March 12, 2015
OKLAHOMA CITY – Wednesday night ACLU of Oklahoma staff attended a diversity town hall meeting on the University of Oklahoma campus and witnessed powerful and moving testimony about the myriad problems faced by minority students and faculty. Shortly before the town hall meeting, we were encouraged to learn about the imminent appointment of a Vice President of Diversity and hope that this will become a meaningful position.
Last night’s town hall meeting was a powerful reminder that this moment is much larger than one video or one chant, it is about the need to have a conversation addressing prejudice and racism on the University of Oklahoma campus. Our country and our state have a long history of injustice and even violence toward communities of color. We need plans for long-term change and renewed commitments to diversity in order to right many wrongs. Now is a time for reflection and action, not just quick fixes. At their best, universities are places where students from different backgrounds and experiences come together and learn. To preserve that idea, the University of Oklahoma has an obligation to protect all of its students from a hostile learning environment that impedes their educational opportunities.
As a state-run institution of higher education, the University of Oklahoma must also respect First Amendment principles that are central to the mission of every university. Any sanction imposed on students for their speech must therefore be consistent with the First Amendment and not merely a punishment for vile and reprehensible speech; courts have consistently and rightly ruled as such. Absent information that is not at our disposal, it is difficult to imagine a situation in which a court would side with the university on this matter. We are closely monitoring the situation and will appropriately respond to new details as they emerge. In the meantime, we stand in solid support of the brave and thoughtful students whose public dialogue on race and the rights of all minority students in response to the incident have embodied the spirit of the First Amendment.