“I’m a Sooner born and Sooner bred and when I die, I'll be Sooner dead.”
I was born in Oklahoma, grew up in Oklahoma, and earned my B.A. from the only university in Oklahoma that matters. I am a Sooner through and through.
For some context, here is the history of the word Sooner, as cited from the Oklahoma Historical Society: “Sooner is the name first applied about six months after the Land Run of 1889 to people who entered the Oklahoma District (Unassigned Lands) before the designated time. The term derived from a section in the Indian Appropriation Act of March 2, 1889, which became known as the ‘sooner clause’.”
There are some great ironies being completely ignored by Indigenize OU.
The suffering and maltreatment forced upon indigenous peoples came from the actions of the U.S. Federal Government. Thus, by their logic, and the record of history, the real aim of decolonization through the renaming of identity seems like it should be aimed at ‘American’, not, in fact, ‘Sooner’.
Furthermore, those who wish to indigenize and decolonize OU and are opposed to the term ‘Sooner’ seem to be completely fine with other colonialist constructs that fit their personal preferences. How is this not some sort of cafeteria in which you can pick and choose what you want in regards to the colonizers’ creations?
For wanting to decolonize, they are operating completely within the system of the colonizer. A University is completely manifested from the colonizer - as it epitomizes the whole foreign/European modus operandi. The stated goals of the organization are inherently at odds with the institution it operates in: Why even attend a University? You are choosing to participate in a colonialist entity and that colonialist entity has allowed you in. How does that reconcile with OU not being inclusive?
Indigenize OU is self-described as “the collective thoughts of [4 Indigenous Students]” and they cite the “representation of under 4% of individuals who identity as native” as cause for their mission at OU. Meanwhile, the OU student body totals over 30,000 - and by their own math - that means they represent roughly 1/3rd of 1% of native individuals.
In his response to Indigenize OU’s request to abolish the Sooner name, President David Boren correctly summarized what being a Sooner means: “The term today stands for a spirit which is very inclusive, sets high standards of excellence, and represents a strong sense of a common family”. Just as well, the ways in which us Sooners already share some of the core principles of Indigenize OU are demonstrably provable by OU’s achievements in regards to indigenous peoples: “Five Native American languages are taught at the University of Oklahoma, more than any other university in the world” and “[OU] ranks in the top five in the nation in the number of undergraduate degrees conferred to Native American students, according to Diverse: Issues in Higher Education.” Additionally, as 2013 data from the U.S. Department of Education’s Center for Education Statistics shows, OU is nearly 500% more inclusive of indigenous persons than the U.S. National average of just 0.8% for undergraduate enrollment.
How exactly is that evidence that Sooners are, as put by Indigenize OU’s response to President Boren, “not inclusive of indigenous communities?”
I would argue it exemplifies how Sooners have led the nation’s universities in being inclusive of indigenous communities. And, of course, it goes without saying that those benchmarks are things that can and should be improved upon. I get that undergraduate students want to take on the world. I remember that idealism. However, fighting against the modern ’Sooner’ identity is counterproductive, as that energy could be better spent lifting up the OU community and building upon great movements for a more inclusive campus. Instead of tearing down the Sooner name, embrace and collaborate with the Sooner spirit that has brought about unprecedented cooperation and inclusion of indigenous culture in an inherently colonialist system.
- Nolan Kraszkiewicz, Master of Peace and Conflict Studies (MPACS) Candidate, University of Waterloo, & OU Alumni, B.A. in Political Science and Religious Studies, Class of 2013.