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I’m writing this because there was no other organization beside my fraternity that held a higher place in my heart during my undergraduate years at Ball State than the Student Government. It was a great honor to be entrusted by my fellow Cardinals to be their president. At times the job was stressful, and others it felt like floating on cloud nine. Before the academic term starts and the student body returns to campus, I think it’s time I gave SGA some tough love and hold the leadership accountable.

We all know the situation with John Schnatter (aka Papa John) has blown up and has had a direct impact to the university due to his relationship with Ball State. There is just one thing that concerns me more than Schnatter’s use of the “N-word:” your lack of leadership toward these events.

On Wednesday, July 18, around 7:26 p.m. I reached out to the SGA Vice President to get a sense of what SGA was going to say. Now after uproar on social media about the Board’s decision to stand by Schnatter, SGA saw it convenient to issue a statement condemning Schnatter and disagree with the Board of Trustees. I find it hard to believe that this current executive board truly feels that way after my initial contact with one of their members. This executive board needs to be held accountable and the student body deserves to know how their elected leadership didn’t feel it urgent to comment on Schnatter’s remarks immediately for themselves, but waited until it seemed publicly convenient.

I’m going to paint a picture for you and I hope it’s clear as day. Two years ago, as I was coming into office, I had a great team beside me as an executive board. During the campaign, there were talk that we might win because the head of the ticket had two minorities. Well we proved them wrong. Ana and I brought our life experiences with us to office to provide some understanding to events and concerns that students of color have had for years. During the summer of 2016 our society had two events that impacted the LGBTQ+ and the black communities with the shooting at the nightclub Pulse in Orlando and the shooting of Philando Castile. Though these events took place hundreds of miles away, we knew it affected members of the student body. We then decided to put out a press release on both instances. We reached out to the leaders of the Big 4, our Cabinet, and others (by means of text, social media, email, you name it) and conveyed student concerns to the administration so that it could best serve the student body as they returned to campus. Our actions weren’t much, but it meant a lot to many who were grateful for their student body to show they were listening and were going to be leaders for them. We didn’t have to wait until it was convenient to issue out a statement on something we knew was wrong.

Fast forward to today. An event has taken place over the summer, this time though it directly impacts Ball State than Pulse and Philando Castile did, and yet it took the student government just as much time as the university to finally address.

I felt an obligation to provide advice, as a former SGA President, because I saw the optics of the president and vice president (who are both white males) sending a message as if they didn’t care. That’s the sense I felt as I was brushed off with a “we’ll think about it.” What was there to think about? Schnatter said the “N-word,” the actual word and did SGA not think how it impacted black students? Newsflash, everything that happens on campus or directly impacts campus should be your concern.

I wasn’t going to go through the trouble of typing this letter up but recent events in my own life moved me to do so. This weekend I spent some time with my family before my little brother was deployed overseas. He’s a proud member of the Indiana National Guard. As my family and I sat in the gym at Decatur Middle School we couldn’t believe what took place right in front of us. A little white boy uttered out to his mother, “It smells in here. It smells like black people.” The mother quickly covered up her child’s mouth, not even bothering to correct him or even turn around to us to apologize as if we didn’t exist. Then the national anthem was played, as I STOOD there with my hand over my heart, I had to hold back tears thinking of my brother being deployed in a matter of hours to serve his country, putting his life on the line to protect the liberty of the United States and lo and behold there is this family who is basically teaching their child to think less of people of color. People of color who are still giving their life for this country. So, if it might seem that I’m ticked off … scratch that …beyond furious right now, it’s because I'll be damned if I let my brother fight for this country and it not stay true to its word “that all men are created equal.”

While I’m glad SGA has finally said something, although it’s more of a convenient reaction to me, I have to ask, do you really care? 

-James L. Wells, 2016-17 SGA President