major initiative is the mandatory diversity training.
OU is paying Shumate about $220,000 a year though he couldn’t provide the total budget for his new office, saying the university is currently in the midst of the budget process. He said there will be very little — if any — cost for the new diversity training because OU will use resources and educators currently on campus.
But the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a Philadelphia non-profit that promotes educational and religious liberty, said there is a danger of diversity classes crossing the line and violating personal liberty like the University of Delawareprogram that punished students who wouldn’t answer questions about whether they would date people of different races.
“What FIRE is concerned about is that schools need to be very careful that diversity training or other training on hot-button topics is education not indoctrination,” said FIRE executive director Robert Shibley.
Shumate said OU’s curriculum is in the works but he sees the five-hour classes, which he says students will not be charged for, providing freshmen with resources of diversity organizations on campus and answering any questions students might have about people from other cultures.
“If you’re from say Oklahoma’s rural areas or a different country, this may be the first chance to ask about people who are different from you,” he said.
But despite the high-profile Youtube video of racial fraternity chants, school figures show there is not a lot of racial strife on the campus of about 30,000 students.
Watchdog.org obtained a list of racial harassment complaints under state open records laws that show there have only been 14 reports of racial incidents since 2010 and half of those were dismissed, presumably because they were not founded.
And while the school refused to provide specifics of the harassment investigations, at least one allegation included physical violence. A campus police report shows in 2013 a person at OU was assaulted outside the student union presumably because of his or her race though the report doesn’t specify what happened or if there was an arrest in the case.
Despite the alleged assault, the school’s records coordinator wrote that there were no other expulsions for racist incidents other than the SAE fraternity incident.
“(N)one of the outcomes resulted in any final disciplinary action as all cases were dismissed, closed or reached a satisfactory resolution,” records coordinator Michael Purcell wrote in an email exchange. He declined to provide additional information citing privacy laws.
The records note that “impropriety” was found in two separate incidents in 2014 but do not list any discipline.
Shibley questioned both the SAE student expulsions and the lack of uniform discipline based on the limited information OU provided about incidents on campus.
“Part of the problem with the opaque, faux justice system at schools is that there are certainly huge incentives to discipline people who embarrass you but not cases that don’t catch the fancy of the media or social media,” he said.
Shibley said while the SAE speech was abhorrent — it was free speech — and should not have resulted in summary expulsion especially without a due-process hearing.
Shumate declined to comment on whether OU acted properly in expelling the SAE students and suspending the fraternity, saying he wasn’t at OU at the time, but he noted that racist speech can be damaging.
“Free speech is everyone’s right, but an individual can’t be creating a situation where people feel threatened,” he said. “That is exactly why we want to be in the space of understanding about what is the difference between free speech and free expression and what becomes hurtful and creates unease and fear for another individual.”
Shumate said his hire and the diversity push were not prompted by the SAE video but the incident definitely pushed the process along faster. He said an African-American group on campus approached Boren around January to express concerns about the numbers of minorities on campus and wanting to increase awareness of diversity issues. Boren then approached Shumate about a possible vice president’s position dealing with diversity issues earlier this year.
Along with diversity training, Shumate’s role will be to increase minority students and faculty on campus by recruiting outside the state and helping all OU campuses with diversity issues.
“With my background, I’m ready to hit the ground running offering perspectives of this office beyond the university and making the university a better place,” he said.
Schools: University of Oklahoma