Oregon State Working to Better Support Black Community

In late May, former Oregon State University President Ed Ray sent a university-wide email following the murder of George Floyd, calling for immediate action and support of OSU’s Black community. In response, OSU student Ruta Faifaiese sent a letter signed by 500 OSU students and alumni addressing the need to provide accommodation and support for the university’s Black students, staff, and faculty.   

Faifaiese’s letter listed a number of action steps including hiring a Black counselor at OSU’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), hiring more Black faculty and pro-staff, partnering with Corvallis’ National Association for the Advancement of Colored People chapter, and requiring all who teach to participate in Black Minds Matter – a free course that focuses on issues impacting Black students’ success. Moving into fall term, the university is working to implement a number of these steps.   

“We recognize and acknowledge there is a long and painful history regarding experiences our Black faculty, staff and students have endured,” Steve Clark, OSU Vice President of University Relations and Marketing, said via email. “While we are making actionable steps to creating a better OSU, there is still much more to be done and we must take into account their experiences in order to make the necessary changes. 

OSU is currently developing a new Black and African-American Student Specialist therapist position at CAPS and is recruiting counselors who have knowledge and experience working with Black students, according to Clark. Additionally, OSU is creating a human resources initiative to help recruit Black faculty and staff, as well as other candidates of diversity.  

Black Minds Matter has been offered by OSU’s Educational Opportunities Program since 2019. The 10-week-long course covers a variety of topics, including disparities in education, best practices working with Black students, and how to be more inclusive in classroom settings.  

Kate Shay, an instructor in the OSU School of Biochemistry and Biophysics, participated in Black Minds Matter in winter 2019. Shay said the course had a significant impact on her, since it allowed her to better understand the experiences of Black students from primary school on, and how those experiences impact their success in a university setting.   

“I already understood that we had a problem in this country about how in general society treats Black folks, and I didn’t realize how pervasive that was in the school systems. This course delved into K-12, all the way through college. So it covered everything the education of Black students, in particular male Black students,” Shay said. “That was enlightening because I wasn’t aware of some of the prejudices that those students faced as young as kindergarten, and how that shaped their educational experience.”  

Shay believes the data shared during the course revealed that OSU is behind in attracting and retaining Black students, and that simply admitting Black students isn’t enough. 

Shay sees this course, when left up to attendee choice, as appealing primarily to people already interested in diversity. “It’s a bit more difficult to get people who are busy and don’t think this should be their very top priority,” she said. I would like to see OSU find a way to communicate to everyone what a high priority this should be.”   

While OSU is not making Black Minds Matter mandatory across campus, Clark said the university has launched a “Leading Change for Diversity Equity and Inclusion” leader training, which prepares academic unit leaders including deans, school directors, and department heads to lead organizational change toward those goals.   

Clark said OSU will also review all Difference, Power, and Discrimination courses and Baccalaureate Core courses at the university, and has created learning modules for all incoming OSU students that focus on the history and experiences of the Black community in the state of Oregon. Similar learning modules will be launched this fall for faculty and staff. The OSU Office of Institutional Diversity also offers eleven workshops and five programs that focus on the Black community.  

Additionally, OSU’s new president, F. King Alexander, is a long-time silver member of the NAACP and expressed interest in becoming involved in the Corvallis-Albany branch of the NAACP at a recent meeting, according to Clark.   

“The university is in constant conversation with communities to understand the many ways we can increase support for Black students…,” Clark said. “We can always do more. And will do more.” 

By Jada Krening