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Oklahoma Christian struggles with diversity within faculty and staff

March 6 marked the 52nd anniversary of the sit-in staged by Oklahoma Christian’s 18. The episode happened when students, many of them Black, were arrested and expelled from the university after trying to talk to former President James Baird.

The students were accused of violating curfew rules by going to a party. However, they understood the sanction was racially driven and sought equal treatment with the university’s administration after the punishment.  

Robert Edison, one of the 18 students expelled that day, said on the Oklahoma Christian’s website, the episode was not an organized protest.

“History just called upon us to take a stand,” Edison said. “Ironically it was not a necessarily planned protest. … We felt like since we were students at the college, we had the right to have a sit-down talk with the president, but when we showed up, we found otherwise.”

Fifty-two years later, Trinity Carpenter, vice president of Oklahoma Christian’s Black Student Union (BSU), said she thinks there was change at the university’s approach ever since, but she was not surprised with what happened.

“I know I can walk to the administration building and talk to John deSteiguer; I would at least be able to speak,” Carpenter said. “But I don’t think I was surprised. Unfortunately, it is something I would expect out of a historically predominant white institution.”

Carpenter said Oklahoma Christian still needs to be more intentional with diversity in the hiring process and improving the African American studies program.

“Whatever is being done is not working,” Carpenter said. “It seems like we have this consistency of having the Black professor, so our staff could definitely be more diverse here. I’m scared we may lose our African American studies program even though we just got it. … Education is just the start of things and it’s how real change happens.”

Alecia Cobb, a behavioral and social science professor, said it is a natural behavior to have students seeking more diversity.

“Many of our predominantly white campuses that have few minority students, are looking for more professors that mirror the population of the campus,” Cobb said.

Kiva Maxwell, active member for the BSU said the diverse hiring efforts at Oklahoma Christian need to be more consistent.

“We need to make a better effort to hire people of diverse backgrounds because we can’t pat ourselves on the back by just hiring one person,” Maxwell said. “Even Dr. Cobbs is not permanent. We need it because we have a diverse population here at OC that deserves to be represented in the faculty community. Representation matters.”

Cobb said students need to be exposed to diversity on campus.

“A lot of folks are uncomfortable talking about race, class and gender,” Cobb said. “So, when I look at my course and how I approach teaching, it is about allowing the young people in my class to tell their story, to have a voice.”

Maxwell said a more diverse faculty and staff would encourage many students to be open to different opinions.

“Students who we would label as diverse deserve to learn from someone whose background was not the same as theirs,” Maxwell said. “They deserve to hear a different opinion, a different perspective, which in turn makes this campus a lot better.

In 2020, Edison came back to Oklahoma Christian to teach an African American History course as a distinguished visiting professor. He is not teaching at Oklahoma Christian anymore. 

Maxwell said not having the African American studies program is frustrating.

“We asked for an African American studies program for our students and we were told there would be a curriculum program developed to make it a minor eventually,” Maxwell said. “For it to be a program, it needs multiple professors who will have to teach it, which means there should be classes that should be happening.”

Cobb said although there still a long way to go, she thinks the administration is committed to more diverse teaching staff.

“I think over the years, OC faculty is going to change,” Cobb said. “You have folks in the administration of that campus who are committed to making that happen.”

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