The Sebastian County Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is asking for a meeting with University of Arkansas at Fort Smith Chancellor Dr. Terisa Riley to discuss alleged discrimination against a former UAFS basketball player.
On Sept. 2, 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.
On Sept. 11, Riley reported that the EOC officer did not find substantial evidence to support the claim of race discrimination but that “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.” Riley also said she would allocate resources to hire a director of campus diversity and inclusion.
The UAFS Black Student Association hosted a public forum Sept. 17 on conquering bias and improving understanding on campus. The forum, titled “Safe Space: Let’s Talk Race,” aimed to expand and engage the discussions around diversity, inclusion, race, and community.
In a press release sent to the media late Monday (Oct. 7) by Fort Smith City Director André Good on behalf of Sebastian County NAACP President Jerry Jennings, the association said it seeks “transparency and justice” in the matter.
“(T)he NAACP seeks answers to a series of questions surrounding the incident and welcomes a meeting with UAFS leadership to discuss the path forward,” noted the statement. “Time is of the essence. The NAACP requests that its questions be answered and a meeting convened within the next ten business days from the date of this press release, viz., on or before October 18, 2019.”
Jennings also said the NAACP branch “seeks to hold Chancellor Riley to her avowed assurance of a UAFS that is ‘an inclusive environment that values all members of our community.’”
The UAFS provided this statement in response to Jenning’s letter.
“Dr. Riley met with Rev. Jennings and his wife earlier this fall regarding the initial allegations, and welcomes the opportunity to meet with them again to foster strong relationships and a strong community.
“Answers to many of the questions posed were detailed in Dr. Riley’s Sept. 11 letter to faculty, staff and students, and at the following Safe Space public forum held on Sept. 13. However, Dr. Riley understands the frustrations that may exist when answers to specific questions are protected by law.
“The university is committed to moving forward and implementing the plans that have been laid out by our administration.”
Following are the questions submitted by Jennings.
• What is the UAFS policy, if any, on the personal appearance applicable to athletes? If such a policy exists, who sets, monitors, and enforces it?
• If such a policy exists, are diverse voices part of the policy development process? Please explain.
• May a single coach establish his/her own personal policy as regards to the personal appearance of athletes and, if so, how is such policy communicated throughout UAFS and beyond? Who participated in the investigation of this matter?
• Coach Boone reportedly stated, “I won’t recruit people with hair like yours.” How is this statement not discriminatory given the fact that dreadlocks are worn, overwhelmingly, by African Americans and are a deeply-rooted part of African and African American culture and history?
• What factors did the investigatory team consider in reaching its conclusions? Also, please identify any persons of color who participated in the evaluation of Tyler Williams’ complaint.
• Why did it take so long for UAFS to make the public aware of this incident?
• Was Coach Boone placed on administrative leave or probation during the pendency of the investigation? Please explain.
• What evidence, beyond the after-the-fact statement of Coach Boone, does UAFS have that indicates the basis of the dismissal of Tyler Williams from its basketball team was based on hair length, as opposed to hair style?
• What, if any, educational requirements related to cultural sensitivity will Coach Boone and other personnel in the UAFS athletic department be required to fulfill?
• Will Tyler Williams and his family receive verbal and written apologies from Coach Boone and Chancellor Riley for the unfortunate handling of this matter (which, incidentally, has made UAFS the target of national derision) and, if so, when? What other measures will UAFS take to work toward reconciliation with Tyler Williams and his family, up to and including any plans for financial assistance in view of the fact that this incident delayed Tyler Williams’ graduation date and caused the family to incur additional educational expenses?