Family of former UAFS student says actions ‘fall on deaf ears’ with basketball coach

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 1,160 views 

The family of a former University of Arkansas at Fort Smith student basketball player who alleged race discrimination by a UAFS coach says they do not think the university has handled the situation properly.

On Sept. 2, UAFS Chancellor Dr. Terisa Riley informed the UAFS community of an allegation of race discrimination had been reported by a former player against the university’s head basketball coach.

A letter by Mr. and Mrs. Reginald Williams and Tyler Allen Williams, a former UAFS student and basketball player, was posted on Facebook Aug. 31. The letter described what the Williamses called a racist act by Coach Jim Boone in regards to the Tyler Williams “dreadlocks” hairstyle. Williams, from Edmund, Okla., was a guard and the second-leading scorer for UAFS for the 2018-19 season.

In the posted letter, Williams and his parents said Boone, who was hired as the coach to replace Justin Bailey, who resigned in March, told Williams he did not like hair like his and he would not recruit players who had hair like his. In his 2018-19 roster photo, Williams sports chin-length dreadlocks that are pulled back from his face. The post noted that because he was a senior, Williams would not be required to change his hair. In the letter Williams’ parents stated the whole hair issue was racist, because it is Williams’ natural hair.

“Boone is attempting to enforce grooming policies that disproportionately affect people of color, particularly black people,” the letter noted.

Williams has since left the university. He stated on Twitter he was leaving “due to undisclosed reasons” and would attend Southern Nazarene University in Bethany, Okla., for the 2019-20 season.

In a letter sent to Talk Business and Politics, signed by Mr. and Mrs. Reginald Williams and Tyler Williams, it stated, “Tyler did not choose to leave UAFS Men’s Basketball team on his own accord; Boone dismissed him.” Prior to his initial meeting with Boone, Williams had already completed course enrollment for the fall semester, completed a UAFS housing agreement and moved into his housing suite at UAFS, the letter stated.

“Our intentions and motive were for Tyler to continue his education at UAFS and graduate in May 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in organizational leadership and (as) a member of the UAFS Men’s Basketball team,” the letter states.

On Sept. 11, the university released a statement that the university’s equal employment opportunity (EEO) officer did not find substantial evidence of race discrimination and the EEO officer had informed the Williams and the coach of the of the finding.

The Williams family said they received a letter from Beverly McClendon, director of human resources/EEO officer. In that letter, McClendon said Boone could have better stated his stance regarding hair length and shown more sensitivity in addressing the concerns of Williams and his family “in order to avoid having his stance misconstrued,” the letter from the Williams family said.

“Director McClendon, length of hair was not the issue, Boone discriminated against the style of his hair as you can clearly hear in the audio. It is puzzling to us and the world how you can find his stance non-discriminatory when Tyler’s natural dreadlocked hair is exclusive to African-Americans,” the letter from the Williams family said.

At the time the findings of the EEO investigation were released, Riley said “the process revealed a need for better communications when addressing a sensitive matter, particularly when raised by a student.” In her statement, Riley said the UAFS athletics department “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.”

She also said she would allocate resources to hire a director of campus diversity and inclusion. She said members of the UAFS community, including faculty, students and administration, along with members of the community would be part of 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.”

The Williams family says that is not enough. They said they have not received an apology from Boone or Riley and they want one.

“Many things have transpired on the campus of UAFS to try and right the wrong that has been done. Such acts fall on deaf ears when Boone chooses to not own his actions and behaviors that have caused pain on others. Coach Boone, we demand that you step up and OWN IT! UAFS, own the fact this was handled poorly. Own the fact you have caused a scholar and student-athlete to feel unwanted on your campus. Own the fact that this incident has forever placed a stain on the citizens and community of Fort Smith that the world can now see. Until there is a verbal and written apology to our son and family, your actions are futile and show no respect for our family, the university or the citizens of Fort Smith,” the letter states.