Levi Hilliard addresses OU students, faculty and staff during a rally Wednesday, May 15, 2019. (Ben White)

“Don’t feel pressure to do anything you’re uncomfortable with,” Jess Eddy said, his back to the audience.

Eddy, who has publicly accused former University of Oklahoma President David Boren of sexual misconduct, addressed the line of speakers assembled in front of Evans Hall at the University of Oklahoma shortly before the event began. They, along with the small crowd, gathered Wednesday morning to address campus culture and demand more transparent action from the OU Board of Regents.

Former and current OU faculty and staff, international and domestic students, an NAACP member, LGBTQ representatives and advocates for Students in Recovery comprised a diverse lineup of speakers with a blunt message: Marginalized students at OU are suffering, and the search for a new president needs to be transparent.

“The Board of Regents has to be accountable now. They have to answer questions,” said Levi Hilliard, a University Club employee who has alleged sexual misconduct by former OU Vice President Tripp Hall. “They can’t hide behind closed doors and armed guards to keep any of us out, (…) and to obscure the truth in the shadow of their wealth and prestige.”

KFOR streamed the event:

No love lost for Board of Regents

Sunday, OU President Jim Gallogly announced his retirement not even a full year into his tenure. The announcement comes in the wake of racist incidents on campus and investigations into alleged sexual misconduct by Boren and Hall.

Several speakers mentioned the incidents, but the rally’s main focus was to ask the Board of Regents for transparency in the new presidential selection process.

“We need to demand immediate action from these wealthy, privileged, cowardly sycophants,” Hilliard said.

Accentuating the Board of Regents’ prominent members proved to be a common theme among speakers.

“White privilege, sexism, racism, homophobia and the narcissism of the elite are still alive and well on this campus,” said Daniel Dukes, a former OU staff member and a member of the transgender community. “OU regents, you’ve been given a rare do-over. Gallogly’s departure is a second chance. You can thank him for that.”

Additionally, the president of the OKC NAACP, Garland Pruitt, said he was not satisfied with Gov. Kevin Stitt’s elevation of Eric Stevenson, an African American businessman from Ohio, to the Board of Regents.

“The board of regents and their selection process has been a failure,” Pruitt said. “That’s a given. How do we correct that? Well, I guess it starts with not going out and getting a minority from a different state. You mean you couldn’t find one in the entire state of Oklahoma? That’s a problem. It’s that kind of arrogance — that kind of mentality — that has caused us to be where we’re at today.”

Sara Bana, a victims’ advocate and activist, spoke last. She talked about the Board of Regents as a public institution that the public could not hold accountable.

“The current regent members are not a fair or genuine representation of the community,” Bana said. “The Board of Regents and the university administration must be reminded that the OU community and the taxpayers of Oklahoma are this university’s financiers, consumers and ultimately the product.”

Bana told those gathered about the OU Board of Regents meeting scheduled today for 8:15 p.m at the Robert M. Library on the OU Health Sciences Center campus in Oklahoma City. The meeting is slated to feature an executive session, which means the press and the public will have to leave the meeting room during discussions of personnel.

Regents are expected to name an interim president once they resume open session.

Students speak out

Tatenda Chido Nicolle addresses a crowd outside Evans Hall on the University of Oklahoma campus Wednesday, May 15, 2019. (Ben White)

Several OU students spoke during Wednesday’s rally, discussing the groups they represented and calling for university action to better serve marginalized groups.

“This is a system of underlying racism, gender discrimination and misogyny that we feel has overstayed at OU,” said Tatenda Chido Nicolle, an international student and member of the International Advisory Committee. “However, we do honor and acknowledge the efforts made by the administration to address the different predicaments that emerged.”

Chido Nicolle spoke on behalf of international students at OU, saying the administration had not done enough to make student life accessible.

“The cutting of some international programs due to budget cuts came as another devastating shocker,” she said. “The events that unfolded this year exhibited the truth of the matter that the international students seem to be just be a tactic to market OU.”

Sawyer Stephenson, a transgender student, appealed to the Board of Regents for efforts to make LGBTQ students safer on campus.

“As far as the LGBTQ community is concerned at OU, what does systemic injustice mean for us?” Stephenson said. “It looks like white, cis-gender men speaking over us in spaces that are supposed to be giving us a platform. (…) It looks like me growing out my hair because OU’s campus is the only place where I’ve ever been called transphobic slurs on a regular basis.”

Stephenson said the transgender students at OU are in crisis. They appealed to the Board of Regents to throw fewer parties celebrating diversity and do more so that students like them does not have to justify their existence on campus.

Collegiate recovery program receives support

More than 140 universities in the country have programs designed to support students recovering from addiction, according to Dustin Huckabee, member of Students in Recovery, a student organization.

“These programs have a proven track record for student success, with higher GPAs, higher retention rates and higher graduation rates than its host institution,” Huckabee said. “It’s time for OU to be part of this movement.”

The Student Government Association has passed a bill that supports the implementation of a collegiate recovery program. Huckabee said he hopes the OU faculty will become part of the national conversation on student recovery.

In 2018, the university cancelled plans for a campus recovery program. Eddy, who has attended recent OU Board of Regents meetings to call for transparency in the Boren and Hall investigation, was developing the program before his employment ended during the first semester of Gallogly’s tenure.

Eddy summarized the day’s event near its end.

“You’ve heard the principles here made plain. You understand the code of these ethics,” Eddy said. “They have been made simple and clear. Propriety, equity and justice are non-negotiable. Without the advice and consent of the entirety of this student body, of the faculty and the staff, you will never have the legitimacy you claim.”