Oklahoma College Recruiter Lined Up High School Students by Skin Color and Hair Type

A college recruiter from Oklahoma Christian University is no longer working for the school after he told a group of high school students to line up organized by their skin color and hair texture, officials said on Tuesday.

The recruiter, Cedric Sunray, visited Harding Charter Preparatory High School in Oklahoma City on Feb. 24, and met with 110 juniors and four teachers in the gymnasium to talk about opportunities at the college, said the principal, Steven Stefanick.

“The recruiter asked the students to line up from darkest to lightest skin complexion, and then line up from nappiest to straightest hair,” Mr. Stefanick said in a telephone interview. As the students did as they were told, some of the teachers got up and left to report the request to school administrators, who intervened, he said.

“There was no purpose to it,” he said. “We don’t condone that kind of behavior in our school.”

Mr. Stefanick said that when he complained, the university informed him that the recruiter was no longer employed after the incident.

The president of the university, John deSteiguer, visited the school on Monday to apologize to students and staff members, the university said in an email on Tuesday.

“Admissions leadership found out about the Harding incident immediately after the visit on Monday, Feb. 24,” it said. “Within one hour, Cedric was no longer employed at the university.”

Mr. Sunray could not be reached for comment on Tuesday, but he wrote about the incident at the school in The Christian Chronicle and spoke to a local television station, saying he had been trying to make a point about entitlement. He said he had no intention of “promoting a racist agenda” but should have explained the purpose of the remarks better.

He said the exercise was meant to be an “icebreaker” and that he has made the same presentation dozens of times at other institutions.

“I break the teams into four teams and then I say, ‘Line up darkest to the front, lightest to the back,” Mr. Sunray, 45, told KFOR. “From the largest Afro to the tightest braid to the blondest hair, blue-eyed student. They all want to know that they are valued and they are warranted. And that is the kind of programs I provide.”

He described himself in The Christian Chronicle as a member of a Native American tribe with a “white racial phenotype.”

“I know well the privilege and prestige that all these elements have provided me in America and never take that lightly,” he wrote.

He said that his presentations were “intended to take a hard look at issues” like race and privilege. “The most dangerous things in education are those we are unwilling to discuss. And sometimes when those discussions occur, misunderstanding and even anger can be the result.”

He said he has done “hundreds of workshops, presentations and trainings” and has been a teacher at predominantly black Oklahoma City high schools — Oklahoma Centennial, Frederick A. Douglass and Northeast Academy.

He wrote, “My only regret in reflection is not providing myself enough time to fully explain the purpose as I have been able to at other presentations.”

Harding Charter, one of the top public high schools in the state, has a diverse student body comprising equally of Hispanic, white and African-American students, Mr. Stefanick said. In a series of statements on the school’s Facebook page about the presentation, he called it “inappropriate and hurtful,” and said counselors were available to speak with students.

“He said, ‘OK, everyone now line up from darkest to lightest skin complexion,’” Korey Todd, a student, told KFOR.

“I accept who I am and who I look like, so I feel like I don’t need an exercise from a college recruiter to tell me that, personally,” the student said.

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