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Community Advancing Conversations: Campus leaders promote proactive efforts, inclusive mindset

Published: Friday, July 31, 2020

“Not being racist isn’t enough,” Ken Eastman, dean of Spears School of Business, told a panel of Oklahoma State University deans and academic leaders Thursday. “We need to actively work to end racism.”

Eastman’s statement is at the core of why OSU launched the Community Advancing Conversations series in June. The second installment of the series, which aims to encourage the OSU community to engage in conversations on diversity and inclusion, was held via Zoom. Led by Dr. Jason Kirksey, OSU chief diversity officer, panelists recounted personal and professional experiences, how those have shaped their perspective on diversity and inclusion, and how they find ways to help foster those beliefs. 

Dr. Paul Tikalsky, dean of the College of Engineering, Architecture and Technology, said it makes a difference when the message comes from the top. As President Burns Hargis continues to push for OSU to lead in combating racism, Thursday’s panelists advocated for leaders across campus to identify issues and tackle them head-on. 

Vice President for Student Affairs Doug Hallenbeck said the university is focused on creating opportunities so students feel like they belong. Part of that, he said, is helping people understand that each person’s experience is different. 

Dr. Kenneth Sewell, vice president for research, said inclusivity improves the quality and scope of research. Apart from being a moral imperative, he said, having different perspectives is valuable, and inclusivity is intrinsic to the university’s land-grant mission. 

“It’s not just about what’s in the books. It’s about how we offer opportunities, the culture,” he said. 

The university has taken significant steps to foster a culture of inclusiveness and has been nationally recognized for those efforts. As a 2019 Higher Education Excellence in Diversity recipient from “Insight Into Diversity” magazine, OSU is one of just eight schools in the nation — the only institution in Oklahoma — to receive this honor for eight straight years. Having achieved an 88 percent increase in faculty of color in OSU classrooms since 2010, the university remains committed to hiring more people of color for faculty, staff and board positions. OSU also has reaffirmed its commitment to continuing the conversation with alumni to improve diversity and inclusion and its partnership with representatives of the OSU Black Alumni Association. 

Kirksey noted that diversity and inclusion workshops are required for all faculty, staff and students. The university also is creating more formal structures to advance these initiatives, such as the OSU Athletics and Diversity Inclusion Council. OSU libraries are engaged in projects aimed at sharing diverse stories and historical perspectives, as well as educating students on how to think critically about bias, how they consume information and how they can help fight disinformation.
Thursday’s panel focused on building on that progress. 

Dr. Rebecca Brienen, associate dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, said removing former governor and documented racist William H. Murray’s name from campus was a good step. But she said challenges remain, and not just for OSU.

"This has been a tumultuous summer. It's exposed racism, discrimination and violence in this country, and it's a time of reckoning," she said. 

While highlighting OSU-Tula’s responsibility to educate the public on the Tulsa Race Massacre, OSU-Tulsa President Dr. Pamela Fry captured the essence of the panel’s aspirations.

“Our plan doesn’t wait until students show up at our door,” she said, noting that OSU-Tulsa is making thoughtful efforts to support student access and success through targeted scholarships and community partnerships.  

OSU Medicine has had major success recruiting Native American students and bolstering care for Native and rural communities. The new OSU College of Osteopathic Medicine at the Cherokee Nation, the first tribally affiliated medical school in the nation, celebrated a historic white coat ceremony this week, recognizing its inaugural class. 

OSU Center for Health Sciences President Dr. Kayse Shrum said curriculum requirements, like the culture in medicine course, help give students a broader understanding of different cultures and how to better serve patients from all walks of life. She said faculty members strive to create a family atmosphere where everyone is invested in the success of their classmates.

Still, Shrum sees more that OSU Medicine can do to promote diversity. OSU Medicine is working to launch its own diversity office and is engaging in conversations with minority and first-generation students to better understand their experiences. 

Kirksey called Thursday’s conversation another positive step and said he looks forward to continuing the monthly series. 

“The idea of this series was that it would become the jumping-off point and serve as the impetus for larger and longer and sustained conversations as we continue to grow and evolve in our commitment to sustaining, enriching and fortifying our culture of inclusion across Oklahoma State University as a whole.” 

To see a rebroadcast of Thursday’s Community Advancing Conversations series, visit This edition of the panel included: 

Dr. Tom Coon, Vice President and Dean, Ferguson College of Agriculture (FCA)
Dr. Ken Eastman, Dean, Spears school of Business (SSB)
Dr. Pamela Fry, President, OSU-Tulsa
Dr. Keith Garbutt, Dean, OSU Honors College
Dr. Doug Hallenbeck, Vice President, Student Affairs
Dr. Rebecca Brienen, Associate Dean, College of Arts & Sciences (CAS)
Dr. Carlos Risco, Dean, College of Veterinary Medicine (CVM)
Dr. Adrienne Sanogo, Associate Dean, College of Education & Human Sciences (EHS)
Dr. Kenneth Sewell, Vice President, Office of Research (VPR)
Dr. Kayse Shrum, President, OSU Center for Health Sciences; Dean, OSU College of Osteopathic Medicine
Dr. Paul Tikalsky, Dean, College of Engineering, Architecture, and Technology (CEAT)
Sheila Johnson, Dean, OSU Library

This article was originally published by OSU Brand Management.

OSU-Tulsa President Pamela Fry emphasized OSU-Tulsa's goals of increasing access to higher education and service to the community through efforts such as pre-collegiate conferences, public courses on the history of Black Wall Street and via the efforts of the Center for Family Resilience and the Al Carlozzi Center for Counseling at OSU-Tulsa.

Media Contact: Aaron Campbell | 918-594-8046 |