Black Athletes’ Concerns Monitored By Big Ten

By Tom Kubat
Updated: October 10, 2005

INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA—Ralph Taylor’s real job is serving as program officer for the Central Indiana Committee Foundation in Indianapolis. But he’s also a three-year member of the Big Ten Conference advisory commission.

The commission, which was formed in March 1972, consists of one representative from each of the 11 member schools. All are former athletes.

“Each of us on the commission is charged with going on campus and interviewing African-American student athletes in all sports,” said Taylor, a former Purdue basketball player, Class of 1969. “The purpose of the campus visit is to assist in assuring the athletic and academic welfare of the African-American student athlete.

“We are charged with identifying the grievances of black athletes.”

The commission meets twice a year at the Big Ten offices in Chicago, every September and April. The members visit their respective campuses — Taylor usually makes two or three trips to Purdue from February through March — with standardized questions.

Their individual reports are sent to the Big Ten and the respective athletic directors and athletic departments.

“Generally I’m finding out that, like many communities in the country, there’s just not that overall welcoming to anyone that looks different than them,” Taylor said. “I was a student (at Purdue) and I think the community tends to be friendly and more embracing if you are an African-American student-athlete.

“There might be some isolation at first, but then when students find that this individual plays basketball or runs track and field, that tends to be the ice-breaker.”

Taylor said that some African-American student athletes have mentioned that they feel uncomfortable going into Lafayette.

Others talk about how lacking the social life is for them.

Still others point out how seldom they see other blacks in class, simply because there aren’t many on campus. It also has been mentioned that there are many white students who don’t seem to know how to interact with black students.

“For the most part, no one has really indicated that there’s any place on campus they would not go to because they’ve been treated poorly,” Taylor said. “In looking at the general environment, based on the 2004 interviews, there was a feeling that it was fine, considering the demographics of Lafayette.

“In my conversations, none of the student athletes have ever said anything about wanting to transfer because of a hostile environment.

“In terms of overall athletic and academic satisfaction, the university would receive a very high grade. There’s a real commitment in having the students graduate on time and putting them in position to succeed.”