Reflection: Seth Prince, University of Oklahoma

Editor’s note: Seth Prince (1999), who was born and raised Norman, Okla., home to the University of Oklahoma, is an OU alumnus and works as newsroom adviser for The OU Daily. He posted this reflection to his Facebook page after an OU professor teaching a capstone journalism course used a racial slur in class on Feb. 11. Professor Peter Gade later apologized for saying, in response to a student comment, that “Calling someone a boomer is like calling someone a n—–.” Gade has stepped down from teaching the journalism class for the rest of the semester and has agreed to other actions, the Daily reported.

A turning point for change?
by Seth Prince

As a kid, I occasionally had the privilege of coming to campus and visiting Oklahoma Memorial Union. I don’t really remember the ovals or the stadium, the museums or the statues. What I remember, above all, is the car parking atop the Asp Avenue garage, which somehow felt so big to me.

I always snuck a peek over the edge of the fourth-floor railing to take in the western sky before going to lunch at the U-Club. And each time, whether looking out at the majesty of campus or walking into the portal of possibility those wood-paneled walls seemed to be, I felt — something potentially transformative.

I knew that because it had been that for a prior generation of my extended family. A family that didn’t have the privileges of many, but no doubt had more than many others. In the Union, in the dorms, in engineering quad, the son of a Choctaw family from rural southeastern Oklahoma — Dad a heavy-equipment mechanic, Mom a cook after his death — found a roadmap to a different reality than he otherwise would have lived.

The fuel: A work ethic coupled with a keen mind. The vehicle: The opportunity education affords if seized fully when spread more equitably. The result: The transformative space that is OU altering not just the trajectory of one life, but generations.

That’s the respect and gratitude I felt years later when I came to college here. That’s the respect and gratitude I felt years ago when I came back to work here. That’s the respect and gratitude I feel each and every day on this campus.

And that’s why I love this university but hate what it’s been going through for way too long now. Seeing students, often those for whom arriving or staying here has required different and harder roads, feel compelled to repeatedly, exhaustedly, bravely stand up to and call out abusive power and privilege. To summon, repeatedly, the courage to challenge what others either fail to see or choose to ignore.

Tonight, as hard as today was, I wonder: Could this be a turning point? When it’s not an ignorant or  inebriated student, but a privileged and tenured professor who is called out in the moment by students demanding this place of infinite, transformative possibility live closer to the more-enlightened potential that is our shared, better road.

It’s in that effort — not just by one group of students but by all students, not just by some staff or faculty, but by all of them — the ongoing effort to challenge this place to be a better version of itself tomorrow than it was today will occur.

The university is and always will be an imperfect and never-ending, exhausting and exhilarating and motivating and maddening project. It’s a place to open minds, change lives, lift trajectories, better community, shape society. To constantly re-examine old truths in the course of discovering new ones.

My hope is it will always remain a worthy — and at its best transformative — cause. For every single person here. No doubt, not just for the students. But most definitely because of today’s students and for tomorrow’s.

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