This year’s Ohio University homecoming winners were both African American, the second time for this to happen in recent years.
Pearl, a senior studying family and consumer sciences, is still figuring out what the victory means to her. She said when she arrived at OU, she had a list of things she looked forward to accomplishing, and being crowned homecoming queen happened to be on the list.
“I really didn’t expect to be homecoming queen,“ Pearl said. “It was a total shock, but I really wanted the opportunity to represent my class. We’ve had some great times. We’ve learned a lot, we’ve experienced a lot and I think I’ve had a diverse range of experiences which would allow me to represent my class.”
Pearl is president of the Black Student Union and vice president of Anointed Ministries. Being a part of the different organizations have contributed to her diverse range of experiences.
“It really meant a lot because as a black woman, there is this notion that there are things that are out of reach for you, especially in predominantly white spaces,” Pearl said.
Key, a senior studying management and strategic leadership, said he has also wanted to run for homecoming king since he arrived at OU, and winning despite being in the vast minority has made him feel as if he has overcome an obstacle.
“Since my first-year, African American men have been on the court; but they never won, so I wanted to be the change,” Key said. “I felt like I had a chance to win because I was always mindful of how I interacted with people, and made sure it was always a positive thing because I want a positive network rather than a negative network.”
Key is president of Omega Psi Phi, treasurer for the Black Student Union, treasurer for the National PanHellenic Council and a member of Athletes in Action.
He was also a student athlete; but after suffering an injury, he was medically disqualified from the football team. Despite that, he still works with the team.
During his time here, Key has had to learn to balance being involved in various organizations while also focusing on school. He has made it his priority to be efficient with his time.
“I came into college with the intentions of finding my limits, so I didn’t want to just be a student athlete; I wanted to also be involved,” Key said. “I’ve been working myself over these past four years and staying disciplined to my schedule.”
Winsome Chunnu is the strategic director for the Diversity and Inclusion and Multicultural Programs and Initiatives at OU, and has known Key and Pearl for a few years now.
Chunnu has not only worked with the two through various organizations — she has also been a mentor to Key and Pearl throughout the years.
“Winsome is really special to me. Since my freshman year she has mentored me and helped me grow in so many more ways than just academically,” Pearl said. “She has always seen some sort of potential in me; and even on my worst days, she encouraged me to be the Jasmyn Pearl that she saw.”
Key said he has frequently worked directly with Chunnu during his time here, and she has been a great help and advisor.
After hearing the news that her two mentees were crowned king and queen, Chunnu was proud to see progress within the school where she has spent 13 years.
“Since this is a university wide voting event, I am heartened because this is the entire university that is voting for all of these contestants,” Chunnu said. “It says to me that the students have reached out beyond their demographics and are gaining support from the larger student body.”
Although this is a step in the right direction, Chunnu said she would like to see more diversity at OU, which means more students from different areas interacting with each other and bridging gaps.
“When I say Ohio University can do more, I am referring to the people at OU. What can the people at OU do?” Chunnu said. “The institution is a building. We are the ones who bring life to the institution; and as an institution and those that are within the institution, we can continue to encourage all of our students to become a part of the various organizations and groups that are represented on campus so that they can maximize their time at OU.”
The win for Pearl and Key is significant because it is not only a win for them, it is also a win for African American students and even alumni. Both Pearl and Key have heard congratulations from proud alumni in person, but mostly on social media.
After receiving large amounts of positive feedback, the two winners evaluated why winning was special to them.
“I felt when I won homecoming queen that during my time here, I had been able to reach across to people of different identities and build relationships that were meaningful to not just myself but to them as well,” Pearl said. “I think that being homecoming queen solidified that I had accomplished that and that we had accomplished that together.”
Key said knowing he could make history by being one of the few African-American males to win homecoming king at OU was a motivation for him to run because he knew it would be a change, and wanted to be an addition to that change.
Next, Chunnu said she would like to see an international student, a veteran, a student who is differently abled or a student who is open as LGBTQ on the court.
“What I would like to see is our court representative of the diversity within our student body, and of course I am not just referring to racial diversity,” Chunnu said.
Pearl said she is hopeful that the university is moving in the right direction and that there will be more opportunities for minorities in the future. She also encourages more minorities to apply.
“You will not see the representation if no one applies. Someone always has to be the first. You can’t be on court if you don’t apply; as a Bobcat, the opportunity exists for you,” Pearl said. “Sometimes we have to create that space for ourselves and even that in itself is empowering.”
Key is happy with the progress that OU has made during his four years here with diversity and inclusion, and believes there is always room for improvement.
“They could broadcast the past two years because this year I won as an African-American male, and last year an African-American woman won,” Key said. “I think broadcasting that can encourage other minority students who feel as if they don’t meet the status quo to apply, and that will also invite a lot of minority students to the university as a whole.”
A previous version of this report incorrectly stated that this year’s Homecoming winners were the first African American winners. The article has been updated to reflect the most accurate information.