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Faculty, DEI Task Force members say goodbye this fall

As the fall semester nears its end, Oklahoma Christian University will say goodbye to a few faculty members on campus.

Robert Edison, professor of American studies in racial and ethnic diversity, and Ellie Kirkner, instructor of gaming and animation, will be leaving campus this semester. In addition, both are members of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Task Force which was created this year.

Edison began teaching at Oklahoma Christian as a visiting professor during the 2020 spring semester. He was a part of the OC 18, a group of students who were arrested and expelled for participating in an on-campus civil rights protest in 1969.

“John deSteiguer and the [Chief Academic Officer] asked me if I would come back and work with the university in establishing a Black studies program, based on a survey that students made, requesting a particular course,” Edison said. “My attitude was, ‘well, if I can help the university out and help the students in filling that need, I’d be willing to do it.’”

Edison has developed three classes for Oklahoma Christian: two covering African-American history and one about the philosophy of race and Black culture in America. He said he hopes these classes will emphasize the importance of diverse perspectives in different areas of study.

“I see this as the beginning of ethnic studies courses in general,” Edison said. “For example, a student might be majoring in criminal justice, but there will be a course that will be inclusive of African-American issues related to that.”

While Edison teaches at Oklahoma Christian, he returns to his home in Dallas when he is finished teaching for the week. He will return to living primarily in Dallas, as well as visiting his mother in Kentucky. He will also work as a consultant for the Bessie Smith Cultural Center in Chattanooga, TN.

A 2016 Oklahoma Christian alumna, Kirkner began teaching during the 2019 fall semester. She became involved in a variety of groups and activities, from bringing the university’s chapter of International Game Developers Society to campus to beginning ARC Talks, a lecture series which brings notable artists and designers to campus to discuss the intersection between the arts, religion and design.

Kirkner said she hopes her presence on campus has encouraged a stronger community within her department.

“We have 100 students within gaming and animation,” Kirkner said. “[I hope to] foster a positive attitude and the idea that we’re not just here to learn some cool software, but we’re here to build a community and further a mission.”

In addition, Kirkner said she aims to serve as an example for women in gaming and animation.

“I haven’t had any female professors or mentors,” Kirkner said. “At OC, I could provide that empathy and mentorship and reflect back to a generation of women who don’t see any women in gaming. We’re here and we’re active and all of us can do that.”

At the end of the year, Kirkner and her husband will move to the east coast. Her tentative plan is to continue teaching for Oklahoma Christian virtually during the spring semester. She is also pursuing her MFA at the Academy of Art University in game development, with a focus on concept art.

Both Kirkner and Edison are part of the DEI Task Force which was created in May. Instructional designer and task force member Regina Kenton also left Oklahoma Christian, leaving three vacancies in the group.

Edison discussed the importance of the group.

“There is a lack of diversity on campus. Many students of color feel alienated; they don’t really feel like they are a part of the campus culture,” Edison said. “Part of our aim was to make sure we have a climate where every student feels welcome.”

Kirkner said she hopes the university will take diversity into consideration when hiring new faculty.

“According to human resources, OC is continually dedicated to pursuing diversity through gender, race and ethnicity,” Kirkner said. “I hope they look far and wide for those chances, if they have that opportunity to pull in diverse voices. The best art is created when we have diverse representation.”

According to Kirkner, the task force is important in advocating for change and recommended specific changes.

“There is a pressing need to respond with financial and recruiting support,” Kirkner said. “It’s a necessity to look into a center for diversity and so much of the pursuit to bring diversity to campus is promoted through international studies and the Black Student Union. All of us need to be more active participants in those conversations.”

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