NORMAN, Okla. (KFOR) – The University of Oklahoma Black Emergency Response Team and other OU students packed Evans Hall for day two of a sit-in and hunger strike protesting racial issues on campus.
The university says school officials have met with members of BERT for the past two days, but BERT says they aren’t leaving until all of their demands are met.
“We had a meeting with Provost Harper. Our demands still have not been met. We will continue the sit-in, and the hunger strike,” a member of BERT said. “The ball is in the University’s court.”
BERT says six of its members have not eaten since 8 a.m. on Wednesday when the sit-in and hunger-strike started.
The organization sent a list of demands to the University that includes Provost Kyle Harper resigning, mandatory equality training for all faculty and staff, a semester-long diversity class for students, and a multicultural center with “a common lounge area, study room, and a Popeyes.”
Students participating in the sit-in told News 4 that part of BERT’s demands was that they not speak with the media.
Students we spoke with that didn’t participate and they tell News 4 they support the cause because they think some of what BERT is asking for would be good for the University.
“A lot of those things on that list do need to get addressed,” OU Sophomore Ryan Jones said. “I think the university will do what’s right at the end of the day, or at least that’s what I hope. Hopefully, we can get this resolved, and allow them to go back to class.”
OU says it has agreed to the faculty and staff training, the student course, and to expand counseling resources to meet the demonstrated increase in student needs.
Interim President Joseph Harroz released this statement Wednesday night:
We join with OU’s concerned and hurt students, faculty, staff, alumni, and friends, and we echo the need for equal respect for everyone. Our community has experienced incidents in the last two weeks that have certainly caused pain, but more importantly have been reminders of trauma caused by racism and structural issues both past and present. As a University, one of our responsibilities is to not simply reflect society, but to engage in productive, positive discourse, come together, and make society better.
Today, a group of students, who speak for themselves and others, instituted a sit-in and with it, issued a list of specific concerns and demands. This evening, we had the opportunity to sit with the students to better understand their concerns. We identified areas of agreement that will move our University forward. We have agreed to continue these discussions. We will also advance these conversations with other student, faculty, and staff leadership.
Strong communication and actions – not merely words, press events, or public statements – are the only path to a better tomorrow. Together, we can achieve permanent change, and we are committed to doing just that.
Harroz released another statement on Thursday night:
In a university setting, and especially at OU, input is not just welcome and appreciated, it is necessary. But decisions are not made in a vacuum and they are not made in response to ultimatums. Recommendations received are considered carefully, and if in line with the strategic direction of the university, are brought by the president to the Board of Regents for review and approval. I have done this and will continue to.
I cannot engage the demand for the immediate resignation of the Provost. I listened to BERT’s concerns and will always listen to concerns from our students. However, I told them I will not meet this demand. My reasons are based on principle, fairness, and precedent. As a matter of practice, we do not discuss personnel evaluations of employees in this public manner. We can never allow our desire for expediency to deter us from being fair in our evaluations.
I am confident in Provost Harper’s abilities and willingness to work constructively to advance the university. What many do not know is that nearly a year ago, Provost Harper requested to return to the faculty. Even as provost, he is a distinguished scholar and teacher. I personally asked him to continue to serve through an important period of transition and to help us complete and launch the strategic plan. He put his personal pursuits on hold to serve his alma mater. There is no doubt that he loves our university and serves it tirelessly.
OU is a special place we all care deeply about. It’s at the university that we learn and grow, both individually and as a society. I look forward to working with our entire university community to make OU a place of true belonging.
BERT has declined any request for further comment.