UCO Housing Acts on Racial Complaints
Following recent complaints about racism in their department, the Housing and Residential Engagement office at UCO released a statement Monday addressing a new plan to improve diversity and inclusion.
At a virtual forum last week, alumni and current students called for the termination of a white housing employee.
In a Twitter comment, student and former Housing staff @kobellic said: “When your staff was called out for saying the n word nothing was done about it. You actually gave the girl a promotion and made her a hall director.”
In response to this, the panelists of the forum assured attendees they were aware of the problem and were working to ensure better training would be implemented to avoid future similar situations.
Scott Monetti, director of Housing and Dining, said, “If there’s anything like people being afraid to speak out, we want to know about it.”
Since the forum, the Housing office saw an online presence speaking out about discriminative behavior and an overall lack of inclusion.
The Vista and UCentral began an investigation into these claims. It led to the discovery of several anonymously created social media accounts and a Change.org petition calling for the resignation of Jill Reavis, who was recently promoted to Murdaugh Hall Housing Director.
The petition gained more than 150 signatures. The Vista reached out to Reavis for comment and received no response.
Recent Twitter comments replying to a Housing department tweet alleged discriminatory behavior, staff using racial epithets and an overall lack of “corrective action.” See the thread below.
UCentral reached out to the creator of the anonymous Instagram account for an official comment. While not wanting to comment on their identity, @bringjusticetoucohousing said: “These racist behaviors have no place in a place that claims diversity and inclusiveness as a value. As someone who stood by and watched the injustices that occurred in housing I knew I could no longer remain silent. I must use my privilege to speak out for those who can’t. I created the accounts and petition to spread awareness and give those who have experienced injustice a voice.”
The Vista in collaboration with UCentral, confirmed that Reavis held a managerial position in Housing. One commentator online alleged the office promoted the accused employee despite the allegations, saying, “Nothing was done about it.”
What Action Did UCO Take?
Monetti said UCO knew about the incident months ago. While stating they were unable to share details due to HR and privacy reasons, Monetti explained they addressed the situation with this employee when it came to their attention.
In the forum Monetti said:
“The incident that has consistently been referred to is something that happened over a year and a half ago. At the time we looked into the incident, while it was clearly offensive and inappropriate, we felt like it could be addressed with training. We had ODI come in and do a training for us, for all of our hall directors and RAs at the time.”
The Vista submitted an Open Records Act request to Human Resources for records relating to Reavis including, but not limited to: complaints received by the university, Office of Housing or others, dates of employment, all titles or positions held, and any disciplinary action resulting in loss of pay, suspension, demotion of position or termination.
In the statement released Monday, Monetti explained, “the employee in question is no longer employed at UCO.”
The Vista reached out to Monetti in an email following the statement release for further comment. The request was forwarded to Chelsea Ratterman, UCO Campus Enterprises Marketing Coordinator.
Ratterman restated the released statement:
“We will not tolerate words and actions that do not support diversity and inclusion, nor the university’s values of Character, Community, and Civility, in our halls. We are working together with our campus community to promote thoughtful and purposeful actions that support diversity and inclusion in every part of our community. The action plan detailed in the statement is just the first step in this commitment, and we look forward to continuing this conversation.”
According to the UCO employee handbook: “Discrimination or harassment because of race, creed, color, religion, alienage or national origin, genetic information, ancestry, citizenship status, age, disability or handicap, gender, marital status, veteran status, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or any other characteristic protected by applicable federal, state, or local law, is prohibited.”
The new training outlined in the Housing statement is to “supplement current bystander and ally training with implicit bias and diversity training for Housing administration, staff and residents.” It would include an annual training of university retaliation policies.
After the statement was released, confirming the employee in question was no longer employed at UCO, the online call for greater accountability from UCO Housing grew as more people commented on Twitter about their prejudicial experiences in Housing from staff.
A developing Twitter-chain led to the publication of a screen-recording of a Snapchat conversation between Resident Assistant staff members discussing the Twitter comments about Reavis.
A former housing RA commenting in the recorded Snapchat was former professional media student and former UCentral employee Jay Mayes. Mayes made comments online that surfaced due to his affiliation with the controversial recording. Now there is a petition asking for him to be held accountable, as well. However, Mayes graduated last semester and is no longer affiliated with the student media group.
Amanda Siew, the UCentral Social Media Executive Producer, released a statement explaining Mayes will no longer create content for UCentral and the working relationship has ended.
Mayes made a comment on the image of an African American cosplaying Hermione from Harry Potter. He said, “Like how black people wanna be white.”
The Vista and UCentral reached out to Mayes for comment, he declined to speak.
The UCO Chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists released a statement that said:
“Your words hurt a community that is still healing and in deep pain.”
UCO Housing’s new plan detailed a “three-pronged” approach including new processes, training and programming. Part of that process will be a way for complaints to be submitted anonymously to the department as of the fall semester.
In addition to the Housing statement, the actions discussed have been addressed in an email sent to students by the College of Liberal Arts.
This is a developing story. The Vista and UCentral are working in cooperation to provide continuing coverage and updates.