Birthing a Bison: Building Student Power in Hostile Environments

As one of the leaders of Bison 4 Equality, I became deeply familiar with both Title IX protections and OBU’s exemption. Having spent the last semester deeply invested in this movement, I’m now more confident than ever before that the protections afforded to students under Title IX are essential to creating a campus that is safe for everyone. I’m also sure that the decision by colleges across the nation to recuse themselves from this federal law is a political statement - not a moral or religious one. The insistence by universities that this exemption is necessary for maintaining adherence to their “religious tenets” only demonstrates that their interpretation of Scripture is vastly different from a Christ-centered theology which demands radical love for and equal treatment of all people. The erosion of the moral authority of these institutions is not the result of an increasingly secular culture, but a culture which calls into question the claim that discrimination can be a “Christian” value. In the wake of increasingly hostile attitudes on campus towards LGBTQI students at Oklahoma Baptist University, 12 students met last November to strategize a response. After months of planning and discussion, our group, Bison 4 Equality, was launched in conjunction with Soulforce’s #GiveBackIX campaign. Over the next 3 months, Bison 4 Equality members actively engaged their peers on campus to call on President Whitlock and the OBU administration to “give back” OBU’s Title IX exemption. Even though OBU still maintains that it has a “right” to discriminate against its students, there is overwhelming evidence that both the student body and the wider OBU community is against discrimination of LGBTQI students. Bison 4 Equality gathered over 3,000 signatures (almost twice the size of the student body) for a petition calling on the administration to change its transphobic and homophobic policies. Bison 4 Equality’s strategy for Spring 2016 was centered around #GiveBackIX, a nation-wide campaign calling on college administrators to waive their respective school’s Title IX exemptions. In coordination with this campaign, Bison 4 Equality hosted a series of events to raise awareness about OBU’s exemption and provide an area for students to dialogue without fear of repercussions from the university. Through the support of The Trevor Project, Brite Divinity School, and other community organizations, Bison 4 Equality was able to use these events to provide hope and healing to the OBU community. The success of Bison 4 Equality wouldn’t have been possible without the guidance and organization provided by Soulforce. I remember the first few meetings when the concept of Bison 4 Equality was just beginning to form - we were all so excited to be making a difference on campus, but equally terrified of what the administration would do when they found out what we were planning. Through a friend at Biola University, we were put in contact with Soulforce and, shortly after, we voted to officially partner with them for #GiveBackIX. The irony of partnering with the same organization that was arrested on our campus during the 2007 Equality Ride only made us even more sure that we wanted to be a part of this.

Tristan Campbell is a senior at the University of Central Oklahoma and a founder of Bison 4 Equality. He left OBU during his junior year after being fired from his Resident Assistant position when he came out as bisexual. He plans to pursue medical school after graduation and study rural healthcare.

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Soulforce works to end the political and religious oppression of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex people through relentless nonviolent resistance.

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