Institutionalized Racism in Higher Education

I grew up in rural Oklahoma. I got used to teachers having far right opinions and views in high school and then I started to attend Oklahoma State University Institute of Technology (OSU-IT) in the summer of 2017. There I met a high school history teacher, Mr. Mike Buckendorf of Tulsa Public Schools, that had volunteered to teach one of my college classes. I am attending OSU-IT during the summer through a joint venture through Questbridge, a non-profit program and the Upward Bound Program, a federally funded TRIO Student Support Services Program. While TRIO houses multiple programs, Upward Bound specifically targets low-income, first-generation, and/or disadvantaged high school students and helps them transition into college. I would have never thought that a program that aims to help disadvantaged children would allow someone like Mr. Buckendorf to teach at OSU-IT.

On the first day of class, he stated that he is a member of the Libertarian Party and that he “won’t have any of that political correctness shit in his class.” From there, I noticed a racist slant in the things he said in class; first he said “Slaves owned by Indians (Native Americans) are different than slaves owned by Southerners, these are two different kind of animals.” Through my years of high school, a teacher has never outright been as racist as this teacher from the Tulsa Public Schools. On a regular basis he talks about his “hoodlum” and “dumbass” students at the high school he works at. On one occasion Mr. Buckendorf talked about how the United States is not an imperialist country because it fought off imperialism in the Revolutionary War. He then went on to acknowledge that the US deals in imperialism from time to time, but that the “USA ends up annexing or releasing the countries anyways” so it’s okay. His tone was joyous when he read the quote “slavery was a necessary evil.”

Mr. Buckendorf talked fondly of his acting career in which he has played many Nazis in plays. The first day of class he came in wearing a Confederate NCO uniform. When on the subject of the Confederate states, Mr. Buckendorf tackled the removal of Confederate monuments. He took a staunch position on why they should be left up, for the Confederate generals were “great generals.” While watching Gone with the Wind, he referred to the slaves as workers, making comments like “that looks fun” and “that’s not a job I would like to do” about the forced labor that slaves were performing throughout the movie. He referred to the first raids and attacks by the Ku Klux Klan as resembling “episodes of Scooby-Doo, everyone running around in bedsheets having fun.” Mr. Buckendorf then stated that the KKK did not come out to what Nathan Bedford Forrest wanted it to and praised Forrest for his might as a cavalry general and that he was an intelligent man that should be admired while also saying the same about Robert E. Lee. The man he said that he most admires is SS-Obersturmbannführer (Lieutenant Colonel) Otto Skorzeny. Mr. Buckendorf stated that Otto was an intelligent man that deserves the respect for his role and military prowess in the Second World War. He referred to Skorzeny “like the Nazi James Bond.” During one class period where we were talking about the Jim Crow Laws and the Black Codes, he took on a southern accent and said “Poor whites and niggers are back where they belong,” using historical context as an excuse for his language. During the same class period, he stated that drinking and being drunk is a national identity of Ireland and the Irish. Then talking about Emperor Norton I, Mr. Buckendorf made the statement “Oh god, he may wash our windows” stereotyping him as a “crazy” homeless person. Not surprisingly, Mr. Buckendorf is also a fan of capitalism, characterizing it as great because business owners profit from the fruits of their laborers.

During an orientation class, Mr. Buckendorf brought up the topic of activism and politics in college. During the class session he labeled Antifa as a terrorist organization that is made up of unintelligent anarchists. He told the class that we should not become affiliated with the Black Lives Matter movement because it is a racist group who want to deny that everyone else’s lives matters. Mr. Buckendorf also talked of the Kent State University massacre of 1970. In his perspective, the students throwing rocks were so violently that they had to be shot. He also talked of “snowflakes” and social justice warriors becoming authoritarian now that they are not following Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. He painted oppressed people and races as one step away from becoming the true oppressors in today’s society. According to Mr. Buckendorf, no one is racist anymore because “slavery ended generations ago” and because he “does not own slaves,” he cannot be a racist.

Mr. Buckendorf did have suggestions on what sort of activism we should participate in. The system, without any input from us, would change itself. He used a political scale that went from Authoritarian to Individual Freedoms. Referring to the scale, Mr. Buckendorf then proceeded to tell the class that Nazism and Communism were one in the same; both wanted the demise of the population and to have total control. Socialism, in his words, is only a step behind Nazism and Communism in being an authoritarian ideology. Anarchism is the worst ideology of the right, according to his scale because people cannot live without a government. Finally, he went on to praise his own ideology – Libertarianism. There he sung of the great successes of the Capitalist system that created the “progresses” that brought nations into the modern age.

To this I call upon Tulsa Public Schools, Oklahoma State University Institute of Technology, Questbridge, and TRIO Student Support Services Programs to take action against Mr. Buckendorf’s blatant racism as well as for disrespecting his high students. Mr. Buckendorf has shown that he is not competent enough to hold a job in which he has authority over others – a job where he looks to make his classes into a non-debatable subject of politics and erodes his student’s individual freedoms.

Editor’s Note: Mr. Mike Buckendorf at OSU-IT, his teachings, his actions, and his words are not indicative of the TRIO SSS Programs across the nation. The author even noted that the other TRIO SSS teachers that are part of this program are fantastic in an email exchange. Part of why we’re publishing this article on The Socialist is to call out this behavior and have it removed from a program that helps low-income, first-generation, disabled, underrepresented, and disadvantaged high school students attend college, college students complete their studies, and undergraduates move into master’s and Ph.D. programs. TRIO SSS Programs are about diversifying academia and The Socialist supports that mission. Right now TRIO SSS Programs are under attack from the federal government, with Trump even calling for the elimination of programs housed under TRIO SSS like the McNair Scholar’s Program. Please write to your local federal representatives and let them know A) you don’t condone the actions of teachers like Mr. Mike Buckendorf at OSU-IT and wish for his removal from the campus and B) you support TRIO SSS Programs and their mission.


Corgan Ketcher

grew up in rural Oklahoma. His ideas go back to that of early 20th century Socialists, to help the poor working class of the countryside. Corgan believes farmers, miners, and factory workers will be the backbone of the revolution.

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