A former Oklahoma Christian University recruiter is defending his exercise that put Black students and students of color in an uncomfortable position.
According to Oklahoma’s News 4, Cedric Sunray had students at Harding Charter Prep line up by their skin color and hair texture causing outrage amongst the students and their parents. However, Sunray’s response was “It destroyed my reputation but my character won’t change.”
The now-fired Oklahoma Christian University recruiter said he’s been doing what he calls an “icebreaker” for years. As a matter of fact, he carried out the exercise 87 times this year alone.
“I break the groups into four teams and then I say line up darkest to the front and lightest to the back,” Sunray said. “From the largest afro to the tightest braid to the blondest with blue eyes. They all want to know they are valued and warranted. And that is what I provide.”
Students didn’t feel valued, however. If you let 11th grader Rio Brown tell it, “He told us nappiest hair in the back and straighter hair in the front.”
Some students felt like the exercise wasn’t necessary at all, considering they grew up Black all their life and didn’t need a white college recruiter to facilitate an exercise on race for them.
“I accept who I am and what I look like,” 11th grader Korey Todd said. “I don’t need an exercise from a college recruiter personally.”
Sunray has been an educator for 20 years. He was fired within an hour of doing his exercise.
“I am embarrassed and ashamed and I am mad at what happened,” Oklahoma Christian University President John deSteiguer said. DeSteiguer said the university will screen future presentations and implement programs like mandatory cultural sensitivity training.
Sunray said he reached out to both Harding Charter Prep and Oklahoma Christian to try and explain himself but he hasn’t received responses.
When asked by News 4 if he would do the exercise again, Sunray responded, “Oh yes.”
“I have been doing this exercise for years,” Sunray said. “We need to have these conversations.”
“It is about breaking down all those walls,” he added.
Sunray said he’s already been hired by another metro university, although he didn’t say which one. Sunray said one thing he’ll do differently is give a more upfront explanation to students about what the exercise is about.
“He shouldn’t be in the school field if that’s his message,” Todd said.
Sunray tried to defend his methods even more by explaining his background in a statement.
“As a 6’4 225lb. straight male of white racial phenotype, as well as being a former NCAA athlete and university coach, I know well the privilege and prestige that all these elements have provided me in America and never take that lightly,” he started. “Then there exists the other side of my reality. I am the son of a cocaine dealer who lost his life due to his involvement in the drug game. I am an enrolled tribal member of a tribe where virtually all members are identifiable as People of Color. I was raised in a primarily Hispanic & Black community. The greatest mentors in my life have been Black, Hispanic and American Indian women & men. My closest friends are Black, Hispanic & American Indian. My wife and daughter are identifiable Women of Color (American Indian). I have stood as an advocate and ally against racism directed towards the Black community, including when I have had to stand against others in Indian Country, since my teenage years and have over 30 published works in magazines and major academic press books related to dismantling racism which are easily searchable on the internet.”
None of this still erases the fact that Black students and students of color felt uncomfortable. But despite this component, Sunray stood by the idea that his methods are “unorthodox” and “we must continue these discussions.”
He finished by saying:
“My concern does not live with myself today. My concern is the perception by others of my former employer Oklahoma Christian University, which is an open, inviting and supportive environment for people of many different races, ethnicities and nationalities. This situation should not discredit the institution. My words are my own. My second and greatest concern, however, is the wellness of the students and staff at Harding Charter Preparatory and any push back they will receive from online predators who attempt to discredit them for publicly airing their grievances towards me. I stand by all students in speaking their mind and making their case.”