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‘Black Beavers’ video challenges OSU’s commitment to diversity

By News | Last updated: Jan 9, 2014 - 9:29:33 PM

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A group of Black students is questioning Oregon State University’s commitment to diversity with a hard-hitting Internet video titled “The Black Beavers.”

The video was produced in response to “The Black Bruins,” a similar project created by a group of disaffected UCLA students. It went viral after being posted online in November, creating a stir in the national media and spawning imitations on other campuses, such as a Twitter campaign at public universities in Michigan.

“The Black Beavers” features five OSU students, dressed in Beaver logo gear, standing at parade rest on the steps of the Memorial Union. One of the five, OSU Black Cultural Center President Anderson DuBoise III, looks directly into the camera and recites a four-minute critique of the university’s Black student recruitment and retention efforts in the rapid-fire cadence of spoken word poetry while atmospheric music plays in the background.

Using enrollment figures from fall term, Mr. DuBoise notes that only 366 of OSU’s 27,925 students, or 1.3 percent, are Black. The university’s 201 Black male students make up just 0.7 percent of the total, contributing to a feeling of isolation on campus, and their graduation rates lag behind the average.

“It seems when we try to draw up the numbers there are many here missing in action and they become a part of the national fraction of those who did not make it,” Mr. DuBoise raps.

The video also takes a swipe at biochemist Linus Pauling, a revered OSU alumnus whose comments on eugenics sparked claims of racism in the 1970s, and questions the motivation behind Oregon State’s efforts to bring in more foreign students: “And a beaver doesn’t give a damn if the water downstream disappears as long as he’s got his and the way this biz works is we ship over international students, charge them extra and call it multiculturalism. Naw—cash crop.”

Since being posted to YouTube on Dec. 11, the “Black Beavers” video has received more than 4,600 views and has generated a spirited online discussion. Most of the comments express support for the video’s content, though it has some detractors as well.

The idea for the video came out of a Nov. 20 conference at OSU dubbed Calling All Black Men, where organizer Dominique Austin, a graduate student who is writing his master’s thesis on Black male graduation rates, screened “The Black Bruins.” The UCLA video struck a chord with many of those in attendance, and Mr. DuBoise suggested making a Beaver-themed version. He and Austin recruited several of their friends, got some technical support from the campus TV station and shot their video Dec. 5.

“Oregon State doesn’t really do a good job of recruiting people from Portland or from inner cities,” said Mr. Austin, who directed and appeared in the production.

“It’s not really comfortable walking around campus or being in class when you’re the only Black person in that class.”

While Mr. Austin gives the university credit for good intentions, he said OSU needs to address the feelings of isolation experienced by Black students on a predominantly White campus in a predominantly White state.

He cited widespread stereotyping, saying many White students assume the Blacks they see on campus are student-athletes with weak academic credentials. He said there have been incidents of Black students being harassed by Whites or barred from parties because “we have enough of you here with the basketball team.”

In the classroom, Black students may feel reluctant to ask questions or offer comments, and some feel undervalued by professors or major advisers. Mr. Austin said many Black students at OSU have been advised to lower their academic aspirations based on the assumption that they’re not capable of achieving at a high level—including him.

“It hits me in the heart,” he said. “You feel me? This is personal for me.”

‘People do take notice’

University administrators say they’ve heard the message.

Steve Clark, OSU’s vice president for university relations and marketing, called the video “profound and provocative” and said it has stirred a lot of thought on campus.

“When students speak in eloquent and meaningful ways about what’s important to them, people do take notice,” he said. “It makes people stop and think, and I think that’s a real value.”

Mr. Clark and several other high-level administrators met to discuss how to respond to issues raised by “The Black Beavers” and plan to meet with the students themselves after winter break.

He said OSU has made progress toward diversity goals under President Ed Ray, saying 22 percent of the student body is made up of U.S. ethnic minorities and another 10.2 percent are international students.

“So 32 percent of our enrollment—not quite one-third—is quite diverse,” Mr. Clark said. “And those numbers have doubled over the last decade.”

He noted that OSU is in the process of building four new student cultural centers (including one for Black students) and has committed significant funds for staffing them, but he also said the university could do more to support minority students on campus.

Recruiting Blacks to OSU can be challenging in a state where Blacks make up just 2 percent of the overall population, Mr. Clark said, especially in a post-affirmative action environment. But he said the university has created a bridge program with one largely Black Portland high school and is pursuing another.

“We think numbers are essential, but so is engagement,” he said.