Talyn Jefferson wants to set the record straight: She was not removed from the cheer squad at Ottawa University because of her box braids hairstyle.
The 20-year-old junior from Lawrence said she was kicked off the cheer team because she stood up for herself as a young Black woman against a white woman’s microaggressions.
And she says school officials quickly labeled her “angry”, a dangerous trope often used to attack a Black woman’s character.
“Unfortunately, the moniker of the angry Black woman is assigned to Black women who challenge societal norms that mirror blatant discrimination or those who choose to amplify their authentic voices even when their rhythm doesn’t assimilate to white supremacy culture,” former KSHB-TV 41 reporter Lisa Benson said.
Benson was reprimanded, suspended and eventually firedfrom the E.W. Scripps Company-owned station for sharing on her personal Facebook page an article from The Guardian titled “How white women use strategic tears to silence women of colour.”
“This is just another societal attempt to neglect, shame and control Black women,” Benson continued.
Jefferson was handed a raw deal almost from the beginning of an ordeal that started Jan. 6. The school planned to honor her scholarship for this semester, university officials said, but Jefferson has no plans to reenroll at Ottawa.
Can anyone blame her? She doesn’t feel safe on campus. And the people in charge of making sure she is protected failed miserably.
Jefferson is owed an apology from the school’s administration. Anything less is unacceptable.
“I didn’t do anything wrong,” Jefferson said. “I don’t deserve half of what the school did to me.”
Jefferson said she was kicked off the Ottawa cheerleader squad after she stood up for herself against microaggressive comments that her coach made about her long braids during a practice.
The coach, Casey Jamerson, recently resigned, as she should have. Not only was Jamerson accused of making racist statements about Jefferson’s hair, but she also cursed at the student, according to witnesses.
“Talyn didn’t deserve that,” cheer teammate Elanna Goodwin said.
Attempts to reach Jamerson for comment were unsuccessful. She filed a police report alleging she was being harassed online and threatened, but no arrests have been announced, according to Ottawa police.
Ottawa University should consider mandatory diversity, equity and inclusion training for administrators, coaches and staff, whose makeup does not mirror the 48% diverse student body at the school.
Currently, the staff is only required to sign a form acknowledging they have read the university’s diversity statement.
But what did top administrators at Ottawa have to say? Almost immediately, the school sided with the coach, treating Jefferson’s concerns as a young Black woman as an afterthought.
Worse, the university’s compliance office failed to interview Jefferson after her claims of discrimination went public. The office read statements from Jamerson and Jefferson, interviewed other students and staff who were there, and reviewed video footage. The shoddy investigation concluded that no university policy violations occurred, school officials said.
How was the school able to make that determination without speaking to the alleged victim? Multiple people were questioned about the incident, according to university officials. Jefferson was not among them.
Now she has powerful allies taking up her cause. The ACLU of Kansas is trying to determine if Jefferson’s civil rights were violated.
“No Black woman should be subjected to racist comments or discriminatory practices because of their hairstyle, whether it’s on the athletic field, in the classroom or at the workplace,” ACLU of Kansas interim legal director Sharon Brett said.
School president Reggies Wenyika characterized Jamerson’s resignation as “a loss to our community.”
What Wenyika fails to realize is losing a student-athlete such as Jefferson is a true setback to Ottawa, a community about 50 miles southwest of Kansas City. People describe the 3.0-GPA student majoring in sociology as a talented athlete with a soft spot for kids. She has been a cheerleader since she was 12.
Jefferson plans to transfer to a historically Black university in Houston in August. She has ruled out a return to Ottawa.
“All I wanted from the beginning was an apology. I never got an apology. I wanted them to acknowledge that my feelings were hurt,” she said.
Ottawa University officials should be ashamed about how the school treated one of its students.