RSU President Larry Rice released a statement on June 4, 2020 addressing the current social climate in the United States and calling for inclusivity. The statement came in an email to all RSU students.
The statement was issued 10 days after the death of Minnesota resident George Floyd. Floyd died after being arrested by the Minneapolis Police Department on suspicion of forgery.
In his statement, Rice called on the RSU community to recognize the rights of others and “to do our part to finish what was started so many years ago and for which many of our friends, alumni, and family members fought and died,” referencing RSU’s past as Oklahoma Military Academy.
Rice referred to “this time of discontent” and stated “we at Rogers State University are committed to ensuring equality for all by fostering a diverse and inclusive environment for every community member…”
“Respect and tolerance can only be achieved through a free and open exchange of ideas. Only in this way, speaking and listening to each other, can we achieve a culture of caring, understanding, and complete the American masterpiece.”
Within a day, students began responding to the statement on social media.
Student Paxton McKeever took to Instagram to voice their response. “I found it extremely disappointing in how noncommittal it was in regard to disavowing white supremacy,” wrote McKeever on the post shared on Thursday.
McKeever has since began a campaign calling on RSU students and alumni to voice their concerns about the “Moving Forward Together” statement. “The only other thing I’ve found interesting is how RSU’s statement compared to other local university’s statements- specific OU, TU, and UCO, all who specifically acknowledged the issues going on in their statements,” said McKeever.
McKeever has publicly shared an email template for students to use.
RSU SGA Director of Diversity and Inclusion Yleana Esparza shared a similar statement. “Many students have reached out asking for my comments in regard to President Rice’s letter,” said Esparza.
“Although I am appreciative that Rogers State University released a statement, ultimately, I was gravely disappointed. President Rice sets the frame work for RSU and the values we hold. Our educational leaders need to be held accountable to ensure the Black Lives Matter Movement is supported on all three of our campuses. ”
Esparza continues with a call to action, reminding students that they have the “right and responsibility… to demand respect.” She encourages RSU students to continue the discussion on the Black Lives Matter movement and our campus’s responsibilities.
The discussion on race and college campuses has continued with former RSU students.
“I think it [the statement] was definitely not enough. Without even realizing it, my first thought after reading it was ‘Wait? Was this in response to George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement?” said alumna Taylor Sanderson. The “Moving Forward Together” statement has also been shared through RSU social media accounts.
“You can definitely tell that they were definitely trying not to step on any toes. I was disappointed when I realized that there was no mention of any sort of support of any kind. RSU is in support of diversity, but to what extent? There needs to be action,” said Sanderson.
The Hill News has reached out to the RSU Office of Public Relations for an interview with Rice. At 4:58 PM on Friday, the Hill News’ request for an interview was responded to.
This is a developing story and will be updated as information becomes available.
Editor’s note: this article was updated at 11:33 AM on June 6, 2020, to more accurately reflect the distribution time of the “Moving Forward Together” statement.
Gallery: Fairest on the Hill Draws Crowds and Dazzles
Student Government Holds First Meeting: Recognizes Black Student Association
In their first meeting of the academic year, 36 students attended the Student Government Association Congress meeting. “We’re excited to have you hear, especially in person,” said student government vice president Darci Johnson.
Beginning at 1:21 p.m., the SGA called the meeting to order. All officers of the student government gave reports on their offices. SGA Public Relations Director Caden Coleman announced a freshman council and shared his social media account as a source of information. SGA President Madison McLaughlin and SGA Director of Diversity and Inclusion Yleana Esparza also shared their social media accounts.
Currently, the SGA Congress has not approved appropriations or formally established a freshman student government council. New business included recognizing two student organizations at RSU.
“We hope we get this student organization back on track,” said RSU student Giovanni Wahome. He represented the International Student Association and spoke about the perspective of international students at RSU. The International Student Association has previously been recognized as a registered student organization at RSU but fell into bad-standing with the SGA.
Wahome described disparities in international student services offered at RSU compared to other institutions under the University of Oklahoma Board of Regents. Vice President Johnson objected to further questions by the Hill News regarding the association’s experience attempting to be recognized as a registered student organization again.
The International Student Association was officially recognized by the SGA Congress and passed unanimously. RSU student Kira Carter then presented Brothers and Sisters for Excellence, a proposed black student association, to the SGA Congress.
“It’s going to allow students to make connections,” said Carter. RSU has not had a recognized black student organization since being accredited as a four year, regional university.
“We can spread diversity across campus,” explained Carter. She described that Brothers and Sisters for Excellence as an inclusive student organization for RSU students. The proposed student organization was recognized and passed unanimously.
SGA President McLaughlin recognized incoming RSU Student Activities Coordinator Katie Warnick to share announcements. Warnick began working on August 25, 2020, and oversees campus events, student organization support services, and other university recreational activities.
Warnick announced that student organizations at RSU will be expected to adhere to COVID-19 activity guidelines. Warnick also announced that the SGA will be hosting the Student Organization Leadership Retreat on September 11, 2020. This annual event is traditionally required for student organizations in the spring semester but was not held to COVID-19.
RSU Libraries shared information about upcoming campus events, and President McLaughlin adjourned the meeting at 2:02 p.m.