LETTER TO THE EDITOR: There should be consequences for Schnatter's actions
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Dear Mr. Hall,
Thank you for your thoughtful e-mail to the Ball State University community regarding the recent remarks from John Schnatter and the future of your support for the Institute for Entrepreneurship and Free Enterprise named after him. I also received a follow up e-mail from President Mearns regarding his stance on the matter and the university's continued commitment to diversity and inclusion. Please count me among the folks you acknowledged who might disagree with your position.
In your e-mail, you stated, "[The remarks] were made in a private meeting with consultants, from which he was seeking advice as to how to communicate in a way that would be less offensive to others. In the course of the conversation, he recited his understanding of another’s use of the “N word”. He did so not in a derogatory manner seeking to demean any individuals or groups; rather it was used as an example of improper conduct." This statement seems to minimize the context under which Schnatter made his comment. Because the N-word was spoken in a private meeting, it's not as bad as if he had made the remarks elsewhere?
In making this decision, did the board consider the underlying reasons for why it was so easy for Schnatter to utter the N-word, regardless of context, as a white male in 2018? The reasons are moot. The word is offensive and oppressive regardless of context. It says much more about Mr. Schnatter as a person that he was comfortable to say the word in the first place. Justifying the context as a backdrop for your continuing support for him is ill advised. Mr. Schnatter cannot put the proverbial toothpaste back in the tube.
This is not the first time that Mr. Schnatter has been embroiled in controversy. You said that in your experience with him, he had not demonstrated racism. From a personal standpoint, perhaps he is not expressing openly racist views (I'm not sure who openly would), but his actions are what stand out to me as a history of support of systems of oppression.
He criticized the NFL's handling of protesting players because he felt it had an effect on his bottom line. If Mr. Schnatter is as committed to diversity and inclusion as the university claims to be, why wouldn't he be supportive of African-American players protesting racial injustice and police brutality?
He criticized the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Given that many of his employees are in need of affordable health care, why would he be opposed to a system that would grant his employees an opportunity to do so (for a tab of 11 cents per pizza, by the way)? It's a justice issue, yet again, he was worried about his own bottom line.
He created a culture in which one of his employees described a customer on a typed receipt using a racial slur. What kinds of training did his corporation provide that would make it obvious that this is something that simply shouldn't be done?
His utterance of the N-word is one more example of his lack of cultural competence in a world that needs it now more than ever.
As a Vice-President at an institution of higher education, I am aware that these decisions are not made lightly and usually are made after careful deliberation and discernment. I have to ask, however, how many people of color were in the room when the decision was made? I noticed on your website that you have zero representation of people of color on your board. I think you may have received a difference in opinion during your discernment process had you had different voices around the table.
I applaud the university's efforts to increase the diversity of its student population. I applaud the $4 million construction of a new Multicultural Center. Consider this. As these new students walk around the beautiful campus of Ball State University, what will they think when they see John Schnatter's name still etched into the Institute for Entrepreneurship and Free Enterprise? Will they feel welcomed, or will they hear the N-word in the back of their minds? Will they see a university that says all the right things about diversity and inclusion but won't respond to concrete actions of injustice?
John Schnatter made a mistake. He apologized. He said he was wrong. But no level of apology and regret will take away what was said, and there needs to be consequences for those actions. His actions and words have done damage. More importantly, they have done and will continue to do damage to the very students you are all trying to support and uplift. And his name will remain, for all of those marginalized students to see.
Needless to say, I disagree with the decision, and this proud alum is disappointed today.
-Damon Sloan, class of 1996