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Osage students, past and present, praise OSU for its diversity efforts

After Gov. Kevin Stitt attacked Diversity, Equity and Inclusion programs by withholding state funds via an executive order, colleges are doubling down

On Dec. 13, Gov. Kevin Stitt signed an executive order prohibiting the use of state funds for offices of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion on college campuses around Oklahoma.

Oklahoma State University President Kayse Shrum responded to the executive order the following day in an email sent to students, staff and faculty.

“OSU faculty, staff and students are guided by the Cowboy Code, which invigorates us with a ‘passion to do what’s right,’” Shrum wrote. “And united in the Cowboy Culture, which demands that ‘we treat every individual with dignity and respect and recognize that differences can serve to strengthen and enrich the fabric of life.’ Those fundamental commitments will not change.”

OSU has ten DEI organizations that provide resources to students. While OSU is not planning to make any current decisions on the matter, OSU is planning to evaluate the programs to meet legal requirements, according to an article by KJRH Channel 2. Gov. Stitt expects higher education institutions to comply with the order by May 2024.

“Many of us Native students wouldn’t have survived at the large state universities without these programs,” said OSU alumna and Osage tribal member Alyssa Goodfox. “I, for one, am so grateful to say I have a degree from Oklahoma State University with the support of these programs.”

Professor and Head of OSU’s History Department, Dr. Brian Hosmer, weighed in on the current situation regarding the DEI programs.

“When we think about DEI, we can think about a specific set of programs, but also a larger framework,” he said. “Universities are obligated to be places where people of differing viewpoints and perspectives feel included, welcomed and have the opportunity to succeed.”

DEI programs bring equality recognition to the university community as a whole and help bridge the gap to make students feel more inclusive in their environments. Universities do this by providing clubs and other organizations.

OSU has over 26,000 students, and its two biggest Native American resources on campus are the Center for Sovereign Nations and the Native American Student Association.

The Center for Sovereign Nations is a student-run resource center for both Native American and non-Native students. The Center offers many resources to students including scholarship application assistance, student jobs and tutoring.

Osage tribal member Harleigh Moore-Wilson received her bachelor’s degree from OSU, and is currently pursuing a doctorate degree in food sciences and food safety. Moore-Wilson was involved with the NASA program at OSU as an undergraduate. Gov. Stitt’s recent executive order makes her feel the university has an obligation to provide DEI programs to minority students.

“He shouldn’t have the ability to take away those programs,” she said. “I understand that the governor says that he’s making everybody all-inclusive, but that’s not how it works. It’s not hurting him; it’s hurting our students and our upcoming generations.”

She also thinks the governor could be doing more for the Native American community, as Gov. Stitt is a member of the Cherokee Nation.

“He was elected for a reason,” she said. “Why is he taking away from something, but he claims to be a Native American? The hardest part for me is understanding where he is coming from, or does he realize how many people this is going to hurt in the long run?”

Moore-Wilson is also worried about another potential risk to Native American students: access to DEI scholarships.

“Some tribes rely on colleges to distribute their scholarships,” she said. “What does that executive order do to those scholarships? Does that open their scholarships up to everyone? Is that fair to those students?”

Vanessa Asher, an Osage tribal member who is currently attending OSU for child and family services, said NASA is important because it provides a safe space for her.

“OSU heavily promotes the involvement of Native Americans on campus,” Asher said. “NASA serves as a reminder of how large the Native American student population is at OSU. With the university being so large it can be easy to feel looked over, but with student associations like NASA it allows students to feel seen and heard.”

While many in the state are worried about the outcome of the DEI defunding, Asher doesn’t think that OSU will get rid of the programs since diversity is a big part of the university’s mission.

“Personally, I don’t see it impacting students down the road,” she said. “Solely because I don’t see OSU acknowledging this change in any way. At this point, all we can do is vote a new governor in.”

Luckily, the Center for Sovereign Nations at OSU is primarily funded by tribes across Oklahoma, but they do receive some state funds. The DEI executive order could impact some of the resources they offer, as well as staff, but it won’t completely take away the programs as a whole. Other DEI organizations within OSU will possibly be affected.

“It’s really hard to say at this point what will happen,” Dr. Hosmer said. “The governor’s executive order focuses on specific administrative positions. It says that the positions and the programs are going to be reviewed, perhaps to eliminate them. That could have an effect on student experiences and could have an effect on student opportunities depending on how that plays out.” 

However, there is a is way for students to voice their concerns about the current situation. “I would say if students feel strongly about these programs, defend them,” he said.

Author

  • Collyn Combs

    Collyn Combs is a multimedia journalism student at Oklahoma State University. She is a member of the Osage Nation, and her family is from the Grayhorse district. Combs is from Ponca City, Okla., and attended school in Bartlesville, Okla., where she graduated in 2017. She served on the newspaper staff at Bartlesville High School from 2016-2017. She attended Northern Oklahoma College in Tonkawa after graduation and wrote for The Maverick newspaper from 2017-2020, and served as editor from 2018-2019. She currently lives in Stillwater, Okla., and is involved with O’Colly TV as the weather reporter, OSU Native American Student Association and is secretary for the Omega Phi Alpha National Service Sorority.

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Collyn Combs
Collyn Combshttps://osagenews.org
Collyn Combs is a multimedia journalism student at Oklahoma State University. She is a member of the Osage Nation, and her family is from the Grayhorse district. Combs is from Ponca City, Okla., and attended school in Bartlesville, Okla., where she graduated in 2017. She served on the newspaper staff at Bartlesville High School from 2016-2017. She attended Northern Oklahoma College in Tonkawa after graduation and wrote for The Maverick newspaper from 2017-2020, and served as editor from 2018-2019. She currently lives in Stillwater, Okla., and is involved with O’Colly TV as the weather reporter, OSU Native American Student Association and is secretary for the Omega Phi Alpha National Service Sorority.
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