ETSU president addresses controversy surrounding Shay’s resignation in Friday night letter

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FILE – ETSU President Brian Noland

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — East Tennessee State University President Brian Noland addressed the controversy surrounding the resignation of men’s basketball coach Jason Shay in a letter Friday night.

Noland’s letter to ETSU students, faculty, and staff marks his first time commenting publicly on Shay’s resignation, three days after the coach stepped down.

Dear Members of the ETSU Community,

I hope that on this holiday weekend you are enjoying time with loved ones. I would like to take this opportunity to talk about the feelings that many are expressing over the decision by Coach Jason Shay to resign as the head coach of the men’s basketball program. 

Over the course of the past few weeks, significant internal and external focus has been placed upon the campus of East Tennessee State University.  The diversity and intensity of this scrutiny is palpable, as are the associated feelings of pain, hurt, and anger. Universities are curators of the truth and we have a responsibility to serve as common ground for debate, dialogue, discovery, and understanding, all of which occur with a purposeful sense of civil discourse. I have spoken with many across our campus who are disheartened by these recent events and feel like ETSU is not a place where they belong. I am pained that our community is hurting and I want to reassure each of you that ETSU is committed to being an inclusive institution where all are welcome to explore ideas and opportunities for growth and expression. 

In order for growth to occur, we must acknowledge that many in society have experienced injustice. It is clear that there is deep hurt in the African American community, and I have heard from many that they feel, at a minimum, ignored, mistreated and disrespected. I have also heard that many veterans, service members and their families feel disrespected and that their sacrifices are unappreciated.  It is incumbent upon all of us as members of the campus community to recognize and respect these feelings.  

We must also acknowledge, unequivocally, that racial injustices and systemic racism exist. This includes the fact that some individuals, myself among them, have benefitted from certain privileges based on race. Research, statistics, and the lived experiences of our fellow Bucs demonstrate this heart-wrenching reality. As you have heard me say many times, the mission of East Tennessee State University is to improve the quality of life in our communities. We cannot fulfill that mission if we ignore the injustices that people of color and other underrepresented groups face.

Over the past 18 months, we have taken significant steps to ensure that equity and inclusion is a foremost priority at ETSU. Under the leadership of the Office of Equity and Inclusion, we have expanded curricular and extracurricular opportunities to share cross cultural histories and experiences. This includes expanding resources and programming for the Mary V. Jordan Multicultural Center, the Women’s Resource Center, and the Black Faculty and Staff Association. Additionally, to support our LGBTQ+ community, we established the Dr. Patricia Robertson Pride Center in the D.P. Culp Student Center. We have also established several new scholarship programs to provide equitable access to higher education for underrepresented students. These initiatives are significant, but they are not enough. 

As part of our emerging strategic visioning process, the Committee for 125 Chapter II, we have established a taskforce specifically focused on supporting diversity and inclusion and addressing social injustices. This taskforce will be chaired by Dr. Janna Scarborough and its composition will be announced next week.  Their work will inform our ongoing planning as well as provide an analysis of the current campus climate based upon a survey that the Office of Equity and Inclusion will administer later this semester.  From this work, the taskforce will develop a long-term and comprehensive equity and inclusion action plan at ETSU.  

Healing is going to take time, but I am committed to improving and continuing to support our student athletes as well as all of our students, faculty, and staff.  We have had one of the hardest years ever in higher education, and our nation as a whole is seeing record increases in mental distress as we have been separated from one another for over a year. I have always felt that ETSU was a source of inspiration and hope for our region. I believe we are a place that provides fertile soil for change, and I hope that you know that my commitment to our equity and inclusion goals is unwavering.

I hope everyone enjoys their holiday weekend and finds time to reflect upon the work in front us to promote healing.

Sincerely,

Brian Noland
President

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