Unspoken: Too Little, Too Late
An analysis into the statements and decisions made by the Board on the topic of Papa John’s words.
Demi Lawrence is a sophomore telecommunications journalism major and writes "Unspoken" for The Daily News. Her views do not necessarily agree with those of the newspaper. Write to Demi at firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Aug. 3, Ball State University’s Board of Trustees released a statement regarding alumni John Schnatter’s - more popularly known as Papa John - use of the N-word during a meeting. This statement from the Board told that “John has acknowledged, notwithstanding his intentions, that his use of the word was inappropriate,” but that they would keep his name on the Institute for Entrepreneurship and Free Enterprise.
In this statement, what I found most interesting was this sentence: “He [used the N-word] not in a derogatory manner seeking to demean any individuals or groups; rather it was used as an example of improper conduct.”
The N-word itself is derogatory, so the Board’s attempted defense of Schnatter is unwarranted. This racial slur was used as a way to demean, punish and enslave black people for hundreds of thousands of years. Not to mention, the N-word is continually used today as a way to continue to segregate society since the law no longer allows for it. Slavery may be illegal, but racism still exists and is fueled by the use of racial slurs such as the one used by Schnatter.
Maybe Schnatter did not intend to use this word in that specific way, but only as a reference of “improper conduct” in someone else’s words. But the problem with this assumption is that Schnatter could have used so many others phrases, such as “the n-word” or “racial slurs.” He did not have to go the whole nine yards and say the entire derogatory term, but the fact that he did shows his ignorance to issues the have been present in our world for centuries.
On Aug. 16, The Board of Trustees released a statement that was a complete 180 from the previous one, stating that in a 8-1 vote, they decided to remove Schnatter’s name from the Institute for Entrepreneurship and Free Enterprise. Chairman Rick Hall wrote, “The Board of Trustees strongly condemns racism, both implicit and explicit. Our condemnation extends to include John Schnatter’s comments that are the subject of controversy and have no place in our society.”
Social media erupted with responses to the Board’s decision, both the original and the second statement released. Many Letters to the Editor were sent, many tweets published and many conversations were had on if what was decided by The Board was right. Many Ball State organizations and faculty members wrote and signed statements. As a member of Black Student Association, sophomore Tailynn Downing is not satisfied with the second statement released by The Board of Trustees.
“I believed - and always will believe - that the Board’s original decision was equal parts deplorable and completely uneducated,” Downing said. “The second decision, though valid, came in a letter than in the end made me and other students feel as though the Board couldn’t care less about what is morally correct or socially responsible.”
Don’t get me wrong, the release of this second statement is great step forward. But there are still issues, my number one being the fact that they could have done the right thing first, but instead decided to stand by Schnatter. It wouldn’t be disingenuous to believe that the Board likely flipped their stance as a result of the backlash they received from faculty, alumni, students and so forth. This has to make you wonder if public pressure is the only reason they changed their minds, and not the fact that Schnatter used a completely offensive and unnecessary racial slur.
My second issue with this is timing. It took the Board nearly two weeks to go back on their original statement. Two weeks is a long time, and in this situation time does not heal all wounds. In fact, in this situation time only festered the wound.
This switching of stances, overall, is a good win. But in my mind, I see a bandaid that was put over a surgical wound that required staples and stitches. A half-hearted solution to a serious matter.
It’s good, but not good enough. Too little, too late.
While the Institute for Entrepreneurship and Free Enterprise will no longer sport Schnatter’s name, the ghost of Ball State’s original decision to support and defend his racist remarks will haunt not only the Institute, but Ball State as whole. Ball State’s Beneficence Pledge states that members of the Ball State community pledge “To treat each person in the Ball State community with civility, courtesy, compassion, and dignity.” I do not believe the statements and decisions made by The Board of Trustees align with this idea that is so intrinsically tied to Ball State’s identity and values. While The Board ultimately made the right choice in no longer supporting or defending Schnatter, the way in which they went about it was incredibly poor. I can only hope we as a university learn from this, and learn that defending racism in any way is unacceptable.