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Video by Ilea Shutler. Produced by Dick Pryor.

“Conversations” is a series of video interviews with Oklahomans about subjects that relate to some of the state’s important issues. The 2016-2017 series is sponsored by the Chickasaw Nation and is made possible by a grant from the Institute for Nonprofit News.

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Jabar Shumate owes his job to a national scandal.

In March 2015, only weeks after a video surfaced with University of Oklahoma fraternity members singing a racist chant, OU hired Shumate to help repair its reputation and bring more racial diversity and tolerance to its campuses.

That has not been easy.

With Shumate as vice president for university community, OU has intensified efforts to recruit and hire more African-American faculty members and administrators. And it has pushed up enrollment of black and other minority students and required freshman students to attend diversity training. It also launched programs to expand discussions about race, gender and other differences among students.

Meanwhile, a state budget crisis has dampened hiring, and fatal police shootings of blacks elsewhere have heightened anger on the Norman campus, setting off protests. A Twitter hashtag – #yOUrbad – emerged as a vehicle for students to allege incidents of racial hostility on campus. Shumate has said he reads all the tweets.

Last week, OU made national headlines again after a student was suspended regarding racist messages sent to black students at the University of Pennsylvania.

In this video, Shumate, 40, talks about building a community through collaboration, hard work and individual resolve. He views himself as a collaborator, trying to break through the polarization worsened by people communicating more online and less in person.

Shumate grew up in north Tulsa, attended OU and was press secretary for OU President David Boren. He served four terms in the state House before being elected to the Senate in 2012.

OU VP Jabar Shumate joins students on the floor.

On Sept. 22, dozens of students marched to OU’s student union, chanting in protest over the fatal shooting of Terence Crutcher, an African-American man from Tulsa whom Shumate knew, by a white police officer.

In what they called a “die-in,” the students laid on the floor of a large dining area to symbolize black citizens dying in encounters with police officers.

Shumate showed up, talked to students, and got down on the floor himself and joined the chants.

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