Oklahoma Christian University students, faculty and members of the wider Edmond community gathered Sept. 20 to discuss the fatal shooting of Harding University alumnus Botham Jean.
The event, entitled “He Was Like Me,” consisted of a series of panel questions concerning racial relations on Oklahoma Christian’s campus, the reality of the black experience in America and the facts surrounding the death of Botham Jean.
Jean, a black man, was shot Sept. 6 in his Dallas apartment by Amber Guyger, an off-duty, white police officer. Guyger told investigators she thought she had entered her own apartment and identified Jean as an intruder.
Conversation, especially within the churches of Christ, have surrounded Jean’s death as he was an involved member in the Harding community and his local Dallas church where he served as a song leader.
The Oklahoma Christian Black Student Union (BSU) hosted “He Was Like Me” with two of its own members on the panel. Sophomore Aj Jeffries recalled his initial reaction in learning about the death of Jean.
“As a young black man, we’re running out of places to just be safe,” Jeffries said. “I think whether it’s in your own car or walking down the street being interrogated randomly, it’s getting to a point where in our everyday lives, we have to change the way that we react and interact with certain situations. If you can’t stop being safe anywhere, where do you go? I think there’s really just a sense of fear in me because there’s no place I feel like I’m safe.”
Guyger was not arrested immediately following the shooting, causing public criticism of the Dallas Police Department from several activist groups. Additionally, allegations of marijuana being found in Jean’s apartment and rumors Guyger and Jean knew each other have caused tension between police and the black community.
During the panel, Assistant Dean of Students Gary Jones said he finds the disparity in the justice process disturbing as the Dallas Police Department and news media “crucify the dead.” Senior and President of Oklahoma Christian’s BSU Racquelle Idlebird said she is also uncomfortable with this kind of rhetoric.
“They try to shed this light, especially with him being a Christian, that he is just as bad as the others or the same bad apple,” Idlebird said. “I wonder, even if that stuff is true, you have to look at the black and white areas, and it was just wrong. I would just appreciate it more if [Guyger] just owned it.”
According to panelist and English professor Hannah Bingham, Oklahoma Christian has to grow considerably in the race department. She noticed, even at an event where students came to work toward a more unified approach to race, black and white students sat separately.
“You didn’t even know you were doing it and you separated.” Bingham said. “I think it’s the responsibility of the white students to get to know the black students. They are already doing a lot on this campus. You need to go find reliable sources on the web to follow, so you’re informed about these things, so you don’t hear about it from your one black friend.”
Chief Admissions and Marketing Officer and panel moderator Risa Forrester also raised a series of questions submitted by the audience concerning racial discussions on Oklahoma Christian’s campus. Bible professor Alden Bass has experience living in a black community surrounding Ferguson, MO.
Churches of Christ did not acknowledge the civil rights movement until recently and have to look past the awkward nature of racial conversation to move toward action, Bass said.
“I think acknowledging that we failed is a big step,” Bass said. “We have to stop putting the feelings of older white people above the lives of another group of people. And of course, the way these changes happen is not by getting a group of people together and singing songs on Sunday morning. The way this happens is by lives coming together, which is why this story tonight has brought us together.”