Terisa Riley, chancellor of UA Fort Smith, issued a statement today that says a campus investigation had not produced sufficient evidence to support a racial discrimination complaint by a former basketball player, but she said “the process revealed a need for better communications when addressing a sensitive matter, particularly when raised by a student.”
The school plans a discussion with the black students association to talk about sensitive issues such as hair length.
Tyler Williams, the second-leading scorer on the UAFS basketball team last year, had complained that he was thrown off the team by new coach Jim Boone, who objected to his dreadlocks hairstyle. Boone responded that he had not thrown Williams off the team. Through his attorney, Tom Mars, Boone conceded he was “old school” when it came to hairstyles but that he’d not ordered Williams to change it. Mars has argued that Williams invented the racial discrimination complaint because he expected to see less playing time this year because of new players Boone had recruited. Thus, Mars has contended, Williams needed an excuse — being ejected from the team — to transfer to another school and be eligible to play this year. He has transferred to an Oklahoma school.
Here’s Riley’s full statement, which suggests some sensitivity about staff remarks concerning hairstyle.
Dear UAFS Students and Colleagues,
On Tuesday, September 2, 2019, I informed the UAFS community that an allegation of race discrimination had been reported by a former player against a head coach on campus. Today, I am writing to share the final results of the investigation with you.
Today, the University of Arkansas Fort Smith EEO Officer sent formal letters to the former student and to the head coach which state that she did not find substantial evidence to support the claim of race discrimination; however, the process revealed a need for better communications when addressing a sensitive matter, particularly when raised by a student.
The past few weeks have been tremendously challenging for me and for many members of our community. We have spent this time asking incredibly difficult questions about our core values and how we show people that we value and respect them. We also have talked about forgiveness, compassion, the important role of education and our obligation to create a better world. As a new leader in this community, I have been humbled by the outreach I have received from members of the Fort Smith community, local and state legislators, alumni, members of the NAACP, and UAFS students who voiced their opinions and concerns in incredibly meaningful ways. Each person expressed confidence in the process which is used to collect and analyze information in order to come to a final conclusion. I am particularly grateful for the meetings I have had over the past week with the student athletes on our men’s basketball team and the leaders of the Black Student Association. I respect all of these students for their leadership and desire to improve the university.
I have struggled with the fact that I am unable to release the investigative report to you because it is legally protected as part of an employee performance and evaluation file, and I have debated how to live up to the promises I have made to you as your chancellor during this time when many people are questioning what we stand for as a university. I will show what we stand for through my actions, not my words:
I will provide you with my complete assurance that the University of Arkansas Fort Smith Department of Athletics will not condone or allow a policy, procedure, or practice—conveyed verbally or in writing—to dictate the hair styles or hair lengths for its student athletes,
I will allocate resources to hire a director of campus diversity and inclusion who will join my leadership team and will have a seat at the senior staff table,
I will work with members of the UAFS community to create a campus diversity and inclusion committee that will be tasked with the creation of a diversity and inclusion strategic plan which includes increasing the number of faculty, staff, administrators and students of color on campus, and
I will work with the newly formed campus diversity and inclusion committee to review and improve policies, procedures, actions, and practices to fortify a more inclusive educational environment.
The Black Student Association and the Department of Athletics, along with other co-sponsors, would like to invite you to a campus open forum at which our campus leaders and students will talk openly about issues of race, identify ways that our university can improve, and discuss action steps that we can take to ensure that the University of Arkansas Fort Smith is a place where all students, faculty, and staff are empowered, educated, respected, and valued. This event will take place on Tuesday, September 17 at 6:30 p.m. in the Reynold’s Room in the Campus Center. I hope you will join me for this important conversation.
With highest respect and regards,
Terisa Riley, Ph.D.”