TULSA, Okla. ― The University of Oklahoma’s new chief of diversity programs says he knows why he’s the right fit for the job after a racist video roiled the school last month: He experienced discrimination when he was a student at the Norman campus in the 1990s.
As a Black Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity member running for student body vice president, Jabar Shumate remembers the fliers with his picture on them tacked up around campus: “Do you want this person living in your house? Vote the other ticket.”
The fliers backfired. Shumate went on to win that campaign and take the student body presidency the next year.
“There were White students in the Greek community and Black students and international students that put me in that office,” the 39-year-old former state senator told The Associated Press in an interview last week. “I built that coalition. [It showed] we’re a lot larger and stronger than a few bad characters who were really just uninformed.”
OU President David Boren tapped the Tulsa Democrat for the newly created vice president in charge of overseeing diversity programs. The move came after a video turned up showing members of OU’s Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter using a chant that referenced lynching, included a racial slur and indicated Black students would never be admitted to the fraternity.
“I probably have a better perspective with this,” said Shumate, who resigned from the Senate in January before the start of the legislative session.
The school swiftly severed ties with the SAE chapter and expelled two students who appeared to be leading the chant. But Shumate said more can be done to heal the hurt and improve relations between student groups, Greek or otherwise, at a school where the enrollment of Black students has declined in the past decade.
Shumate will likely be paid between $200,000 and $250,000, said Boren’s spokesman, Corbin Wallace, but the OU Board of Regents needs to approve the final compensation.
The diversity chief position is one that has succeeded at other universities. Oklahoma State University, for example, created the vice president of institutional diversity in 2005 to increase diversity and focus on recruiting and retention of minority undergraduate and graduate students, faculty and personnel, said school spokesman Gary Shutt.
Shumate said he welcomes the challenge of building from scratch.
“The one great thing about being the first at doing something is that you can build something and not necessarily be confined by boundaries,” he said. “I think this really could be a model for what other universities should be doing.
“The other part of it is we don’t have a script. This is my dream job to come back and work for people I respect. We’re going to be as innovative as we can be.”