Outstanding Senior Award controversy ignites desire for conversation on racial sensitivity at Ball State
At 10:55 a.m. March 16, students received an email from the university announcing senior journalism and telecommunications major Chloe Anagnos as the winner of the John R. Emens Outstanding Senior Award.
In fewer than two hours, senior architecture major Huy Pham posted a screenshot of that email next to a 2013 Ball State Daily News article in which Anagnos defended owning a Confederate flag. Anagnos has since thrown out the flag, but her selection triggered a social media outcry that parallels a long national debate about race.
Since its posting, the screenshot and article have been shared 25 times and received more than 50 comments, including shares, on Pham’s Facebook page. The original Daily News story, which ran in September 2013, has received 4,884 page views on ballstatedaily.com in the past week. That story chronicled Anagnos’ preparation to become Student Government Association president following Malachi Randolph’s resignation from office after he posted racially insensitive tweets.
In lieu of an interview, Anagnos responded to the Daily News on March 22 with a statement: “I have always been an advocate for equality and diversity among all facets of life, but I haven’t always been as culturally aware as I am today. … I’m graduating from Ball State University more culturally aware and appreciative than when I enrolled four years ago: these four years have changed my life and how I see the world.”
In his Facebook post, Pham used the hashtag #NotJustSAE in reference to a racist video of a University of Oklahoma fraternity chapter.
“I wanted to make the connection at Ball State,” Pham said. “What does it mean when the person that represents who Ball State has best to offer owns a Confederate flag and defends it?”
One of the people who shared the post was D’Marcus Pulce, a senior telecommunications major. Pulce said after the original Daily News article was published in September 2013, the racially charged meaning for the flag, the representation of oppression and the fight for slavery during the American Civil War, was ignored.
“A lot of us are talking with each other, because we are afraid if we don’t do anything about this it sets a bad precedent,” Pulce said.
Soon, more students began to share posts, condemning the racial insensitivity and Ball State’s award to Anagnos. Pulce said supporters of Anagnos used "Woman Crush Wednesday" (#WCW) to highlight her good deeds.
Pulce and other minority leaders used "Throwback Thursday" (#TBT) to press the issue and continue the conversation about racial sensitivity at Ball State. Pulce created a photo with Shafer Bell Tower and a Confederate flag in the background and shared it on Instagram and Twitter with several hashtags, including #OurBallState, #ConfederacyRedefined and #ChloeDoesntRepresentMe.
“It’s a catalyst for discussion,” Pulce said. “This is so far past Chloe. It’s about what her award says for the larger picture of racial insensitivity at Ball State.”
Not all minority leaders on campus feel this social media movement is inspiring change. Ethnic Theatre Alliance President Nathaniel Thomas said social media is only serving to divide students on the issue of racial sensitivity at Ball State.
“There are memes and hashtags, but people are not having a conversation about moving forward,” Thomas said.
Thomas, a junior theater major, said Pulce and several others contacted him to figure out how to unite minority students to have a conversation on campus.
As the group was meeting in Bracken Library, Anagnos happened to come upon them. She sat down and had a conversation with Thomas about her flag.
“[Anagnos] graciously sat down with us, and we had our conversation,” Thomas said. “It was what I would consider a deep conversation. I asked her what she believed in, where did this come from, etc. And in shorthand, she told me, 'I don’t believe in those statements I made two years ago. And I don’t believe in what that represents.'”
Anagnos said she got rid of the flag after peers and friends spoke to her in wake of the original article.
“In the past two years, I have grown as a woman and as a member of the Ball State community,” Anagnos said in her statement. “I will always appreciate these acts of love — they helped me to understand the world around me beyond just what I have experienced in my life.”
Thomas said the conversation on social media needs to turn away from anger and toward having a conducive conversation on campus.
“The conversation has to turn to progress,” Thomas said. “How do we put into action what we are talking about? And how do we turn our back on someone who has evolved?”
Some critics of Anagnos feel social media is their only platform for speaking out. Pham said, because of Anagnos’ connections on campus, there isn’t an outlet left on which to speak out.
“We don’t have SGA to speak for us, we don’t have BSA [Black Student Association] to speak for us,” Pham said. “We don’t have a whole slew of greek branches to speak for us. We also don’t have the school Board of Trustees to speak for us either. Social media is our only place to have this conversation.”
Charlene Alexander, associate provost for diversity and director of the Office of Institutional Diversity, said plans are being made to facilitate a conversation on campus.
“I think it is a good time for us to have a conversation about issues of race,” Alexander said. “The university, my office — we’re always willing and ready to talk with students. This is an opportunity for students to listen to each other and learn from each other. These are teaching moments for our students, especially when we have these critical opportunities for crucial dialogue.”
Thomas said, especially in Indiana, these conversations have to happen. He said, for many students, especially from small towns, this is the first time they have had to interact with minority students, and micro-aggressions often go unnoticed.
Interim Associate Vice President for Marketing and Communications Joan Todd said in an email that the university is not considering taking away Anagnos’ award. Pham said that wasn’t the goal of the social media movement.
“I think that, outside of the award, we cannot take any of her service or her philanthropy away from her,” Pham said. “What we wanted was just for her and the school to engage and confront this in a conversation.”
Since the social media movement has picked up steam, Anagnos has deactivated her Facebook page, choosing to remain silent.
Thomas points to Anagnos as an example of someone learning from her "past ignorance."
“If she’s given an opportunity and talks, she shouldn’t be judged,” Thomas said. “We need to hear how a person’s views have been challenged and how they have evolved.”