Inside OSU With Burns Hargis: OSU Diversity Hall of Fame


I was born in New Orleans and
grew up in housing projects I was one of the oldest of seven children in
New Orleans My father was a postman but he had three jobs he never let my watch
my mother work because he thought she stayed home and he would take care
of the family so all my knowledge and understanding about family comes my father
used to provide for your family but my wife also grew up the same area so
burnished I’ve been together for sixty one years when if you know this is isolation
and I want to Xavier University or they start a black college and the only
it’s the Catholic college that the only historically black college it was a big
historically black college has left only also the only college in the world
that was quite occasional And that’s where I got my degree in chemistry
they had a farmers a school which almost all the black farmer says in
the south from the thirty’s up until about one nine hundred fifty when
Texas Texas Southern received their school they to produce all the black
farmers in the south things they’ve been awful very strong commission for
then you went to graduate school and I went to Michigan State New Orleans to
East Lansing Michigan was a real change in my life not just the weather not just
the weather the cultural change also so you got your masters their
masters in chemistry Ph D. in biochemistry and
I came here temporarily for two years to do research that was the whole idea
would come in that then you know welcome to was on the map but twenty one years
enormous not been here fifty years so Jordan tell us about your background
where you are so I was actually born in a small town in Evansville Indiana
Yeah I was there until I was five and then my parents moved to Kansas City
Missouri where they’re both from various in Kansas City Missouri from
the age of five through high school. During that time my parents got divorced
and my dad moved to Oklahoma City and I would go see him every
summer holiday and then. That’s when my interests into
Oklahoma State started to come my. My inspiration to you know it’s going
to be near kind of came from my dad and I knew from high school freshman year
that that’s kind of where I wanted to go although ironically that’s not exactly
would I do for Philip sixty six or that it just talk a little bit early and
I’m sure you are a professor here not a student yet so your experience is
a little little different but as you know we’ve been you and I have discussed
a number of times over the years. Are we are we want to we want to be
a more diverse campus and but I know there’s been some rough sledding over
the years here you know over the years. I’ve seen a lot of it but I also have
seen the changes that have occurred. We’ve gone through several times rough
periods during our lifetime here but one of the things that’s fascinating
about my experience of the issue is I had a great environment that I was
in with my colleagues in the department being an African-American professor. One expects a lot from you in terms of
the community right and so not only did I have to publish papers but I also was
required to somewhat socially involved in the community so I was very much involved
in the community the students and also with the community of Stillwater still
want to have the black community unusual. But they’ve been here since before I
finally found up since one nine hundred seven they’ve been here for
that long in that community really and so I became involved with the community with
the local community also with the students and was advised to do after the merits
of noise they should be first formed and so I spent a lot of time with the students
and I think that my responsibility was to try to help students to understand
that whenever things go wrong with you you confront it with problems that it’s
not you you have to pick up your feet and move on and move on that direction and
so part of my reason would be. In here was to really be a role model and take the hit and not be positive
about lots of things and so I think that was very helpful to
me also what would be your advice to Jordan to two new
students African-American or otherwise to come to Oklahoma State
to have the best experience of. My sister as a freshman here
really misty I always make sure to tell her things that I may have not done
while I was here that she should she do involvement is definitely one I told her
to get very involved campus campus life I think a lot of times you have students
that come to school and they’re just so focused on the degree and
no extra and then we have and then we have just the opposite was some that are
all looking strong in the front of the. Right so you know I encourage her to
get involved in you know I was involved in National Society of Black Engineers I
held some leadership positions there and I think a lot of you know not
only joining an organization but actually holding leadership positions is
what kind of help me get probably my first internship because my first internship
was me I got a software I don’t have much class experience but I had experience
from being involved with NASA side of Black Engineers I had some some skills
that I could showcase to help for the fact that I didn’t have that work
experience yet or even class and project always needed showed leadership
skills that you showed that you had some leadership and interest and you
and you bet a lot of people that it was you don’t you you may make friends I
found when you’re working together for a common goal what nobody’s trying to sell
the other one anything I mean they’re just exactly and
what else would you tell yourself to do. Well for the past four years through
Philip sixty six we have a piece sixty six day that we kind of do like campus and
August right when school started and I actually have organized a diversity panel
that we have every year where we have. Some different backgrounds of the company
come and sit on a panel and talk with the students and answer questions about
how to be prepared for the career fair. You know how to go about they
getting that internship and then also how to be involved in
student life because a lot of students would like to just take summer classes and
get that four point zero have no experience no organization
that they’ve been involved in and then you know wonder why they may
come out and still be looking for a job because they never you know
try to take the time to actually be involved in get that experience through
internships and I kind of impressed the importance of internships and going to
the Career Fair even as a freshman that’s one thing I’ve told my my sister is I know
you’re a freshman and you may be forced to go now these days sometimes they make
you go as a freshman but just go. And you know make sure you present
yourself well researched the companies before you go I’d like and you may not
have any experience besides a high school grocery store but just you know come
prepared you never Yeah Earl you’ve just speaking do George come
it’s about getting involved you you have been involved in almost
everything I divorce you all the years of marriage you had all you’ve done in your
case and you’ve really been involved way past just the Stillwater community
all over the state in the country. But let me take you back to that
diversity class that you thought what or what a couple of the main takeaways from
that you tried to get across to your students well the main takeaway A I’ve got
just of course because I met a student about of took weeks ago who took the class
he was in Stillwater it became about a tell me says you know I I took that
class he says I It was just a class I have understood what I what you call
white privilege and I say what you mean you say well you know we talk about white
privilege and I had never thought about that before he says I know I can’t
change who I was I can’t cheat. My parents and you can’t change yours but
what I’ve learned is that I didn’t have to use that as a means of getting ahead of
somebody by having that privilege and others stay in the present struggling so
I’ve always learned that part. That I have a special responsibility
because I was privileged and to not use that privilege as
an advantage over others you know and he says that was one of the things
that I learned from that class and that was really a good take home lesson
but the main thing for for African students I want in the understand is that
because someone may call your name or something happened to you it doesn’t mean
you don’t turn your homework assignment you don’t get mad and that DO you were
in your position yourself yeah and what you do is you make sure that the next
time you get it is even better so just lift your head up and move on down
the road because you’re going to confront it with it a some time in your career and
it’s not going to go in the should that wipe you out you will one of the thing is
I also also try to the students focus on things that you see in other people that
you like in terms of common ground that’s a use those as means of communicating
don’t let the differences divide you find those things that you work with
and you find that professionally when you get into the job situation because
my experiences on my job was that I had great colleagues my department and
we had one goal and experimentation to do research published
papers and to teach the students and to extend that and that we understood
that go very well you’re not even thirty years old yet and you’re already
a rising star I mean it’s it’s here it’s in this program you’re from your faces in
this program how in the world as I feel. I’m very humbled and honored. And it was it’s an overwhelming
feeling but but a good one I’ve had so many people reach out to me not just
from O.S.U. but actually from sixty six. Congratulate me and. Just to know that I’m
receiving this award kind of. Exact thing thank God that I’m doing I get something right to where
people are kind of noticing my events Well Dr Mitchell You’ve been mentioned
in the opening that you were the first African-American tenured professor we
had here in Oklahoma State University says a lot about unit also says a little
bit of the university you might have. And you had a lot of first
over over the years for a student starting out here what would be
your advice so they can be a first it’s something I think the first thing you
have to have really good self-confidence. Not cocky the self-confidence you
know kind of like Muhammad Ali says are the greatest Well he could say because
he was good yeah but you have to have that kind of attitude that braggadocio about
it but first self-confidence and second Never be afraid to step up to
do something don’t be reluctant. Because it’s it will help you
to move on LOT LOT farther and you can offer an awful
lot because most of us we’re very humble most of us we don’t
think we’re as good as we are but you have a responsibility to be the best you can be
and never polygons for trying to do good.

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