On Aug. 5, a publication called the Nationalist Review posted an online article claiming that an Oklahoma State University employee had violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The Nationalist Review’s tagline for its website describes its content as “Politics for Nationalists, Done Right”. The headline reads “Oklahoma State University Bans White Student Staff From Joining Meeting, Says ‘Yes!' To Segregation.”
Despite the sensationalist headline and total lack of outside expert opinions, the facts at the heart of the story appear to be accurate.
The alleged violation of the Civil Rights Act revolves around a picture of an internal email obtained by the publication. In the email, a university employee invites non-white staff to a Student Staff of Color social.
“Please note, this space is only for student staff of color, and not allies or non-staff of color,” the email reads. “While we very much appreciate our allies, this is a space just for the student staff of color to be themselves.”
The employee who sent the email, identified as Fred Dillard in the article, told The O’Colly he could not comment on the matter without permission from his supervisor. The O’Colly then contacted the supervisor to request an interview with Dillard, but received no response.
The O’Colly reached out to OSU to request a copy of the email in question, but had not received one by the time of this article’s publication.
However in a written statement from Vice President of Student Affairs Dr. Doug Hallenbeck, the university seemed to confirm the validity of the email obtained by the Nationalist Review.
“This has been a challenging time for all of our students,” the statement reads. “Between the national pandemic which by most accounts has hit the Black community especially hard, and the national racial tensions, the OSU staff member was trying to provide an opportunity for our residential staff of color to come together to support each other and their unique stressors during this time.”
Despite defending Dillard’s actions at first, the statement goes on to denounce them.
“However, not welcoming all staff members was wrong and offends our university and departmental values. The issue was corrected and everyone was invited to participate.”
One Oklahoma legal expert who spoke to The O’Colly said it was unfortunate that the email included that exclusionary sentence. Robert Gifford, an attorney who specializes in civil rights law, said that the email likely constituted a violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
“You can’t restrict somebody just because they are white,” Gifford said. “Even though people who are Caucasian are the majority, they can’t be discriminated against as well. A school can promote diversity, you know obviously that’s one of the things with affirmative action, but you can’t discriminate against someone who’s not a minority.”
He said when someone is representing a business, government agency, or other organization, you can’t exclude people based off any of the protected criteria, including race.
Gifford said that even if the activity in question was a zoom call that did not require funding, excluding white staff members while acting as a representative of the university would constitute a violation.
“That’s perfectly fine if you’re doing so in a personal and private interest,” Gifford said. “But if you’re doing so in any official capacity, that creates the problem.”
Gifford said it’s hard to claim that a conversation is held in a personal capacity if you’re talking about things that you deal with in your official capacity as a university employee. He said there’s no problem with having race-focused groups or organizations, but they have to be open to anyone who wants to be a part of it.
Brenden Determann is a senior double majoring in Biochemistry and Microbiology, with a minor in chemistry. He is also one of the organizers behind this summer’s March for Black Lives, and authors of The List of Urgencies.
Determann said it took him by surprise that such a safe-space was actively prohibited by the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He said sometimes it’s easier to relate to people who look like you, have the same beliefs as you, or can understand the situation you find yourself in.
“In terms of that, we would just have to be, you know, inclusive,” Determann said.
He said it’s important for non-minority allies to know that being there is great, but sometimes it’s important not to take the lead, and let minority voices be heard. It’s a hard balance to strike, as you don’t want to leave anyone out, Determann said.
“Because at the end of the day, we want to have those critical conversations,” Determann said. “We want to push the narrative that we all want to be equal, we will all be held accountable."