In November 2015, members of OSU’s students of color communities gathered in Gill Coliseum to address concerns and experiences of racism and anti-Blackness on campus and in their lives. Organized by three queer students in the community, the “Students of Color Speak Out” was the result of a petition that circulated around campus, demanding President Ed Ray and university administration to acknowledge, prioritize, and address the concerns of students of color on campus. In an intentionally unordered fashion, students of color approached the microphone and audience of over 500 students, faculty, and community members, and bravely spoke of their experiences of racism and marginalization at Oregon State and in Corvallis. In an attempt to make the Speak Out more accessible, the university decided to livestream the event online, which drew in more than 3,000 viewers. The urgency and crucial need for racial justice on campus became clear when the video, which was setup to allow anonymous comments, was flooded with violent racist, sexist and anti-Black comments and threats toward the students who were sharing their experiences. Students at the microphone and in the audience followed along in horror, pointing to the comments as exhibits to the very experience that preceded the Speak Out. The Speak Out concluded with a call to action for administration to make institutional changes that move OSU toward being a more socially just and inclusive campus. The main result of Speak Out was the creation of the Office of Institutional Diversity.
In 2017, OSU student Lyndi-Rae Petty wrote an honors thesis titled “The Never-Ending Story: An Analysis of Student Activism at Oregon State University” to bring to light the history of activism at OSU by students of color over the past 60 years, specifically the needs behind the actions taken, the strategies used, the administrative response, and the lasting impact of their actions. As part of her thesis, she heavily used and cited archival materials, and additionally, she created archival material by conducting three oral history interviews with the organizers of the 2015 OSU Speak Out. The oral history interviews are a part of the OMA Oral History Collection (OH18). Below are the three interviews:
- Interviewer: Lyndi-Rae Petty
- Date: May 26, 2017
- Length: 41:51
- Bio: At the time of the interview, Haniya Ferrell was an undergraduate student at Oregon State University. During her time at OSU, she worked at the Centro Cultural César Chávez, Social Change Leadership Programs, and in ASOSU as the Coordinator of Multicultural Affairs. Ferrell was one of the three students – along with Jasmine Armas and Jesseanne Pope – who organized the 2015 OSU Students of Color Speak Out. She was raised in Antioch, California.
- Interview Summary: Haniya Ferrell discusses growing up in Antioch, California, and how her community shaped her. Ferrell then details her decision-making process for coming to Oregon State University. She describes her involvement in social justice programs and initiatives on campus and how she came to be involved. Afterwards, Ferrell describes the process leading up to the Speak Out event. She then retells what happened after the event and the expected outcomes. Ferrell concludes the interview by discussing the campus “climate” after the event, and the first steps the administrators can take to create a better environment for students of color.
- Interviewer: Lyndi-Rae Petty
- Date: May 30, 2017
- Length: 48:15
- Bio: At the time of the interview, Jasmine Armas was a fourth-year undergraduate student studying zoology at Oregon State University. Armas was involved in various campus groups Kappa Delta Chi Sorority incorporated, a Latina founded organization, Social Change Leadership Programs, and Student Leadership Involvement. Jasmine Armas was one of the three students – along with Haniya Ferrell and Jesseanne Pope – involved with organizing the Students of Color Speak Out event in 2015. Armas is from Los Angeles county California, specifically Maywood and Lakewood, California.
- Summary: Jasmine Armas discusses growing up in Los Angeles county, particularly Maywood and Lakewood, California. Armas talks about how her community helped shape her. Armas goes on to describe her decision-making process for picking Oregon State University for her college education. Armas then comments on her first impressions of the university. She then discusses how she came to be involved with social justice work on campus and how she became involved with the organization of the Speak Out. Armas then gives her opinion on how things can be made better for students of color after the Speak Out. Afterwards, Armas also describes the campus climate post Speak Out. Armas concludes the interview offering advice to new students on how to conduct social justice work on campus.
- Interviewer: Lyndi-Rae Petty
- Date: May 26, 2017
- Length: 01:04:34
- Bio: At the time of the interview Jesseanne Pope was a recent alumnus of Oregon State University. During her time at OSU, she worked in various positions, including the Hattie Redmond Women and Gender Center (previously called the Women’s Center) and the Social Change Leadership Programs, and she described her participation in the Examining White Identity retreat as transformative. Pope was one of the three students – along with Haniya Ferrell and Jasmine Armas – who organized the 2015 Students of Color Speak Out at Oregon State University. Pope was born in Roseburg, Oregon, and was brought up in Grants Pass, Oregon.
- Summary: Jesseanne Pope discusses what it was like growing up in the Southern Oregon town of Grants Pass and how their community shaped them. Pope explains the process of their decision to attend Oregon State University and explains how they got involved with social justice work on campus. Pope goes on to explain their involvement in the planning of the Speak Out event, the demands of the Speak Out, and the reaction of the Oregon State University administration. Pope also details the campus climate that sparked them into co-organizing the Speak Out with two other students. Pope details their view of how the university decentered the voices of students of color. Finally, Pope concludes the interview with their advice to future Oregon State students.
In the spring of 2020, the interviews were fully transcribed and made available online thanks to the work of Ismael Pardo, OMA Student Intern 2020; below is his reflection on the experience of listening to and learning from these stories…
A Reflection on Oral Histories during the COVID-19 Pandemic
2015 seems to me a lifetime ago. In reality, it’s only just five years in the past. I was about to graduate from Grants Pass High School (Go Cavemen!) at the time, and I was completely unaware of the happenings at Oregon State University. The three oral histories that I transcribed detailed a very powerful act of empowerment. The students of color Speak Out was an impressive testament to what three people, underrepresented though they might be, could get done to have a voice and speak their proverbial truth to power. Significantly, the Speak Out was much more than just three students organizing an event, but rather it proved to be both a catalyst and a platform for the underlying tensions that students of color were having to endure at Oregon State University.
As a young historian (I’m heading to the University of Michigan in the fall to pursue a PhD!) and as a student of color, I have been distinctly interested in power dynamics between underrepresented people and the institutions that they can make appeals to. The students of color Speak Out seemed to me another representation of these power dynamics at work. It is difficult for me to approach the oral histories and the accompanying event as history because it is so immediate, but none the less, certain aspects remain. OSU as an institution was perceived by many students of color (the interviewees remark that Gill Colosseum was held a significant amount of people for the event) to not be completely delivering to their needs or hearing their concerns. In 2015, after a contentious and controversial course of events occurred at MissU involving the Ku Klux Klan harassing students of color, activists Haniya, Jasmine Armas, and Jesseane Pope sprung into action at our own institution to prevent this from happening here. In their accounts they told of the lack of support that they received from their department, Social Change Leadership Programs, and how overall it was a very isolating experience.
It’s interesting for me because Unlike Haniya and Jasmine, I’m a person of color from Oregon, and to be exact, I’m a person of color from Grants Pass, the town that Jesseanne Pope is from. The retelling of the distinct experiences from all three interviewees made me think of my own experiences at OSU from my perspective. Much like Jesseanne, I too attended the University of Oregon before arriving at OSU and found it cold and unfriendly. And in contrast to the perceptions of Jasmine and Haniya, I actually found OSU to be a particularly diverse campus (and place for that matter), because as far as Oregon goes, it is! As I listened to their interviews (over and over again), I realized that I had grown up in an area without the well-established cultural communities that both Haniya and Jasmine had in their respective hometowns. I was from Oregon. All my friends were always white. And yet, there were still things that I, similarly to Jesseanne, required but could not get because I did not have the right language to verbalize. These interviews, along with Ms. Petty’s thesis helped me further analyze my own history. A history of a person of color who grew up without other persons of color.
My work on this project was quite sudden. The novel Coronavirus ended the possibility of continuing my in-person work at SCARC. Thankfully this project (along with other future projects) were possible to conduct from home. Nevertheless, working from home while attending the new virtual form of class has had a bit of a learning curve. Add to that the fact that I got sick for like five days, and the project was bound to take a bit longer than I expected. That being said, it was quite rewarding to have a bit of routine to my week. In some cases, the transcription took on a meditative like element.
Ultimately, the experiences I had with the project, logistically, academically, and intellectually, were positive. The history’s retold by the three interviewees along with the current context regarding the worldwide pandemic made the immediacy of “history” much clearer. It also allowed me to reflect more clearly on my own historical context in regard to geography, race, and systems of oppression and empowerment.
To conclude, I would like to offer a sentiment of solidarity to everyone currently working, studying, learning, and teaching from home. We are in this together!
¡Sí se puede!
Ismael Pardo, OMA Student Intern 2020