Update to my response to Ball State’s Board of Trustees’ and President Mearn’s support of John Schnatter

August 18, 2018

Update: I’m pleased to write that on August 17, the Board of Trustees voted in favor (8-1) of removing John Schnatter’s name from the Institute for Entrepreneurship and Free Enterprise at Ball State University. This is a step in the right direction, though unfortunate that it didn’t happen sooner and that it was accomplished in a begrudging, even hostile tone. In short, the letters (see below for my letter) and the poor press that Ball State received as a result of standing by Schnatter worked, and helped to steer Ball State away from racism and towards inclusivity. The faculty fall convocation sent a clear message that diversity will be welcomed. Our new provost, Dr. Susana Rivera-Mills, quoted from Paulo Friere’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed!   She also read a poem that she wrote about diversity and inclusion. President Mearns spoke to the construction of a new multicultural center to be built in the center of campus, where it belongs, quoted from James Taylor’s “Shed A Little Light,” and then yielded the floor to Ball State’s Ethnic Theater Alliance, which opted to sing “Glory” from Selma. I cried. A lot of us did. Then we gave them a standing ovation. It’s been a trying week at Ball State, but things are looking up for diversity, and I’m proud to be a member of this community but will continue to fight for equity, diversity, and inclusion.

August 15, 2018

Dear Members of the Board of Trustees, Chair of the Board Rick Hall, and President Geoffrey Mearns,

I am writing in regards to my deep concerns about recent decisions over Ball State’s partnership with John Schnatter and the public explanations for them in email messages on August 3 and August 6. I have been a faculty member at this institution for eight years. I am proud to be a member of the outstanding faculty, staff, and student body, who have been working hard to make Ball State a more inclusive and diverse campus. John Schnatter’s actions and your responses to them thwart efforts to make this university a place where everyone belongs and feels welcome.

I am a cultural anthropologist who studies and teaches about race, ethnicity, gender, and economic class disparities in a variety cultures, but especially the United States. In my writing and teaching, I use examples of how institutions and individuals learn racism, classism, and sexism, as well as the ways in which people unlearn and even challenge systems of oppression and the hurtful, hateful, and misguided beliefs that people learn about these social constructions. I am sorry to say that this case is an example of how both individuals (John Schnatter) and institutions (Ball State) perpetuate racism rather than confront it.

In his letter from the Board of Trustees, Rick Hall addresses John Schnatter’s “insensitive” use of the “n-word,” while also professing that “higher education plays a unique role in the support of free speech and the exchange of ideas.” John Schnatter also asserted that NFL players, who took a knee during the national anthem, were to blame for lower NFL ratings and which in hurt the sale of Papa John’s pizzas. All forms of “free speech” are not the same. Calling African-Americans (or any other group of people or individuals) inhumane, racist names is not akin to peacefully protesting unrelenting police violence against that same group of people. Schnatter’s statements have garnered the attention of white supremacists. The Daily Stormer, a white supremacist publication, dubbed Papa John’s the “official pizza of the alt-right.

The outrage at John Schnatter at this particular moment has to do with his use of the “n-word” during a meeting, but this was hardly an isolated incident. Forbes magazine reports that Schnatter created a toxic workplace culture, including sexism. As a result of his actions, and the negative publicity that followed it, he resigned as CEO of Papa John’s and stepped down as chair of the board. Unlike Starbucks’ chair Howard Schultz, who closed 8,000 stores and required 175,000 employees across the country to undergo racial bias training after a racist incident in a Philadelphia store, Schnatter resigned as CEO of Papa John’s but has since publicly regretted that decision.

What kind of entrepreneurial spirit and practices does Ball State seek to promote?

The University of Louisville will remove Schnatter’s name. The University of Kentucky Board of Trustees wrote, “We believe in his sincerity to try to make amends. But attempting to continue any financial relationship with Mr. Schnatter would be a painful and unnecessary barrier to our efforts of building a community where everyone is welcome and belongs.” Likewise, the Board of Trustees at Purdue University will be removing Schnatter’s name from its Research Center in Economics in order “to avoid distraction from the center’s work, counterproductive division on the campus, and any inference of any deviation from the university’s often stated stance on tolerance and racial relations.” The mayor of Jeffersonville, Indiana, gave back the money that John Schnatter donated to renovate the Nachand Fieldhouse, and explained, “I can’t have children who are walking into this elementary school to get an education to have this hanging over their heads. I do not want that name with these comments, you know, crossing any little child’s mind that’s walking into school every day.” These are just a few examples of other responses to Schnatter.

What company does Ball State wish to keep?

It appears Ball State has chosen to keep the company of a man who is seen favorably by the alt-right, breaking precedent with reputable institutions in their responses to John Schnatter’s behaviors. The Ball State Board of Trustees wrote, “Ball State can advance a sense of community that is so essential to the creation of a stronger Indiana and a healthier society.” On Monday, President Mearns reiterated Ball State’s “ongoing commitment to diversity and inclusion.” Ball State cannot claim to care about diversity while continuing to work with John Schnatter. Our reputation as an institution of higher learning that pays more than lip service to diversity is in jeopardy. We can change this.

If the Board and President Mearns genuinely believe in the Beneficence Pledge, then instead defending and supporting Schnatter, Ball State should 1) remove Schnatter’s name from all buildings and programs, 2) remove Papa John’s pizza stores from campus, 3) award more scholarships to students from underrepresented groups at Ball State, particularly Black students, and 4) work harder to recruit diversity at all levels of the university, including staff, faculty, and administration.

As someone who is committed to making Ball State University a more welcoming, inclusive, equitable, and diverse university, I am deeply upset by the statements defending John Schnatter by the Board of Trustees and President Mearns. I beg you to reconsider your stance on this and join other universities in denouncing John Schnatter until his actions change for the better and speak louder than his hurtful and insensitive words.

Sincerely and regrettably,

Jennifer Erickson

Associate Professor

Department of Anthropology

Ball State University



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