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ABC challenges TU to support Black student body

In a letter addressed to Interim President Levit, the Board of Trustees, TU Administration, the faculty and staff, the Association of Black Collegians (ABC) outlined seven steps the University of Tulsa should take to support the Black student body.

Eight other on-campus organizations signed the letter. Including Black Women’s Association, Black Men’s Initiative, The Student Association, National Society of Black Engineers, University Ambassadors, Association of International Students, Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers and Panhellenic Council. ABC posted a condensed version of it on their Instagram (@tulsaabc), resulting in students tagging the University of Tulsa and reposting it to their stories.

The seven requests are as follows:

1. Conduct surveys at the end of each semester pertaining to the multicultural student body, documenting the diverse experience at TU.
2. Hire at least one diverse (person of color) therapist at the Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) by actively pursuing more domestic, diverse and qualified faculty.
3. Expand the My College Roomie roommate matching survey to incorporate more questions about culture and allyship.
4. Ensure a two percent increase in Black and diverse faculty members and administration by 2023 by actively pursuing more domestic, diverse and qualified faculty members and administration.
5. Ensure a two percent increase of underrepresented domestic minorities in the student body by Fall of 2023 by actively pursuing more domestic, diverse and qualified students.
6. Integrate mandatory, ongoing diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging training consisting of unconscious bias training for students, faculty, staff members and administration at the University, including the Athletics Department, and organize and invite guest speakers to campus to share discourse on the matter.
7. Consistently stand in solemnity and solidarity with respect to the Black student body and correspond to issues affecting the TU community related to racial and social injustice in a timely manner.

The executive board of ABC wrote these requests after expressing disappointment in the university’s lack of substantial action to support its Black student body. Especially, as the letter mentions, at a campus that is located only a few miles away from Black Wall Street.

The Black Lives Matter protests that gained momentum this summer led many businesses and institutions to release statements regarding current or newly proposed policies about race, inclusion and diversity among their respective communities. Five days after police killed George Floyd in Minneapolis, TU sent their first message to students and faculty regarding the incident and the resulting protests. Interim President Levit sent a short 150-word email encouraging members of the TU community to advocate for change and marginalized groups, but did so without presenting any plan to do so themselves. A month later, the office of diversity and engagement sent another email encouraging people to advocate for change and providing ways to support the Black Lives Matter movement. Hidden within this email is a hyperlink to TU Action Steps listing 10 ways the University will support diversity and inclusion on campus.

Most of these steps promised one-time events, short-time change or the creation of virtual spaces. The first statement promises diversity and bias training across campus, but this does not seem to have been implemented yet, and none of the 10 steps have any definitive deadline.

Some of ABC’s requests include surveys documenting the diverse experience at TU and a two percent increase in Black faculty members and the student body by 2023. Both of these were also included in a Diversity Action Plan created by the University in 2016, but no information about their successful implementation has been released since the original publication.

Incidents and empty promises like these sparked ABC President, Jayla Meeks, to call the university out. When asked why the letter and why now, Meeks quoted the end of TU’s mission statement saying TU “prides itself on being an institution whose mission reflects these core values: excellence in scholarship, dedication to free inquiry, the integrity of character and commitment to humanity.” With this in mind, Meeks emphasizes “It is important now more than ever that the University displays in action its commitment to humanity.”

On Thursday, Oct. 1, ABC’s executive board had a meeting with the Board of Trustees’ Committee on Student Success regarding their seven requests. Meeks said the Board commented on the exceptionality of ABC’s letter, and they “look forward to future conversations.” There were no action items that resulted from the meeting, but Meeks said, “I am walking away happy we got a chance to present.”

ABC has another meeting on Monday, Oct. 5, with Interim President Levit that will hopefully be more productive. It is important to note that this meeting comes nearly two weeks after the letter was sent, highlighting the urgency of the organization’s seventh request that the university responds to and stand with the Black student body in a timely manner. As the rest of the world continues to reckon with the racist histories and systems that marginalize and disempower people of color, ABC has challenged TU to find quantifiable ways to better promote diversity and inclusivity as well.

Post Author: Sarah Berno