One thing is clear from the thick stacks of files and papers lining the walls of Breea Clark’s OU office: between her two jobs, Clark is quite the multi-tasker.
First, there’s Breea Clark the enforcer. Clark works as associate director of OU’s Academic Integrity Program, which she helped start, to train students in OU’s integrity standards and help oversee the correction process when students don’t meet those standards.
Then there’s Breea Clark the councilwoman. Clark has served Norman’s Ward 6 since 2016 after years of work in public service positions, and ran on a platform of a greener, more inclusive and more family-friendly city. She’s currently fighting to reclaim a portion of Norman history by pushing to rename DeBarr Avenue, a street near OU’s campus named to honor a former KKK grand dragon and OU professor.
Emma Keith: Why are you passionate about serving the city of Norman?
Breea Clark: To be honest, I’d never really thought of local government until I came to Norman and kind of became a grownup and started paying taxes and voting regularly, and realized that local government is the level that affects you in your day-to-day life the fastest and most directly…it’s been a big learning curve in a variety of areas, because people take so much for granted …I’ve gotten to learn a lot — my favorite phrase is, ‘my brain is so big after being on city council.’
One of the reasons that I really wanted to run was I felt disconnected from city government, which is crazy…and I figured in the age of social media, there’s no excuse for that… (the fact that I won) sent a signal to me that my feeling and my hand on the pulse was correct and people want to be more connected.
EK: Have you found serving on city council has been an effective way to make change in Norman?
BC: I think so — I think that’s where you have to start…everyone looks at the federal level, which is great — I mean, that’s where I think maybe the lasting change comes from, the historic change…but I’m the person you can call and go have lunch with if you have an issue with your government, and I find that interesting, and I think it’s the same way with affecting change…
Last night, I publicly called for an investigation into the name of DeBarr Avenue… I think that the majority of Norman as a whole wants it to be changed. But there has been some kickback on that. I personally have received emails that people will never vote for me again because I’ve ‘wasted time’ on this issue. People have told be to focus on an issue that matters…people have accused me of being a publicity hound…I have lost friends over it, both in reality and on social media. It’s sad that it has to come to that, but the whole experience from March when I first started publicly pursuing this issue has been very eye-opening, both with our history and our values and where we want to go, and just how hard change is for some people — it’s not easy. I knew it wouldn’t be, but I was very naive about how hard it would be…I think I am a better representative and advocate for that experience.
EK: Why is that cause something you’re so dedicated to?
BC: I believe in a culture and a community where people genuinely feel safe and appreciated. And I have talked to so many people of color — my residents, my students here at OU — and I know for a fact that the fact that we know who (DeBarr) was and we’ve just left it there has made them feel less welcome in Norman…I often think of my own children. I have a 2-year-old and a 3-year-old and they’re white males — I don’t think they’re going to have that hard of a life. But I like to think of other mothers, who are people of color, and what their sons are going to go through. I never want my children to feel the way people have told me they feel, ever. And I’m in a position to work on that and I intend to. And if I don’t get reelected after this, I don’t have a problem with this, because this is what needed to be done.
EK: How do those passions and values you exercise on the city council translate to what you do here on campus?
BC: It’s funny you say that, because working in the integrity office for a decade has really changed me in so many ways — everything from if I forget to pay for a 12-pack of soda on the bottom of my shopping cart, I walk back in and pay for it, to making sure that this generation’s voice is heard and that our values are represented…I really have a strong sense of integrity and I’ll always tell the truth…I’m very grateful for my time here at the University of Oklahoma, as well as the opportunity to have real conversations with our students and what matters, because I believe the future of Norman is what your generation represents.
EK: Do you think you’ve seen that students’ minds are changed and bettered by the work your office does?
BC: I very much do. I speak to thousands of students a semester in classroom presentations — Gateway’s my favorite because I love talking to freshmen right when they get here, scare them a little bit…How many parents actually sit down and say, ‘let’s talk about integrity — let’s talk about what that value means to our family’? I get to be one of the first people at OU to say that to thousands of freshmen and get them to be like, ‘oh, I never looked at it that way.’
EK: How is it being the ‘enforcer’ on campus — how does that shape your relationship with students?
BC: It’s hard… what’s funny is to people in the community service side of what I do, especially the city side (is)…everyone’s kind of surprised when they hear what a hardass I am on campus. And then vice-versa…here, they’re surprised that I’m nice, ever. And that’s fine — I like to think I’ve gotten softer in my old age because it’s hard to be the bad guy and the mean one all the time. But I think you have to have a little bit of an enforcer attitude…one of the best compliments I’ve gotten about a presentation was ‘I’ve never been as scared and as entertained as I was during your presentation.’
This job has given me so many opportunities — not just the big things, like a sense of integrity and working with young people, really helping to prioritize what matters — but also public speaking, and dealing with confrontation. It’s just been a great opportunity for me and it’s really shaped my leadership style and again, priorities.
EK: Do you see yourself continuing both here and on city council in the future?
BC: I think it’s hard to imagine OU without the scary integrity lady. And I do enjoy it on multiple levels, but I’ve also been doing it for 10 years. So, I don’t know — part of me is ready to pivot, to look at something new. But part of me can’t imagine anything else…it takes a special person to do this job, and I helped create it.