It has been a hectic few weeks at Oklahoma Christian University. A former admissions counselor made national news last week following a racially-charged activity at a local high school on Feb. 24, and now coronavirus fears are causing concern for campus health and the continuation of the school year.
President John deSteiguer met with members of the Talon and Oklahoma Christian students on Tuesday, March 10, for the second Talon Town Hall, discussing recent campus events and answering students’ questions.
The open forum, led by Editor-in-Chief Keaton Ross, allowed students to ask about issues such as the coronavirus, the admissions counselor incident, efforts to increase racial diversity and the school’s relationships with Christians outside the Church of Christ fellowship.
deSteiguer addressed the concerns regarding the coronavirus, especially in light of schools such as the University of Tulsa switching to online classes.
According to an email sent to students, faculty and parents on Tuesday, all Ethos events through the remainder of the week and all university-sponsored spring break travel excluding athletic trips have been suspended.
However, deSteiguer said the school is still monitoring the situation and has not made any decision on suspending in-person classes.
“You might hear from us in a day or two, saying, ‘Hey, when you go home for spring break, just in case, you ought to take your laptop and the other materials with you,’” deSteiguer said. “If we needed to suspend class for a few days or a week or two weeks, that just means we’d be suspending classes meeting in person and we’d still be anticipating having classes online. We want you to have your stuff in case that happens.”
deSteiguer said there are no plans to postpone or cancel graduation, but circumstances may change if the outbreak gets worse.
“If I said there was no possibility of [postponing graduation], I would be making an inaccurate statement,” deSteiguer said. “Something could happen that would cause us to say, ‘We’ve got to send everyone home and complete things online.’”
deSteiguer also answered questions about the incident occurring on Feb. 24 involving Cedric Sunray, the Oklahoma Christian admissions recruiter who led a racially-charged activity at an event at Harding Charter Preparatory Academy.
The president acknowledged the administration’s failings in allowing Sunray to continue to recruit after he had led a similar activity on campus for high school students on Feb. 13.
“We should have kept [Sunray] from doing what he had been doing,” deSteiguer said. “When credible allegations arose, we should have sidelined him, rather than continuing to let him go out as he was being investigated.”
Students asked about the school’s investigation into Sunray’s actions and Oklahoma Christian’s plans to foster diversity in day-to-day life on campus.
“We want to hire more individuals who are diverse,” deSteiguer said. “We want to have a hotlist of candidates that we are always updating, some people we want to target because we want them on our campus.”
In addition, deSteiguer addressed what he and other school leaders are doing to make the campus a more positive and inclusive space for minority students.
“I’m talking to an individual about how we can put together a student advisory group that can be beneficial and help me see things that I am not seeing,” deSteiguer said. “I talked to [Risa Forrester] about the idea of a real-time early warning system when microaggressions and things like that happen on campus.”
The university is also in the process of developing diversity training for faculty and staff.
“We’re pulling together different options we have,” deSteiguer said. “There are groups of individuals who will really pore over those things and determine what is best for us. It will probably end up being a combination of stuff we can do online and conversations on campus, some of which would be led by experts off-campus and some by people we have on this campus.”
Oklahoma Christian also made history on Monday, March 9, when John Wohlgemuth, lead teaching pastor of Henderson Hills Baptist Church, spoke to students during chapel. This marks the first chapel message at Oklahoma Christian from a non-Church of Christ affiliated church leader.
deSteiguer spoke at the town hall about the school’s relationship to other denominations and his decision to invite a Baptist pastor to speak in chapel.
“We understand there is a lot we can learn from other individuals and other groups,” deSteiguer said. “I heard [Wohlgemuth] speak and I thought, ‘Man, he’s got a message that I want our community to hear.’ If there are [non-Church of Christ] speakers that need to be heard on this campus, I am open to them being with us.”
Oklahoma Christian is affiliated with the Churches of Christ, with the majority of faculty and staff placing membership in one of these churches. However, only 51% of students affiliate themselves with a Church of Christ.
“We know students from a variety of backgrounds can really bring positive things to this campus,” deSteiguer said. “We are open to that and want to encourage that.”