Kai Caesar extends his arm out to the crowd of protesters while speaking to Ohio University President Hugh Sherman about the performative responses to racial attacks and hate crimes on campus. Photo by Nate Swanson | For The Post

Promising Possibilities

Published June 1, 2022

OU administration, students plan to prevent acts of discrimination on campus

By Addie Hedges | News Editor

Following racially-motivated incidents that occurred in Ohio University residence halls in March, OU administration vowed to take action to prevent similar instances from occurring in the future. Since then, a group of student leaders formed the President’s Student Cabinet for Inclusive Excellence to ensure the university proceeds with the correct actions.

On March 20, a social media post showing images of a trash bag outside a resident’s door in West Green’s Sargent Hall garnered attention from the student body. A note was taped to the bag that included racist language and discriminatory images, according to a previous Post report.

Following the news of the trash bag incident, another racially-motivated incident came to light — the taping of a Black baby doll to a different door located in Sargent Hall in December 2021.

On March 21, Christopher Brown, a resident assistant in James Hall, also located on West Green, posted images on social media and a message explaining that a resident in James Hall had urinated on his room’s door, and had consequently damaged his personal property. Despite Brown believing he was targeted because he was the only Black resident assistant on his floor, the incident was not believed to be racially motivated at the time.

The baby doll incident has not been investigated further due to a lack of information, OUPD staff lieutenant Tim Ryan, said. The trash bag incident remains under investigation.

Shortly after the racist incidents occurred, a group of students founded the President’s Student Cabinet for Inclusive Excellence. The cabinet will consult with OU students and provide feedback to university leadership about the university’s plans for diversity and inclusion.

Dayna Shoulders, a senior studying management and strategic leadership, a founding member of the cabinet and Student Senate president, said she is confident the university's action plans will be effective.

“I think if I do my job well and survey students, I'll have all the support I need.”-Dana Shoulders, Student Senate president

“At this point in time, my understanding is that (the university's) willing to do anything, try anything new, in order to fix problems and be able to address them correctly,” Shoulders said.

After attending a town hall organized by Black OU students in response to the incidents, university President Hugh Sherman and Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion Gigi Secuban promised that steps would be taken to improve the campus environment for students of color. The steps of improvement included the following actions plans, which Sherman and Secuban announced would be implemented immediately:

  • Collaborate with a nationally recognized expert in diversity to conduct a thorough review of OU’s current climate, policy and practice.
  • Renovate the Multicultural Center to support current and future students.
  • Provide additional diversity training for university leadership over the summer and faculty during the 2022 Fall Semester.
  • Improve diversity and incident response training for OU Residence Life staff.
  • Offer a new residence life option to support students of color in the OU LINKS Living Learning Community.
  • Expand first-year students diversity training and awareness during Bobcat Student Orientation, Welcome Week and Learning Communities.

Carly Leatherwood, a university spokesperson, said although progress has been made, the action steps are still being developed and will most likely not be fully developed before the beginning of the 2022-2023 Fall Semester.

OU leadership has not yet identified an expert in diversity but has made advances in its other plans, Leatherwood said, including the renovations to the Multicultural Center. Before plans for the center are finalized, students will be able to provide their feedback.

Updates to diversity training for residence life staff and first-year students are also currently underway, Duane Bruce, the executive director of diversity and inclusion, said.

“Staff in the Division of Diversity and Inclusion are working with residence life staff … to enhance diversity, anti-bias, and bias incident response training for the resident advisor and professional staff in the department,” Bruce said in an email. “The new training for the Resident Advisors will be implemented as part of their training in August.”

A LINKS Living Learning Community is also already in the process of being implemented, and first-year students are now able to opt into the experience when they choose their housing for the 2022-23 school year, Bruce said.

The Make Respect Visible campaign has been heavily ingrained in much of the Bobcat Student Orientation and will be consistently repeated to new students throughout their first-year experience, Bruce said.

“A Make Respect Visible promo video has been included in the pre-BSO module, the expectations have been added to the BSO welcome sessions, the Division of Diversity and Inclusion will be hosting Inclusive Excellence Dinners during each BSO session, and Experiential Learning is co-sponsoring a Make Respect Visible art activity as part of evening programming during each BSO session,” Bruce said in an email.

OU’s Learning Communities have included additional curriculum to increase diversity awareness during last year’s classes, but in the fall, the curriculum will be lengthened and will be tied back to the Make Respect Visible campaign, Bruce said.

Despite the disappointment felt by many students of color following the racist incidents, Shoulders said she was disappointed but not surprised it had happened on OU’s campus. However, she said she remains optimistic and believes the issues can be solved.

“It's always a reminder that we have a lot to change, but I'm positive because I get to see students and my peers every day do amazing things,” Shoulders said.

“We're going to figure it out one way or the other.”
AUTHOR: Addie Hedges
EDITOR: Molly Wilson