Who decides what is university policy? Who decides what you can say, wear, listen to on campus? Who decides what is discrimination? Where is the student voice in the answers to these questions?
These were the questions that the Educational Opportunities Program (EOP) staff posed to the audience at the beginning of their presentation “Educational Opportunities Program: History Through Action” given as part of Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration Week.
At OSU the Black Student Union (BSU) and the Black Cultural Center (BCC) have been especially vocal about discrimination on campus and the need for the university as an institution to recognize the issues and make the necessary changes to support and protect students against racism. Both the BSU and BCC have been very effective by rallying the student population to action to make their voices heard.
One of the earliest and best examples at OSU of students uniting to bring light to the issue of racism on campus was the 1969 BSU Walk-Out. In early 1969 Football Coach Dee Andros required that Fred Milton, an African-American football player, shave his facial hair to be in accordance with his team policy. Milton refused, Andros threatened to kick Milton off the team, and class boycotts, an underground newspaper, and the walk-out ensued.
As a result of the BSU walk-out, OSU recognized the need for institutional support of underrepresented and underserved communities of students and founded the Educational Opportunities Program in 1969.
“The Educational Opportunities Program (EOP) provides a welcoming environment that supports the full development of the personal and academic potential of students who have traditionally been denied equal access to higher education.
The program was created at Oregon State University in 1969, in result of the BSU walk-out, and provides support to students of color, students with disabilities, students who are single parents, low-income students, students who have been rurally isolated, veterans, older-than-average (25+), or 1st generation in college (neither parent graduated).”
~ Educational Opportunities Program Website
Last year, for February 2011 Black History Month, the OMA curated a display about the BSU Walk-Out and that display will now be permanently placed in the EOP office lobby, Waldo Hall 3rd Floor!
Two decades later another incident occurred that in the years following, OSU as an institution responded with a series of positive changes…
In October 1990 the Black Cultural Center closed its doors for several days in protest of a student’s racist behavior against Jeffery Revels, the BCC coordinator. On a Saturday night a student yelled a derogatory term at Revels from a van and almost ran him over. Revels followed him and left a note requesting an apology. The student did call, but not to apologize.
In an interview with the Barometer Revels expressed his desire to protest not just the racially based harassment he suffered, but a culmination of incidents that other minority students had endured. Once Revels voiced his outrage at OSU’s lack of institutional support for minority students and, in effect, the university’s complacency on racial issues, more students stepped forward with their stories, and students and faculty voiced their support of the need for action and change.
And the University Administration took notice…
In 1990 and the years following, various Commissions, Offices, and Programs were established to educate the OSU community in order to combat racism:
1990 President’s Commission on Racism established
1991 OSU Observes MLK, Jr. Day Birthday as an academic holiday for the first time
Office of Multicultural Affairs established
Indian Education Office established
1992 Difference, Power, and Discrimination Program established
1994 President’s Commission on Hate Related Activities established
1995 Ethnic Studies Department established
Although the University made significant strides towards the effort of educating the OSU community to be more culturally sensitive and inclusive, in February of 1996, two students committed a hate crime against a black student: they yelled racial slurs and attempted to urinate and spit on him. The victim reported the crime and the two students were suspended, plead guilty to the hate crime, and later served jail time.
During the aftermath of the incident, on March 13th close to 1400 students marched for equal rights, an “All OSU Boycott.” The peaceful protest also included a round table forum for students to talk about their opinions on racism.
What to make of these events? The incidents that sparked them ignited students for a reason – students within the minority felt discriminated against over time and these incidents represented a culmination of frustration and anger. Students then used these events to highlight and voice their concerns regarding the greater social injustices that they faced.
Throughout the EOP lecture several scenarios were discussed among audience members:
- What would you do if a professor told you that your culturally related attire was inappropriate and asked you to change – and, if you did not comply, threatened to drop you from the class?
- What would you were in your car listening to music specific to your cultural heritage and someone on the street yelled at you to turn it down but they didn’t want to listen to that type of music?
- What would you do if someone called you derogatory names?
What would you do? What can you do?
Some audience members responded by saying that they may not do anything since they felt defenseless, some said they would get angry and retaliate in some way, and some said that they would report the incident.
The EOP staff stressed the fact that, as history has shown, you can do something and positive change can occur. There are resources available to students and one of the most important lessons learned is to make your voice heard!
Resources Available to Students:
Office of Equity and Inclusion – policies and procedures for complaints with links to the Affirmative Action and Advancement Office
Diversity Development Office – contact information for the four Cultural Centers
Office of LGBT Outreach and Services
Department of Public Safety and Oregon State Police
And of course, the Educational Opportunities Program