Daily Egyptian

From Ball State controversy to Carbondale: new dean of students settles into role

By Tierra Carpenter

Jennifer Jones-Hall moved to southern Illinois this past summer to start her job as SIU’s dean of students, filling the position that had been vacant for three years.

Her appointment comes about two years after a controversy that led Jones-Hall to resign from her position as assistant vice president of student affairs and director of student life at Ball State University.

The problems began when a senior named Chloe Anagnos received Ball State’s John R. Emens Outstanding Senior Award during the spring of 2015. This is an award Jones-Hall said is given to “one student a year in honor of their contributions to the university.”

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Jones-Hall said two members of Ball State’s Student Government Association she also nominated for the award, Chris Taylor and Nick Wilkey, were not happy about Anagnos receiving it because she owned a Confederate flag.

This is a fact about Anagnos that Taylor, the student government’s chief of staff at the time, said was common knowledge around their campus. He said many minority student activists were upset to hear Anagnos was chosen for the award.

Taylor said Anagnos had at one point changed her opinion regarding the flag, but students were not sure of her sincerity.

“They knew about the history and questioned whether or not she had really changed her mind,” he said.

The Star Press reported that Paul Ferguson, the president of Ball State at the time, released a statement to the university community saying that Anagnos had apologized for any offense she had caused regarding her Confederate flag.

Ferguson also said Anagnos “reflected on the personal growth she has experienced — primarily from her relationships at Ball State with many friends of diverse backgrounds. This, in itself, reflects the transforming impact of our university community on personal growth.”

Jones-Hall said she nominated Anagnos for the award because she believes in free speech.

“It may not be what you want to hear or what I want to hear, but I’m a believer that people have a right to their opinions,” she said.

Jones-Hall said she wouldn’t own a Confederate flag herself, but she can’t control if someone else does.

“I’ve been educated what a Confederate flag stands for,” she said. “Not everybody has that same viewpoint as I do.”

Taylor said the controversy really picked up after an email Jones-Hall sent to the student government’s executive staff.

“The Big 4 are not making comments because the[y] are funded through the university,” she said in the email. “I would be careful not to bite the hand that feeds you. My two cents.”

The “Big 4” refers to the Black Student Association, Spectrum, the Latino Student Union and the Asian American Student Association on Ball State’s campus.

Taylor said Jones-Hall was responding to an email asking for her advice on writing a public statement responding to how students felt about Anagnos’ nomination.

Their main goal was to make the selection process of the award more transparent for the following year, Taylor said.

Jones-Hall said her words in that quote were taken out of context, and they would be better understood when reading the entire email.

“I was trying to say to those two students, please don’t go up against the university, because the university thought that she deserved this award,” Jones-Hall said. “I was really trying to help them navigate the interaction they were about to have.”

Taylor sent an email on March 23, 2015 to Ball State administrators, alumni and other members of the campus community explaining his thoughts on the entire situation, including the email from Jones-Hall.

Taylor said Jones-Hall’s statement was not taken out of context, and he took her words as a threat.

“I included that excerpt in my letter because it spoke to the practice of the division of student affairs … This is someone who for the last two to three years I’ve had experience with threatening organizational funding because she doesn’t like what they’re doing or what they’re doing or what they want to say,” Taylor said.

When the letter Taylor sent was spread around, the situation grew and Jones-Hall said she found herself under fire.

She said she used various avenues to reach out to Taylor and Nick Wilkey, the student government’s president at the time, but they were unresponsive.

“It made me look pretty bad,” Jones-Hall said. “At that point I made the decision that Ball State was not the place for me to be at that time.”

Jones-Hall said she hopes her experience at Ball State does not affect the way SIU students see her.

“I think if they met me, and if they saw me, they would see that I had the student’s best interests at heart, that I’m very student-focused, that I’m very visible, that I’m willing to listen, that I’m willing to go to bat for them,” she said. “I’m willing to advocate for them, but I’m also willing to let them know realistically what can happen and what can’t happen.”

Jones-Hall started her job at SIU in June after taking part in a national search in which Lori Stettler, SIU’s interim vice chancellor of student affairs, said graduate students, undergraduate students, faculty and staff were part of the screening committee.

Stettler said three candidates were brought to campus for interviews, and they also took part in open forums and met with students.

Jones-Hall described coming to work at SIU as “coming home” for her because her family has connections to the university. She said her parents met and graduated from SIU, and her grandfather went attended the university as well.

“It feels very much like a college town, and I appreciate that,” she said. “I am more of a small town person, so I love it.”

Before coming to SIU, Jones-Hall’s 30-year career included working for the University of Arizona, Valparaiso University and Ball State University. She held various positions, from hall director to assistant dean of students for Greek life and new student orientation.

Out of all of the universities she could have applied to, Jones-Hall said she chose SIU because she is interested in connecting with students, and she knew the dean of students position would allow her to do that.

“My strength is working with students one-on-one,” Jones-Hall said. “I like to program. I like to visit with students. I like to find out about students. I like advocate for students. Because of that I was very interested in coming to Southern.”

She also said she knew that a lot of people probably wouldn’t be open to the position because of the affects the budget crisis has had on the university.

“I was willing to eyes wide on kind of come into the situation and really make the best of it,” Jones-Hall said.

One of the first events she held at the start of the semester was a vigil at the Student Services Pavillion, held to recognize those affected by recent hurricanes and the Las Vegas massacre. She said she wanted to hold the vigil so the university doesn’t seem like they aren’t responding to important incidents.

“My intention as a dean of students is to make sure that I’m listening to the students, and that I am responding accordingly. … I got in on that Monday and I thought, ‘Oh my God. There was this huge tragedy. I need to do something about it,’” Jones-Hall said.

She said she reached out to students from Florida, Houston and the Caribbean following the hurricanes.

“It was important for me to acknowledge that there were crises happening in the world, and if they needed a resource, I needed them to find me and I could help them,” Jones-Hall said.

When President Donald Trump decided to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which shielded young immigrants from deportation, she said she also reached out to DACA students.

“My biggest thing is that if there is a student on this campus and they don’t know where to go or who to see, always start with the dean of students office, and we can find the resources to help them,” Jones-Hall said.

Tierra Carpenter can be reached at [email protected] or @tierramc_.

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