In the past year, the University of Oklahoma has made “diversity, equity and inclusion” (DEI) training mandatory for all students and staff. But, based on figures reported by OU officials, student interest in such training is apparently not widespread without a mandate.
In a “Pathway to Belonging: DEI Annual Report” provided online, OU officials discussed the university’s DEI efforts from January 2020 to January 2021. While college officials reported that roughly 30,000 individuals participated in some form of DEI training at OU over a year, attendance was much lower for many elective trainings and seminars.
Teara Flagg Lander, director of campus and community engagement within the OU Office of Diversity and Inclusion, said the university experienced a dramatic increase in participation in the school’s “diversity ally unlearning” series workshops once those programs went online due to the pandemic. But even with increased participation, attendees represented only a tiny fraction of overall student enrollment.
“When we were in person, we were only able to get about 20 to 30 people, but via Zoom we saw an increase in over 100 people in some sessions,” Lander said.
Those workshops include sessions on “Unlearning Racism,” “Unlearning Ableism,” “Unlearning Classism,” “Unlearning Sexism,” and “Unlearning Implicit Bias.”
Relatively low numbers were also reported for “Everyday Bias for Healthcare Professionals Training” at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.
“At OU, training and programming by themselves aren’t sufficient. We aren’t satisfied with just that.”
—OU president Joseph Harroz Jr.
“We engaged over 300 learners in understanding the impacts of unconscious bias in patient care and health outcomes, while teaching ways to explore and mitigate those biases,” said Carrie McClain, assistant vice president for the Office of Diversity and Inclusion at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center. “We also convened a ‘patient-to-provider discrimination guideline’ committee. This committee was created to craft guidelines for patient-to-provider discrimination and bias that occurs on our campus within our clinics.”
The OU Health Sciences Center reports serving approximately 4,000 students.
In the future, OU students may still be able to voluntarily forgo some training sessions, but they will be required to take a new course covering similar content that will require a far greater investment of students’ time and financial resources.
In OU’s mandatory “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion” training, students have been told the phrase “Boomer Sooner” is steeped in racism and can represent a form of oppression, that OU remains a place of discrimination where students may literally fear for their lives, that support for racial equality is wrongheaded and “equity” measures that can involve different treatment for different groups based on individuals’ race and other characteristics should be embraced instead, and OU staff have been explicitly instructed to embrace “political correctness” in their communications.
But officials promise the new mandatory course will have even greater scope.
“Real systemic change takes about five to seven years, but we must all anchor ourselves and not be afraid to challenge the status quo.”
—OU vice president of diversity, equity, and inclusion Belinda Higgs Hyppolite
“Colleges and universities across the globe are working to improve diversity, equity, inclusion on their campuses,” said OU President Joseph Harroz Jr. “They’ve taken steps similar to OU and instituted training programs. But at OU, training and programming by themselves aren’t sufficient. We aren’t satisfied with just that. We are addressing this directly. We are introducing a pacesetting, required class for first-year students called the ‘Gateway to Belonging.’ The course—while including a focus on diversity, equity and inclusion—elevates beyond those efforts, helping our students develop a true understanding of ‘the other’ as well as a sense of belonging at OU and beyond.”
“It is important to note what happens on campus always lands in the community and vice-versa,” said Belinda Higgs Hyppolite, vice president of diversity, equity, and inclusion at OU.
She said OU’s DEI bureaucracy “is growing and we are bringing in new units and departments to continue this journey of serving our campus community.” Hyppolite also indicated that OU students will face even more focus on DEI as officials seek to dramatically overhaul the entire culture of OU.
“Real systemic change takes about five to seven years, but we must all anchor ourselves and not be afraid to challenge the status quo,” Hyppolite said. “We cannot try to fit new systems into old systems. We cannot fit change into an old system, so we must continue to forge together. We must be patient. We must manage the resistance that’s in the environment. We must ignore the naysayers.”
[For more stories about higher education in Oklahoma, visit AimHigherOK.com.]