March 7, 2012
Ralph Taylor, Purdue
As I reflect back on my personal experiences as a Big Ten student-athlete at Purdue University (1965-69), I feel that I was treated fairly by all of my professors with the exception of one, who hailed from Mississippi. I had the good fortune of having the same counselor for all four years who made sure that I was taking the right courses and credit hours to graduate in four years. In addition, Bob King who was the Assistant Basketball Coach, also made sure that we went to class and that we did our class work. The 60's were turbulent times and coming to campus as a freshman from an integrated high school, I quickly learned that students were either from segregated school systems in the south, de facto segregated schools in the north or from all white rural or suburban schools. In my freshman year, the entire student body was around 25,000 students, of which African-American students totaled less than 70. During my final three years on campus, the university continued to increase the number of incoming African-American student-athletes and students. During my years at Purdue, there were no African-American coaches, administrators or referees. As an athlete, I escaped the less than pleasant experiences that some of my peers and fellow students experienced, either through sheer luck or naiveté. However, I remember quite well the cultural adjustment and frustration that my peers experienced in coming from the south and from northern de facto segregated schools and participating in student protests on campus. Our basketball teams were close knit groups, who to this day, remain in contact. By my senior year, I had the largest fan club of any player on the team and in 1996, I was selected as one the four all-time crowd favorites in Purdue basketball history.
In 2002, I began serving on the Advisory Commission, and that's when I discovered a little known history fact about the Big Ten Conference. I found a 1974 article by John Behee entitled, "Hail to the Victors! Black Athletes at the University of Michigan" that looked at controlled participation and exploitation of black athletes in the Big Ten from 1921 until the early 1970s. Working on the Advisory Commission has been a very rewarding experience for me. I am proud of the fact that our conference is the only one that has established a commission of this kind. It's also provided me the opportunity to develop friendships with my peers from the other schools and afforded me with the opportunity to look at similarities of issues and concerns faced on other campuses by African-American student-athletes. Working on the commission has kept me informed of the current trends and issues facing student-athletes.
Some of the changes I have seen during my tenure include: applicants for both campus and bowl internships no longer restricted to a specific ethnic or racial group; implementation of on-line campus survey; recommitment of schools to support the intern program; revision of Campus Visit Report Questionnaire; increased focus on female student-athlete issues; conduct spring meetings with the Big Ten SAAC; conduct commission spring meetings on a campus; commission members schedule SAAC visit on campus.
What does the Advisory Commission mean to me? I feel that the Commission is an auxiliary arm of the Big Ten conference that examines the not only the problems of African-American student athletes, but also the issues that affect the academic, athletic and campus life environments of student-athletes of all races. I also feel that the Commission has a voice to be heard when it comes to the conference's employment of minority personnel. It also means to me that I have the opportunity to give back to the institution that provided me with a four year scholarship by accepting their request for me to represent the university on the commission.
Working with the commission has given me the opportunity to work with the Purdue athletic department staff and to meet each year with Purdue student athletes to assess their campus experience and to provide them with a sounding board to discuss their concerns and issues. I am given the opportunity each year to present a summary report of the student questionnaire to the athletic department staff. With trending issues and concerns from the report, the athletic department staff takes the necessary steps to resolve them.