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Students Find commongrOUnd at Oklahoma

by Hillel News |Oct 25, 2009|Comments
The Society of Native American Gentleman drum and chant Wednesday night at Common GrOUnd diversity fest in the Memorial Union.
The Society of Native American Gentleman drum and chant Wednesday night at Common GrOUnd diversity fest in the Memorial Union. Lauren Harned, The Daily

By Misheala Giddings

Throughout my years at the University of Oklahoma (OU) I have witnessed many scenes of unity, mostly sports-related. I have also

come to understand the breakdown of campus: In a university with almost 30,000 students, students find their niche community and generally stay there.

As a student leader, I have worked to bring various groups together for Israel events, and I can attest to the difficulty in getting over-extended organizations and college students to take active roles in any event that isn't their own.

Last week, University of Oklahoma students came together for an event that was one of the most moving and diverse moments that I or other OU students have experienced in our college careers. Our rally, which we called commongrOUnd, began as a surge of pure energy, frustration, and love. It turned into three hours of unity and pride.

As a co-organizer of the rally, with fellow student Sam Scharff, we feared that it would be a flop. We set out just a month ago to find a way to triumph in the face of hatred. After a brief but turbulent visit to our campus by the Westboro Baptist Church, the Jewish student community was saddened by the group's hatred and frustrated that we could not dissuade them from spreading it on our campus. Nevertheless, we took comfort in the outpouring of support and well wishes from our friends across campus.

In the first of many intense brainstorming sessions, Sam and I began to form the idea of an event that would celebrate the unity in the OU community by highlighting our diversity. We drew upon our experiences at OU Hillel, and were inspired by Hillel's value of "creating a pluralistic, welcoming, and inclusive environment." After picking a name and date, we began to set the project in motion. We emailed the presidents of all 300 student organizations and began to approach university offices and departments for their support as well. The event quickly gained momentum and before we knew it, we had four branches of student government on board and enough funding to put on whatever program we could come up with.

Although we faced many roadblocks, both on campus and off, after only one month's work we organized a three-hour event in the Molly Shi Boren Ballroom at the Oklahoma Memorial Union. Over 800 student supporters, 62 co-sponsoring organizations, and 20 presenters and performers joined us for a spirited rally. The event featured inspiring performances and speeches by OU students and Oklahoma community members, including a drum circle by the Society of Native American Gentlemen, spoken-word poetry, and musical presentations. One speaker, Dean of the Honors College David Ray, called commongrOUnd one of the most important events ever at the University of Oklahoma.

The banner we created for the event said it all: "The community members represented here have rallied together on October 21, 2009 in celebration of the commonality that ties not only our campus together, but also humanity. Let this banner serve as an enduring reminder of our campus's capacity for acceptance and mutual respect." Hundreds of participants signed the banner which will be displayed permanently at OU.

The magic of commongrOUnd was more than the event itself. Sam and I have planned many events on campus in the past, but this one was different. After all my time on campus, I finally saw and felt the pride of our students in something other than football. Two days after the event ended I am still getting messages on Facebook from strangers about how they were moved. This event cemented my pride in the University of Oklahoma and my hope for all of its students. We are proud to have found "the balance in being 'distinctively' Jewish and 'universally' human." We are one community, held together not in academics or sports but in our love and appreciation for each other.

Misheala Giddings is a student at the University of Oklahoma.

To view an interview with Misheala Giddings, click here.


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