“We need to do better.”
Oklahoma Christian University President John deSteiguer repeated this phrase often during an hour-long public meeting held this afternoon in the wake of an admissions counselor leading a racist activity at a local high school. KFOR first reported the story on Friday, Feb. 28.
On Monday, Feb. 24, recruiter Cedric Sunray visited Harding Charter Preparatory High School in northeast Oklahoma City to visit with prospective students. For a reason which remains unknown, Sunray asked students to line up from darkest to lightest skin complexion. He then requested students separate based on hair texture.
Sunray and the university parted ways shortly after the incident at Harding Prep, according to university officials. But it was not the first time he instigated the inappropriate activity.
According to deSteiguer, Sunray led a similar racist activity during the on-campus Future Teachers Day event on Feb. 13. In addition, Oklahoma Christian officials learned over the weekend of a third incident at Hennessey High School in northwest Oklahoma.
An internal investigation began shortly after the Feb. 13 incident, according to deSteiguer, but Sunray continued to go on recruiting visits.
“I think where we failed miserably is this recruiter should have been sidelined,” deSteiguer said. “He should not have been going and making presentations during the investigation.”
All Oklahoma Christian faculty and staff will now be required to undergo cultural sensitivity training, deSteiguer said. Formal diversity training was not required prior to this incident.
deSteiguer said he was ignorant in believing events like the annual History Speaks series would address the issue of racism on campus. According to deSteiguer, adding more minority faculty members and instituting the cultural sensitivity training program will be essential to preventing future racist incidents.
“Just because we’re having progress in these areas does not mean progress is taking place across the board,” deSteiguer said. “I’m fooling myself if I’m thinking these things are making a systemic difference at this institution. A systemic difference is made day by day through conversations, by seeing people who have different experiences and who come from different backgrounds.”
Sophomore Trinity Carpenter said it is unreasonable for the university to expect minority students to bear the burden of educating the student body on racial sensitivity. Oklahoma Christian currently has no full-time African-American professor on staff.
“Just last week, I sat at a table with a group of students, all white, who joked about how good slavery is,” Carpenter said. “Some of them have apologized, but this stuff happens regularly. People are not getting taught racial sensitivity at home, so I think it’s important we incorporate that into our education somehow.”
Several audience members questioned deSteiguer on the university’s hiring and vetting process. In response, deSteiguer said Oklahoma Christian’s human resources department reviews all resumes, follows up with references and performs a criminal background check prior to offering employment. Nothing stood out about Sunray initially, deSteiguer said.
“Sometimes, honestly, you can look at something after the fact and you can have concerns about something you had not seen before,” deSteiguer said. “I don’t know if that’s the case here, or at all, but I will tell you that we do have a pretty rigorous HR process before we hire individuals.”
Sunray, 45, is a self-proclaimed member of the MOWA band of Choctaw Indians based out of Alabama. According to an online biography on the University of Kansas website, his alma mater, Sunray holds a Bachelor of Indigenous Studies from Trent University in Ontario, Canada and master’s degrees from the University of Kansas and the University of Oklahoma. The biography says he worked in a variety of educational roles following graduation.
“I have dedicated my life to assisting and standing up for historic ‘non-federal’ tribes across the country with a primary focus on those living in the Eastern and Southern regions of the United States,” Sunray is quoted in the biography. “I play close attention to those ‘non-federal’ tribes who generationally attended the federal and closely related mission Indian boarding school systems.”
Sunray has authored guest opinion articles on Native American issues for several local news outlets, including The Oklahoman and The Journal Record. His Native American ancestry, however, is questioned by some. A widely read post on the website New Age Fraud suggests Sunray had his last name legally changed from Ray to appear Native American, and his genealogy is exclusively white.
deSteiguer will visit Harding Prep Monday, March 2, to apologize and speak with students and faculty members.
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