A Black college student says she was kicked off her school’s cheerleading squad because of her choice in hairstyles. Now, the ACLU is investigating to determine whether or not the school violated her civil rights.
Talyn Jefferson joined the Ottawa University cheer team during her freshman year and told Yahoo Life that her passion for cheerleading stems from her background in gymnastics, which she has practiced since middle school.
“I love the fact that I have found all of my lifelong friendships through the sport, having done it for the last eight years of my life,” she says. “The sport is year-round, so it always keeps me busy and entertained. I love the acrobatic aspect of cheer as well.”
On January 5, her cheer career came to a halt when the college junior and team captain attended a practice wearing a bonnet. According to messages posted to her Twitter account, Jefferson says that coach Casey Jamerson told her she needed to remove the protective head covering. The 20-year-old says she refused because she didn’t want her long box braids to hit her teammates.
Jefferson claims Jamerson then said she was using her “hair as an excuse” and yelled, “I don’t understand! I do understand! I do Black people’s hair! I’m a cosmetologist! I lived with a Black girl for five years. I do understand what it’s like to have hair like that.” Jefferson reveals that she was then kicked out of practice.
The next day, Jefferson explained that she had a meeting with her coach and the cheer director where she voiced her concerns about the interaction, which she felt was discriminatory.
Jefferson said the coach responded, “I’m not racist. It wasn’t a microaggression. I work with Black people, I do Black people’s hair, I have a weave in my hair right now.”
After multiple meetings with administrators, Jefferson says she was removed from the roster. “They told me that I needed counseling and that I have ‘anger issues’ and that I defy authority,” she wrote. “I am the opposite of angry. I was just standing up for myself.”
The whole situation has gone viral after several of Jefferson’s friends and teammates posted about it on social media, coming to her defense.
“I honestly did not intend to make this a public matter at all. I told my friends and family, the people I felt it was necessary to tell, and I was going to deal with it and try to move past it,” wrote Jefferson on Twitter. “However, the screenshots most everyone has seen, I sent those messages to my friend and she decided to post about it publicly to make it known. However, I am very glad that she did. Still, all that I wanted was an apology, which I still have not received.”
As a result of the public outcry and even some backlash, Jefferson’s family has requested that the ACLU look into the incident to see if legal action is warranted.
“It sounds like she experienced a pretty difficult situation with her coach,” said Sharon Brett, interim legal director for the ACLU to the Kansas City Star. “Hairstyles are a cultural and ethnic thing for many people, particularly for Black women. There is a racial stereotype that could be at play here.”
Ottawa University released a statement to Yahoo Life on Friday (January 29), claiming Jefferson was not removed because of her hair and while they have concluded their investigation, the institution is limited in its ability to discuss the matter further.
“The University shared statements with the OU campus community and on social media last week that provided the information we are able to share publicly, while still respecting student and staff rights to confidentiality,” the statement read in part. “In what seems to have become an unfortunate trend in today’s society, social media is replete with misinformation regarding this situation. The University has no further comment on this matter.”
On Saturday, Jamerson announced her resignation as coach. “As I reflect over the events of the past three weeks, I can only conclude that my further involvement with the program is likely to continue to be a distraction for the team, our coaching and athletic staff, and other members of the OU community,” Jamerson said, according to Yahoo Life. “I do not want that for anyone involved. My colleagues and I have built a program of which we are very proud. By stepping away now, it is my sincerest desire that the OU cheer program, especially its student-athletes, will continue to grow and flourish.”
Jefferson says that the whole situation should be a learning experience for everyone. “I would just say that I hope this situation has been as much of a learning lesson for her as it has been for me.” She also added she would not be returning to the team, even with Jamerson’s departure.