Making Homecoming history at Illinois State
For the first time in Illinois State University history, both the student Homecoming queen and king were black students. In previous years, diversity had been represented through members elected to the Homecoming court but never had there been a time where both students represented the black student community. This moment is a reason to be excited in a time where Illinois State is building a culturally-responsive campus community.
Jaylon Jones, a senior athletic training/physical education major, and Ashley Shannon, a junior broadcast journalism major, combined their efforts to become this year’s Homecoming king and queen. However, running for Homecoming court was not always in Shannon’s plans. She did not want to apply initially but received encouragement from a fraternity brother who had put in his application as well. Shannon received more support after Jones reached out to her to go through the process together.
“I saw her post in GroupMe about her running, and I texted her since we knew each other. We then went through the whole process together,” Jones said. “We were late to the interview portion because of an accident and thought we would be closed out, but we made it.”
Although Shannon did not anticipate running, Jones had his eye on Homecoming king throughout his time at Illinois State. One of his fraternity brothers and mentors had previously ran for Homecoming king and was unsuccessful, making Jones interested in Homecoming court. He ended his junior year by adding “running for Homecoming court” on his senior year list of goals.
For those that aren’t aware, members of the Homecoming court are decided through a rigorous application and interview process that also includes a vote open to all current students, faculty, and staff. The application, interview, and popular vote are then converted into a point system to decide who will be named Homecoming king and queen from the elected court members.
Outside of serving as Homecoming queen and king, Shannon and Jones are involved in a myriad of activities. Jones is a resident assistant, a student athletic trainer, a University Scholars Association member, and a singer in Outlandish, a student a capella group. Shannon is involved in a number of organizations including Phenomenal Women Win, a mentoring program she helped to found, Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity, and Outlandish a capella group as its manager. Both are also ISUBCA scholarship recipients. Both Jones and Shannon said they draw their strength from their faith in God as they both grew up in churches and are a part of the campus-based spiritual group Impact.
Since being named Homecoming queen and king, Shannon and Jones have noticed differences in the way they are treated on campus.
“People are a lot more open to talking to me. People tell me I inspire them and I’ve never thought of myself in that way,” Shannon said. “People who are 60 or 70 are thanking me for the change I’ve made.”
“I’m an extrovert so I’m used to smiling and waving at people, and now people are doing that back,” Jones added. “ISU let me take over for a day on Snapchat. A lot of other opportunities have opened as well. I went from being recognized by the black community to the campus community.”
Shannon added, “I really just want to encourage students that, no matter your background, with enough work you can do what you want. There are people who will tell you what you can do and cannot do. The [ISUBCA] scholarship was the first spark this year that showed people believed in me. It was life changing. It showed me I can do anything if I tried. They believed in me, so why wouldn’t I believe in myself?”