Following the Board of Trustee’s decision to remove John Schnatter’s name from the university, the Ethnic Theatre Alliance (ETA), along with help from students, faculty and alumni, performed “Glory” from the movie “Selma” at Friday’s opening ceremony.
Friday’s performance came after President Geoffrey Mearns reached out to Bill Jenkins, department chair of the Department of Theatre and Dance. Mearns said during the opening that he knew he would be expected to speak about Schnatter, but he wasn’t sure the best way to do so.
“I had spoken to Bill on that Friday afternoon, the day the Board’s statement was released, Bill was disappointed. Bill was frustrated. Nevertheless, I thought that Bill would be willing to help me,” Mearns said during Friday's ceremony. “I told Bill that I was searching for the right words to communicate my thoughts to all of you. I told him that the lyrics to a song written and performed by James Taylor best captured my hopes, my thoughts, my emotions.”
The song Mearns chose was “Shed a Little Light,” though after hearing from students and colleagues, Jenkins told Mearns that wasn’t the song his students would perform. His students and the ETA instead opted to sing “Glory.”
“While the James Taylor song is terrific song, as the president noted, it is a song that was written many years ago and it doesn’t necessarily speak to students today in a way that it did back when it was originally written,” Jenkins said.
When Mearns first heard of the students’ choice, he hesitated.
“Frankly, I preferred my selection because I wanted a song that communicated my thoughts, my sentiments, but I quickly realized that the students’ selection was the better route,” Mearns said. “I realized that it was time for me to do more listening.”
Jenkins said the students chose the song for three reasons: it resonated in the current times, it was written by African Americans— John Legend and Common — and it communicated a message of moving forward.
Before the group sang, Olivia Evans, the president of ETA spoke. She first thanked Mearns for allowing the group to perform but expressed she and the group’s feelings toward the initial decision.
“As members of the Ball State community, we pledge to value the intrinsic worth of every member of the community. We are important. And when we are made to feel we do not matter, we deserve to talk about that and we deserve to be hurt by that,” Evans said during Friday's ceremony. “We deserve to be respected and to learn from the differences in people, ideas and opinions. We deserve to have the glory of our voices be heard.”
The crowd gave a standing ovation when the alliance finished its rendition of the song with their fists in the air. Toward the end of the performance Jenkins joined his students on stage, along with 15 other faculty members.
“I’ve been here now for close to 20 years and I can say it was one of the most prideful moments I’ve had in my institution,” he said. “For me it was a prideful moment because I felt very much like we stood up for what we believed in both a very clear and respectful way.”
And while he said Friday’s message was powerful, Jenkins hopes the message will continue into the future.
“The work is just beginning. My hope is that we’ve moved the university to a collective place of being able to move forward in an effective way so that we’re focused on how do we move forward now and make all of our students and faculty and staff and members of the university community feel welcomed and included.”
Contact Brynn Mechem with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BrynnMechem.