Untold Stories Guide

1996 All OSU Boycott & March

The early 1990s included the establishment of several campus-wide programs and institutional polices intended to make OSU a more inclusive and supportive campus. However, in February of 1996, a number of racially-based incidents proved that the campus climate was still unwelcoming and unsafe for students of color. The incidents included an African American student who was verbally abused and threatened with physical violence, defaced posters of both an African American student running for ASOSU president and of upcoming campus speaker Anita Hill, as well as a fraternity activity with perceived Ku Klux Klan undertones. (1) Although there were only about 170 African American students on a campus of 14,000, with 13% of the total population students of color, they rallied together to organize the All OSU Boycott on March 13, 1996. The boycott drew 1,500 students and community members in a march through campus and 2,000 in the Memorial Union Quad to hear students of color speak about their experiences enduring racism. (2)

In the weeks prior to the All OSU Boycott, a number of events took place to address the need for institutional change. On February 22, the TEAM (Together Everyone Accomplishes More) student coalition gathered and submitted a proposal to President Risser, which he accepted, to develop offices for recruitment and retention services for students of color. (3) In early March, the two white students who racially harassed the African American student were suspended from the university for two years and were later arrested for the hate crime. (4) On March 11, students and various campus organizations gathered to discuss campus racism and wrote letters of support. (5) Prior to the boycott, the student organizers heavily publicized the event and invited the media to cover the day-long activities. April Waddy of the Lonnie B. Harris Black Cultural Center (BCC) said, “What we hope to do is increase racial awareness. We believe that a visible black community is a safer black community. Support for diversity, support for increased racial consciousness makes it harder for racism to rear its ugly head on campus.” (6)

On the morning of Wednesday, March 13, the All OSU Boycott began. Organizers addressed the media during a press conference at the BCC, and then joined demonstrators, who showed solidarity by bypassing their classes and university services. They marched through the campus and gathered at the Memorial Union Quad for a “speak out,” where students of color voiced their concerns and encouraged unity against racism and discrimination. That afternoon students and community members came together in the Memorial Union Ballroom for a round table forum to continue the conversation. A variety of students of color expressed their frustrations and hopes; one Latino student talked of the importance of political activism and declared, “I don’t want to be quiet; I want to make a stand.” (7)

Over a year after the boycott, the OSU Honors College published a special issue of The Chronicle with articles exploring the progress made as well as the changes still needed in the campus climate. Students, faculty and staff, and administrators expressed their opinions. In his article, Dr. Larry D. Roper, the Vice Provost for Student Affairs stated, “While we may have not seen major changes in the structure and functioning of the campus in the past year, I do believe there is a significant change in the force and direction of energy being exerted. I strongly believe this energy is a sign of hope.” (8)

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