On Aug. 3, Ball State University Board of Trustees’ chairman released a statement on their position to stand by Ball State alumnus John Schnatter. Schnatter has been under public scrutiny after comments made on a conference call arranged by Papa John’s executives with a marketing firm, to prevent further public relation debacles. In November 2017, Schnatter was on a quarterly earnings call when he attributed their lag in sales to the NFL. His comments, at the time, concerned player protests. He stated NFL player protests, “should have been nipped in the bud,” when Colin Kaepernick first started kneeling. Fast forward to May 2018, Schnatter uses the n-word on a conference call with the marketing firm in an attempt to help revive his and the company’s image, stating “Colonel Sanders called blacks n—–s,” whining that Sanders never faced public fallout. Several universities have taken immediate action to sever ties with Schnatter, however, Ball State University has not. In fact, Ball State’s Board of Trustees waited some two months since the controversy over his use of the n-word began, and then at the beginning of August finally released a statement on its choice to stand by Schnatter.
Jason Whitlock, also a Ball State University alumnus and nationally known sports journalist, in an email interview with The Star Press, Muncie, came to Papa John Schnatter’s defense. Whitlock who attended Ball State during the same time the current board of trustees’ chairman did, actually gave the community a sneak peak of the board’s decision to stick by Schnatter. According to Whitlock, Schnatter “is Ball State family and we better treat him like family.” Whitlock’s interview was in the Aug. 1edition of The Star Press, and on Aug. 3 the chairman of the university’s board of trustees released a statement, which essentially absolved the pizza mogul of any responsibility for his actions and betrayed the confidence and trust of many students, faculty, staff and alumni of the university.
The Black Student Association released an official public statement on Aug. 4on all three of their social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) chiding the board of trustees for their failure to disassociate with Schnatter. In the statement, the organization offered alternatives that seem to align with restorative justice model practices.
“In response to our university’s refusal to sever ties and revisit the suitability of John Schnatter’s given accolades, as they should, we are now insisting that Schnatter display a genuine interest and commitment to support Black students on our campus. As an organization we have come up with a couple of opportunities for Schnatter to show this interest:
As many know and are ecstatic about the new multicultural center (expected to be completed by Fall 2020), John Schnatter should be willing to contribute to this project that has an estimated cost of $4 million. Similarly with Schnatter’s expertise in entrepreneurship we would strongly encourage, and welcome him to make this available to Black Students at our University in partnership with the Career Center and Miller Business of College. This could include special workshops, paid internships, and instances where Schnatter returns to the university speaking on topics of personal branding, entrepreneurship, venture capitalism, and social entrepreneurship.”
The Black Student Association’s official statement has been met by a wave of support, particularly by other student organizations on campus. The day after the BSA released their official statement, the Asian American Student Association (AASA), Latinx Student Union (LSU) and Spectrum released a joint statement in solidarity with the BSA.
Similarly, Black faculty on Ball State’s campus sent an open letter dated Aug. 8, to the board of trustees responding to the board’s decision to stand by Schnatter. Their letter communicated the ongoing burden of laboring in a space where they are consistently forced to confront unrelenting racist attitudes and behavior.
“In our role as faculty members, we live diversity, inclusion, and equity in our everyday lives. We bring that to our scholarship, to teaching and to our various service across the campus community and the greater Muncie community. We believe these values, also represented in the Beneficence Pledge, are at the core of what it means to be engaged in the community. Fulfilling this function, of course, is not an easy endeavor. It requires much commitment to standing strong in the face of resistance, to engage in difficult dialogues, to hold ourselves and others accountable, to act justly and to promote reconciliation where possible. We do our work in an environment where it is not unusual for us to be forced to confront unrelenting racist behavior where otherwise we would be focusing on productivity and quality of life; and yet we find ways to thrive”.
The official statement released by the Black Student Association struck a chord and has clearly stirred several members of the campus community to respond and make their voices heard. The leadership of the BSA on Ball State’s campus has risen to the occasion, and to think that the new academic year has not started yet.
Correction: Jason Whitlock was incorrectly referred to as John Whitlock in the original article.
Update: The Ball State University Board of Trustees held an emergency meeting on Aug. 16, and decided to remove John H. Schnatter’s name from the Institute of Entrepreneurship and Free Enterprise. Likewise, the distinguished professorship named after Schnatter will be changed, and money donated from the John H. Schnatter Family Foundation will be returned.