‘All Redbird Lives Matter’ Comment Sparks Action at ISU

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Illinois State University is developing an “action plan” in response to athletics director Larry Lyons' comments during a video call with student-athletes, coaches and administrators where he made the remark that “All Redbird Lives Matter.”

Track and field athlete Jordan Wilkerson told the local ABC affiliate that the comment by Lyons undermined the work of the Black Lives Matter movement they have put together at ISU.

“I’m like the poster of Black Lives matter poster and actually on the Redbird uncut thing, so like for me I told the administrators and my coaches that I didn’t want to be a part of something that wasn’t real and authentic, I don’t want to be a poster child or whatever that case may be,” Wilkerson said. “I don’t want to be a black face if we’re not really for something.”

Wilkerson said he expected more from the school. 

“It’s really disappointing because you come here and you expect diversity. One of our pillars at Illinois State is diversity and we get here and our administrators aren’t upholding that pillar,” said Wilkerson, “And our student athletes are doing a great job doing it. It wasn’t just some black athletes that were mad, our white athletes, our hispanic athletes, they’re upset.”

ISU track and field coach Mary Wood posted a response to Lyon’s statement on Twitter, saying in part, “The statement ‘All Redbird Lives Matter’ is insensitive and frankly one that attempts to drown the movement.”

Lyons has since apologized for his comments. 

The following is the Illinois State Athletic Department Action Plan for Social Change as outlined on the school’s website: 

  • Illinois State athletics is committed to responding to the list of demands offered by Redbird student-athletes. Additionally, the athletic department reaffirms that without hesitation that BLACK LIVES MATTER. Illinois State Athletics is also committed to work with experts and partner with our student-athletes on this action plan.
  • Athletics will coordinate a student-athlete listening forum with Dr. Doris Houston, Interim Assistant to the President for Diversity and Inclusion. This virtual forum will take place on Tuesday, September 1st, 8-9 p.m. via Zoom and is for student-athletes only. This voluntary forum will offer student-athletes the opportunity to speak candidly to their experiences with equity, social justice, and inclusion within athletics and across our campus. This will be one of many actions that move us toward the goal of unity, understanding, and healing. 
  • Larry Lyons and his administrative staff are committed to education and change. As such, they will complete the "Race and Cultural Diversity in American Life and History" edu. 
  • Athletics is committed to growth and learning for the entire athletics staff. As such, there will be a required education program that will focus on diversity, equity and anti-racism for Larry Lyons, all athletic administrators and coaches. Sessions will start mid-September, and will be facilitated by Angell Howard, Coordinator of Professional Development and Staff Training in the office of the Vice President for Student Affairs. This will include a series of follow-up coaching sessions to ensure ongoing growth and development.
  • Larry Lyons will set aside weekly "drop in" office hours to engage with individual student-athletes and teams to better understand their experiences.
  • Athletics is committed to forming a "Student-Athlete Action Team for Social Change". This group will include representatives from student-athlete populations across the diversity spectrum and will be co-led by Dr. Doris Houston and AD Larry Lyons. This group will meet monthly with a goal of developing short term and long-term actionable goals and objectives that promote social justice, equity, and inclusion.   
  • Athletics is committed to providing Diversity, Equity and Inclusion educational sessions for student-athletes, including but not limited to, speakers, seminars, webinars and former student-athletes sharing their experiences and growth. This would be developed in consultation with the "Student-Athlete Action Team for Social Change".
  • Athletics is committed to reviewing Athletic Department hiring practices, with the goal of creating a more diverse and equity-minded staff. The diverse staff members should have professional and lived experiences that allow them to work effectively with student-athletes of diverse backgrounds. Special emphasis will be placed in the areas of athletic training, strength and conditioning and athletic study center staff.
  • Athletics is committed to hiring a therapist with specific skills and experience providing counseling and mental health services to student-athletes of color. This will take place this fall. 
  • Athletics is committed to creating a Student-Athlete Advisory Council (SAAC) diversity position on the SAAC Executive Board.
  • Athletics is committed to developing a diversity, equity and inclusion graduate assistant position, working exclusively in these areas.  This would impact positively the experiences of our under-served and under-represented student-athletes.
  • Athletics is committed to developing a LGBTQ+ support group, to better understand and serve the needs of this population.
  • Athletics is committed to enhancing the support and promotion from the administration and coaches of the NEST (New Environment Strengthening Traditions) support group, which is a safe spot to have dialogue and talk about shared experiences.
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