10 August 2018
Dear Chairperson Hall, Members of the Board of Trustees, and President Mearns,
We write as faculty members at Ball State to express our deep disappointment in your decision to keep both Mr. Schnatter’s money and his name at Ball State. We realize that he has attempted to explain away his use of a racial slur as “an example of improper conduct,” but as news reports have documented, it was not just a single comment during that conference call (see the Forbes article). The conference call itself was a response to racially tinged and callous remarks Mr. Schnatter had previously made regarding Black Lives Matter protests during NFL games. The immediate result of the conversation–the marketing company hired to help Mr. Schnatter resigned, and Mr. Schnatter was removed from his position at Papa John’s–as well as the longer term results–the removal of Mr. Schnatter’s name from the University of Louisville’s stadium and a building at Purdue University–suggest that others correctly recognized Mr. Schnatter’s remarks to be part of a larger pattern of behaviors and ideology meriting condemnation. And while we understand that you took the time to listen to Mr. Schnatter’s rationalizations for what he has said and done, we are troubled that you did not take the time to listen to our students and colleagues’ opinions about the issue.
One of the ways that white supremacy functions is by allowing us to believe that racism inheres primarily in specific kinds of acts–dragging people behind trucks, as Mr. Schnatter suggested. It’s easy for most of us to reject those behaviors and to comfort ourselves with the knowledge that we’ve never done anything like that. While it’s certainly true that such brutality is racist, the real and insidious work of racism comes in the subtle ways we are taught to think and act, the language we’re inclined to explain away as “inappropriate” but mistaken, the kinds of people who get second (and third and fourth) chances, and the space between claiming “an unwavering commitment to a diverse and welcoming campus” and making the difficult decisions that will realize that promise.
We are especially concerned about the ways in which communication from the Board on this issue has suggested that having “the most diverse incoming class ever” somehow offsets the decision. The implication, whether you intend it or not, is to suggest that it is the role of students of color to compensate for racially biased acts and attitudes. It is not. The decision to support Mr. Schnatter at the expense of our students, faculty, and staff was yours, and the consequences are yours as well.
We hope you are all revisiting your decision, not only in light of the negative publicity that you are receiving but also in light of the responsibility we all have to understand the ways that racism shapes our culture and the opportunities we have to educate ourselves and others. We hope, too, you are giving some additional thought to what your decision means with respect to the challenges of recruiting and retaining diverse students, faculty, and staff. Our institution is guided by the figure of Beneficence, and we hope that our Board of Trustees can say the same in the future.
Deborah M. Mix
Michael S. Begnal
Angela R. Cox
Rani Deigh Crowe
Jackie Grutsch McKinney
Mary Theresa Seig