An Interview with Southern Oregon University’s Equity Coordinator for Racial Justice: Forgetting and Forgiving Black Lives Matter Defacing in Ashland

Southern Oregon University (SOU) in Ashland, Oregon discovered that anti-Black Lives Matter people were alive and well in its community. In order to understand more about what happened, I interviewed Marvin Woodard, an SOU employee to talk about the incident.

What is your role at SOU?
“I am the Equity Coordinator for Racial Justice. I serve all students but center my work with our BIPOC population by providing individual support and advocacy. I am the supervisor for the Diversity Scholarship and primary advisor for the Multicultural Coalition groups. I serve on numerous committees including our Bias Response Team, Equity and Inclusion Committee, and Equity Grievance Panel member. For students who have experienced sexual assault, I serve as a Confidential Advocate. As a CA, students can engage with me to learn of the options available to them without triggering the Title 9 process. I am also a facilitator for diversity and leadership workshops as well as a special events coordinator.”

How long have you been at SOU?
“20 years.”

What was the defacing or vandalism exactly?
“Someone set fire to the Black Lives Matter sign on the SOU campus on Sunday, Nov. 8th.”

Have you, since you’ve been at the school, notice tensions between minorities and Whites?
“Over the past 20 years, I have not seen consistent tensions between our BIPOC and White students. There have been isolated incidents of racist acts but I would not attribute those moments to being the culture of SOU. I know students/staff have experienced microaggressions but nothing like the daily intentional racist attitudes we have seen across the country since 2016.”

Does the school have an idea who might have done it?
“We do not. Because of the time of day, openness of the campus, and just announced outcome of the presidential election, we suspect someone passed by and took the opportunity to be destructive.”

What is the climate like in Ashland, considering there is a conservative majority there after the democrats have won the election?
“I honestly cannot answer that question as I live in a very conservative area north of Ashland. I will say that my Ashland circle is very small and those members of the community I engage with have expressed that the mood/climate in Ashland is more receptive to the democrats success than the rest of the valley.”

Have there been other like incidents in the past, before you started at the school?
“Not something so demonstrably racist that I know of. Do I believe we have had racist incidents on campus prior to my arrival? Yes. I am friends and colleagues with people who have experienced racist attitudes at SOSC but also stated that it was more an “ignorant statement” (microagression) than open racism. People writing symbols or tagging walls happened as well but the perpetrators were never discovered. I also know a friend had direct conflict with a white student and confronted that student as a racist. From the conversation he shared with me, I believe he was right to call it out. The openly racist students seem far and few in between.”

More importantly, what has the school done to either send a message to those who vandalize the school or around the school?
“The university will urge prosecution of the perpetrator of this racist act, when found, to the fullest extent of the law. Ashland Police Department has labeled this a Hate Crime which carries a significant penalty. The leadership of the university has vowed to replace the sign immediately. Per the President and her executive team, SOU will not waiver in its support of the Black Lives Matter Movement.”

While the motive of the defacing represents a hate that we want to ignore—it is a subliminal representation of the beat, the tone of where we are as a society. Black Lives Matter defacing is not likely something that, we as a people will forget. But, perhaps it should be, because hate should not be given a platform to manifest.

Posted in