Interview with Destinee Dickson by Miles Francisco

I know Destinee well; we are often two of very few Black people in our given classrooms or organizations. I know just how ambitious and bright she is. She pushes me to be the best me I can be on any given day. Destinee is a warrior as evidenced by her endless tenacity at the largest march this campus has seen in years earlier this semester. Destinee has great goals in life, but her background and experience with dealing with overt racism on her campus are surely preparing her for this path.

Miles: To begin, what are the main issues that you see in the political arena that you would want to address?

Destinee: I think the biggest thing for me just one, identifying as an African-American woman, coming from a low-income household and family, I want to advocate for people from those areas as well as just people that are from marginalized and minority communities whose voices are not heard. Specifically, I want to do that on the Supreme Court because there hasn’t been a proper representation of minorities within the Supreme Court throughout its 200 years, and that’s one of probably the most significant places that representation is really needed.

M: What is the vitality, if there is any, for students as yourself, to speak up in times of injustice around them?

D: We’re not the past generations; we’re not 20, 30, 40 years ago. We’re not our grandparents; we’re not even our parents. Technology is changing; things in the world are changing, so it looks very different, one. But I think, two, it’s just important for us to advocate for ourselves because if we’re not doing it, then who is? We can’t depend on other people to advocate for us because it doesn’t look the same for even the younger administration that wants to help us. It can’t do all the work. We have to do the work because these things are affecting us specifically with a lot of the racial issues that are happening on campus. Because what they want to advocate for might not necessarily be what we want to advocate for and vice versa. They want to help and support us, but we have to be the ones sitting at the table doing the work, or it’s not going to get done the proper way.

M: Could you talk a bit about the creation of the Black Emergency Response Team (BERT) and then discuss BERT’s role in bringing justice to this campus?

D: BERT was established by the president and vice president of the Black Student Association (BSA), Taylor Wilson and Shelbie Walker. They brought a coalition of black student leaders together to kind of help with a lot of the racial tension that was occurring on campus. I know that vice president, Shelbie Walker has been wanting something this on campus for a while. But, with all the racial things that gave it agency to get to this place. It was created just to start tackling some of these issues that are happening on campus. Specifically, a lot of the things that are happening right now, but also to start advocating for the Black community more regularly because BSA is more about programming events, while BERT is more about making a systemic change on campus. BERT is here to challenge administration challenge people in Oklahoma, the Board of Regents, all these different types of areas that make a major impact on students’ lives. On black communities’ lives on marginalized groups’ lives, and to challenge that, to look at them and see if we can make some change.

M: How do you juggle the work of activism with your studies and all the extracurriculars that you do? What keeps you going?

D: Sleep is always one thing. Planning, my planner is my life. Though really, it’s my family. I’m a first-generation college student, so when things get tough, when life gets hard, I think about my mom and my sister, and that’s, well, I’m doing this. Why I’m here, getting an education is because of them too. So, they’ll be able to live a lot better life than they are. Those are the things that keep me going. I think it’s also just a balance. A lot of people ask me, ‘Destinee, why do you do all this stuff?’ ‘How are you so involved?’ ‘This must just be for a resume boost, blah, blah, blah.’ The reality is I can honestly and humbly say I don’t do this for a resume increase or recognition. I do it because I know the change needs to happen. I know change needs to come, and I am passionately being involved in making change happen on my campus. So that somebody, that me, can come into this university five, ten, years later down the line, and it’s a lot better of a system for them than the one I came in with.

M: What areas of campus, whether it’s groups or just different spaces, do you believe are in the most need of change and how can this change come about?

D: I definitely think the multicultural communities, our veterans, disability resource center, a lot of marginalized groups, first generation, low income—these students just because they don’t have the traditional mold, that is, at a predominantly white institution. Our administration needs to focus on them more to provide them with the proper resources. We’re not sure if the DRC is getting the same resources as they should be. Our multicultural students are dealing with racism and microaggressions daily, and we don’t have the proper legal aspects right now on our campus to help these students or to advocate for these students because these things keep happening, and our president keeps saying that legally there’s nothing we can do. The biggest thing that we need to look at is giving proper support to all of these marginalized groups and communities and showing them that we care about them too. Sometimes the students don’t think we care about them, that we’re just another place to write a check off with them.

M: Do you think that your role as a student organizer and BERTs role should be more focused on increasing the resources and funding for multicultural programs, faculty, and staff? Or should it be on the areas that are the least inclusive?

D: I think, talking about BERT, that it should be advocacy and resources towards multicultural groups and specifically the Black community. These organizations, Panhellenic and IFC, have overtly shown racism that has happened on campus multiple, multiple times, not just in recent incidents. SAE or other things that happened on campus that don’t get as much traction or attention—what happened on campus corner a semester or two ago with the guy and the Native American student. It’s obvious that those organizations are embedded with racism, and a lot of them started to keep people of color out. The first Kappa Alpha order was created when people of color weren’t allowed into higher education institutions. So, they’re embedded with racism.

We created these things called diversity training, but realistically we’re not calling out the situation. We don’t even talk about, in diversity training, why we started diversity training. We don’t talk about the SAE situation. We’re not going to talk about the video that happened this semester. That’s never going to happen, and that’s a part of the problem if all you’re talking about is why you shouldn’t touch a Black girl’s hair. That’s a problem, yeah. Diversity training, in theory, is good, but what we implement here on our campus, here at the University of Oklahoma, is not effective and won’t be effective until we are having real conversations about why these things aren’t okay. You can’t just ban Panhellenic and IFC, but what you can do is properly educate these people. And it shouldn’t be people of color that have to do this education, but it should be people that identify with these groups that are doing the work. So, Erin Simpson, Jill Tran—those women can do help do the work and help educate these organizations.

With Panhellenic, we’ll see what comes out of this retreat, and if this can help but also, we should understand that nobody’s talking to IFC about these things, and that’s an upsetting thing—and IFC is doing a lot of these things. Yes, Tri-Delta was a part of this recent incident. Prior to that, a lot of IFC organizations were the ones that were [and still are] doing these things. So Panhellenic is trying to make a change, and I appreciate them for that. But we also need to hold IFC accountable, because they are also a part of the problem. I think the biggest problem with that is that nobody’s calling them out right now. So, I said, ‘Well, why don’t you do a retreat or those types of things?’ It’s because they don’t care, and that is a problem.

M: In the three years that you’ve been here, given the racist incidents that have occurred nearly every semester that you’ve been on this campus, do you regret your decision to attend the University of Oklahoma?

D: So, I saw this question. It started having me think about how my decision to come to OU, my decision, as somebody that is…  I knew going into a predominantly White institution what I was getting myself into. I knew what I was going to see daily and what I was going to hear daily. Going to a predominantly White high school, I knew what was going to occur daily. So, I knew what I was getting myself into. I’m not shocked or surprised by the events happening. I chose the University of Oklahoma because I found a community here. I felt like I enjoyed it. The scholarship money was nice. The factors that OU gave me—I knew that I wanted to be here. Looking back on these incidents, I’m here for a reason, and I’m here to help do the work, and that’s why I’m staying at the University of Oklahoma. That’s why I came to the University of Oklahoma. I didn’t know three years ago that all this stuff was going to happen. I’m here for a reason, and that reason is to help make a change.

I remember after the second incident happened with the guy walking near the North Oval Campus Corner area. I called my mom and said “I want to transfer. And she was like ‘You can leave, and you might go to a super liberal arts school or, later life when you start working. But racism is always going to be prevalent wherever you go. That’s the University of Oklahoma. That’s Oklahoma State University; it’s always going to be around you. In the corporate world. You’re going to feel microaggressions; you’re going to see racism. It’s what you do with those institutions and places. That’s what makes a difference and change.’ And, and she’s right, and that’s why I’m still here at OU. I want to be here at OU. Yes, there are all these things happening. But even though all these things are happening, there are people and advocates within the White community, Black community, purple, Brown, multicultural communities. We’re all working together in this space.

M: What role do black women have in movements generally and have they had in justice-oriented groups on your campus?

D: Here at OU one of the biggest things is that we have a lot of strong Black women. We have lots of strong black women on campus that are doing a lot of the work and not always our Black men are stepping up. However, when they do step up, they get a lot more praise than Black women do. For instance, when we went to the march, BERT has a lot of strong Black women that helped to lead the march and create the march and do all these great things. However, the highlight of the march was all these OU football players being there and them coming to support and show their advocacy. Not to call him out but Caleb got an article written on him with NewsOK recently that said even two months after all these things happening, he’s still doing the work. So, it’s those situations that upset me. Because I, Shelbie Walker, Taylor Wilson, all these black women, Makayla, Napier, they’re doing all this great work, Sha’ Luper, Skylar Thomas, Jamelia Reed. You see all these women doing this, and nobody asks us to do this News OK article, but just because he’s a football player and he was at the march. Even in the simple factors not to call Black men out, but they can easily get administrative positions and roles and not do anything with them sometimes. They still get praise just because they’re sitting in those roles. But our black women don’t. Often, it’s like, what did you do? What did you do in this? What was your role? I understand athletes are treated differently.

M: Athletes have a certain platform where the media wants to see them on the front lines. But it’s the recognition that Black men get generally.

D: Yes, and it’s throughout history. Black women are the ones really pushing [the work] out. But nobody knows who their names or what they’re doing and the things that they have been advocating for. Even when they are doing the same advocacy work as MLK or Malcolm X, they’re not receiving some of the same accolades because they are a woman or they’re not able to stand on the same stage because they are a woman or all these types of things. It happens to the same degree here at OU to a certain extent.

M: So, what is the importance in your eyes of noting, of talking about and addressing the central role that black woman play in justice work?

D: I think it’s just advocating, highlighting, representing, showing you that they’re there. They are. There’s so many of us that are here and who are doing the work, and we’re putting it in, but don’t simply try to x out our voices or only highlight a small amount when we’re the ones that are putting in the work just as much as our male figures or our male counterparts.

M: Is it on black people to solve racism?

D: We did not create racism. Racism happens because people are racist and don’t like people just because of the color of their skin. But throughout history, it’s been put on Black people or other people of color to solve or fix racism. To a certain extent, I think we have a duty and obligation to fight racism and do the work and create these advocacy groups and be advocates for change and activists. However, it’s not on us at the end of the day to solve it. We can’t solve something that we didn’t create. It’s on White people or other people that are racist, prejudice, sexist; it’s within their own communities that they have to solve those issues. So, when a lot of the stuff happened earlier in the semester, I had a lot of my friends or allies coming to me asking me, ‘How can I fix the issue?’ ‘What can I do to help and support?’ When you’re in these spaces where there are no people of color—when it’s just you and your sorority sisters or other White friends and somebody says something that isn’t right—somebody does something that isn’t right—you need to be calling them out, and that’s where it starts—when they start calling each other out. That’s when racism begins to end because that’s when the realization comes that people that look like me know that I’m not doing what’s right. Because if a black person calls them out, it’s ‘of course you’re going to call me out because you’re black.’ But when they’re allies or friends or other white sorority sisters or fraternity brothers are calling them out, that’s when people start figuring out the shit they’re doing is not right.

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