By Andrew Dyer
A news conference to announce the resignation of Stephens University president Jayre McClellan ended in violence Saturday when the newly resigned president physically attacked a student leader.
“I’m going to get up in that ass,” President McClellan said as he tussled with student Parker Westin, a philosophy major and president of the black student union, Concerned Students 1738. The two were quickly separated, but the incident highlighted the level of hostility between McClellan and his critics.
“I wish I had never set foot on this campus,” McClellan said.
He frequently interrupted the conference as others spoke, including football coach Jym Jahnson. A strike by the football team was the final act of student defiance before Saturday’s announcement.
“If I’m going out, I’m going out guns blazing,” McClellan said.
The campus erupted in protest after a “Pimps and Hos” party, hosted by the Beta Gamma Alpha fraternity, took place at McClellan’s on-campus residence and with his approval.
Freshman Cortez Jackson, an 18-year-old sociology major, said he was frustrated by the racial climate on campus and the president’s response.
“As you can see from the president’s reaction he’s extremely tone deaf to the needs and concerns going on here,” Jackson said. “He claims his family members are part of the civil rights movement, and they care about people of color, but you can see the only thing he truly cares about is one color, and that’s green.”
McClellan had said before the University was a business and that having the football team strike would cost the school millions of dollars.
McClellan said to Cortez: “It’s money, power, (and) respect, young man.”
Cortez, replying to him, said it was the students who gave the ex-president those things.
“I have been incensed seeing things I’ve never seen before I got to this university,” he said. “People touching my hair, feeling me up, I felt so violated.”
A pair of demonstrators from Concerned Students 1738 began shouting midway through the conference but would not give their names to The Sun. They did say that Westin spoke for them.
Westin said the new president would need to be receptive to the concerns of students in a way McClellan was not.
“Although he said his door was open, he wasn’t listening.”
McClellan interrupted: “I’m listening now”
He described the situation as huge misunderstanding, and the incident as an issue of free speech, not racism.
“Can’t we all just get along?” McClellan said.
Westin said many students were indifferent to the experiences of people of color on campus.
“If you’re not exposed to the situation yourself,” Westin said, “you might not be sensitive to those issues.”
Westin described McClellan’s resignation as a first step, but not a resolution.
“With the new president, we’ll see where this takes us. Our work may never be done.”
University Communications director Booker T. Crenshaw did not name a new president or set a time frame for when one would be announced.