- Associated Press - Monday, March 14, 2016

NORMAN, Okla. (AP) - It’s hard to believe it’s been a year since the video. The racist chants that bounced through a Sigma Alpha Epsilon date night party bus last March made their way to the web and into the national spotlight. Questions were asked. Investigations were launched and things changed.

Or, at least they started to.

University of Oklahoma President David Boren’s reaction was swift. He kicked the fraternity off campus, spoke out against the vile remarks and hired diversity-dedicated alumnus and former state Sen. Jabar Shumate as vice president of the university community. Together they instituted mandatory diversity training for all incoming freshmen and all student organization leaders. A year later, Shumate said he’s seeing positive effects.

“I do believe that we have had a lot of positive things happen over the past year, and we’re a work in progress, but one of the things that I’m most proud of is the work we’ve done to improve the campus climate and improve specifically our relationships with our students and among our student body,” Shumate said. “I would really say that the Freshmen Diversity Experience has been an incredible experience.

“It’s been very important for us to start with our freshmen, to provide them the opportunity to understand OU and the diverse culture as well as how to interact with people who are different than you. I believe those skills are necessary. The diversity of our country is changing and increasing every year.”



Shumate took the job to help repair OU’s image and its soul.

“Both my bachelor’s and graduate degrees are from the University of Oklahoma. I’m a former student body president. I have to say because of the leadership of President Boren, I’ve been really fortunate, because the leader at this university has set a tone that we will be a community and a family that has respect for all people,” he said.

So far, he said his mission is off to a good start, but there’s still more to be done. What was made over generations cannot be undone with one. He said it will take time.

But for all the hardship the chants unearthed in the community, it was a symptom of an underlying disease. Racism wasn’t reborn. It just reappeared. The silver lining is that it gave impetus for the university and the community at large to acknowledge it and, make changes.

The Norman Transcript (https://bit.ly/221ccD6 ) reports that Shumate said the university was already moving toward creating his position before the now infamous SAE incident. A student group called Unheard had pushed for changes. They were imminent, but the incident hastened their arrival and cemented them into the university’s future.

“Sometimes good can come from very difficult circumstances. At the University of Oklahoma, the incident last year has led us to be a more sensitive, caring and inclusive community,” Boren said in a statement. “Many positive steps have been taken to make our student body, faculty and staff more diverse.

“Above all our, students have reached out to one another to foster candid conversations and to reach better understandings. I am particularly pleased that our incoming class this fall was more diverse than it was the year before.”

In the future, Shumate said he’s looking to implement more programs to fight racism, sexism and ableism and expand their reach to all OU campuses.

He said his staff is currently working on a bias reporting system for students and faculty and is coordinating with Native American studies programs with the intention of creating a new position that will serve as a tribal liaison on behalf of the university.

“That’s just a snippet, but we’ve got a great deal of work ahead,” Shumate said. “I think our community has embraced the work we’ve accomplished and the work we have ahead in making our campus a more diverse and inclusive environment. There’s not one thing that I can do, or really anybody can do, on this campus to prevent an unfortunate incident from happening, but what we all are responsible for is how we respond to it and how we heal and learn from it.

“Our university community has grown a lot and learned a lot from last year’s experiences.”

___

Information from: The Norman Transcript, https://www.normantranscript.com

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