ETSU professor: ‘We have an opportunity now to have the hard discussions’

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JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Fresh off publication of an opinion piece in The Tennessean regarding the ETSU men’s basketball controversy, the leader of the university’s Africana Studies program weighed in Friday on what could come next.

Daryl Carter is also a history professor and alumnus of ETSU graduate programs.

“I love ETSU,” Carter said. “I want to see her succeed.  And I want all of our people to be respected, treated with dignity, to have opportunity and to have a voice.”

He said fallout from the controversy and division following players’ decision to kneel during the national anthem has the potential to harm ETSU reputationally.

But Carter also said now is a time of opportunity — and that head basketball coach Jason Shay, who resigned Tuesday, actually exemplified some of the principles it will take to make progress.

“Whether the negative perception is based in reality or not, there’s a perception problem here, and I think it’s incumbent upon the institution to fix that perception problem,” Carter said.

“I have had a couple faculty members say to me in the last two days, they’re not sure they want to stay here,” he said.

‘Universities should not be considered to be citadels of groupthink.’

etsu professor daryl carter

“We are losing a number of our basketball players because they don’t want to be here, not just because of their allegiance to coach (Jason) Shay apparently but also because they’re uncomfortable with how this went down.”

Carter said, though, that if the university adheres to its stated values, the near future can be a period of respectful conversations between people with differing opinions about the team’s decision to kneel during the national anthem.

“The question now becomes, every person from the president down to our custodians needs to ask themselves, myself included, ‘are we doing everything we can to fulfill our mission and values as we have stated them,'” Carter said.

“That we’re going to put people first, that we are going to build relationships, that we are going to engage and pursue excellence, that we are going to value diversity of all kinds, all stripes.'”

Carter said he and colleague Jean Swindle penned their op-ed earlier this month with that thought in mind. He said ETSU President Brian Noland and his immediate predecessors Dr. Paul Stanton and Roy Nicks all espoused a “people come first” value system.

“We believe in that as employees of the institution and so what we’re trying to do is deliver on that,” Carter said.

Referring to the backlash against the players’ kneeling at a Feb. 15 game at University of Tennessee Chattanooga — at the board of trustees level and in the Tennessee state Senate — “what we saw here were students who were getting bashed in a very public setting.

ETSU board of trustees member Kelly Wolfe, left, expresses disappointment at administration’s reaction to the players’ kneeling at the Feb. 19 trustees’ meeting.

“They are our students and they deserve to be treated with dignity and respect whether you agree with them or disagree with them.”

Carter said suggestions that the controversy was about “the flag issue” represent a “false narrative.”

“This was about the violence perpetrated on African Americans, black Americans, over a period of 400-plus years now here in North America, specifically the United States and bringing awareness to those issues.”

Chance for the university to lead

Carter said ETSU has a history of commitment to open dialogue, critical thinking, analysis and debate, sometimes on subjects and matters that are uncomfortable to people.”

Taking the same approach now could pay dividends, he said.

“When we do those things we are number one educating our students, we are fulfilling our charge, we are developing our young people in a way that is going to blossom and improve our society.

“These are discussions that are worth having, and universities should not be considered to be citadels of groupthink or places where we are simply going to turn out graduates who cannot think for themselves, who cannot question the world around them.”

He said despite a predominantly white population in Northeast Tennessee, ETSU has a diverse campus and that the diversity makes the university strong.

If it’s halftime in this saga, Carter said ETSU can do several things to come out of the locker room and succeed.

“There’s a variety of things that President Noland has done that are, that have and continue to improve the experiences on this campus for faculty, staff and students and I applaud the president for those things,” Carter said.

He said success in this instance will have to follow some introspection on everyone’s part.

“The question now becomes, every person from the president down to our custodians needs to ask themselves, myself included, ‘are we doing everything we can to fulfill our mission and values as we have stated them.’

ETSU player Jordan Coffin speaks to News Channel 11 about coach Jason Shay.

“That we’re going to put people first, that we are going to build relationships, that we are going to engage and pursue excellence, that we are going to value diversity of all kinds, all stripes.”

Carter wouldn’t speculate on the impetus for Shay’s decision to resign. He did say, though, that Shay seemed to have developed a rapport with his players.

“I don’t know the coach and I don’t know what his views are on kneeling but I do know this, he stood with his players, and for that I thank him.

“These are not easy times, and so for somebody to take a stand, particularly one that is unpopular in the area in which you live and work, that tells me that that person has some integrity.”

Carter said the basketball players — many of them soon-to-be former — and others from different backgrounds “need to be brought into the process.”

He said he would like to see people in the region “put down the talking points” and “recognize the basic humanity of the people that we live and work among.”

“We have an opportunity here to make the institution better, to make the region better, to improve tangible things such as economic growth and workforce development … this is an opportunity and we have to seize it.”

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