A Black Kansas college student says she was kicked off her school’s cheerleading squad because of her hair.
Beginning her freshman year, Talyn Jefferson was a member of the Ottawa University cheer team. She tells Yahoo Life that her passion for cheerleading comes from her background in gymnastics and she’s participated in the sport 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,” Jefferson says. “The sport is year-round, so it always keeps me busy and entertained. I love the acrobatic aspect of cheer as well.”
But her career came to an abrupt halt on Jan. 5, when the college junior and team captain showed up to a regularly scheduled practice in her bonnet. In messages posted to her Twitter account and rehashed to Yahoo Life, Jefferson says that coach Casey Jamerson told her she needed to take off her bonnet, but the 20-year-old refused because she did not want her long box braids to hit her teammates.
Jefferson alleges that Jamerson said that she was using her “hair as an excuse” and then proceeded to become hostile, yelling, “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 added that she was then kicked out of the practice. She wrote that the next day, during a meeting with Jamerson and the cheer director, she was able to express her concerns about the interaction, which she felt was discriminatory and displayed “microaggressions.” 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.”
For all of the people who think it was just about the bonnet or the hair. It was the micro-aggression and vulgar language for me.... let me know how y’all would feel (POC) if a white women told you they know what it’s like to have “hair like that”. pic.twitter.com/4dwmJWPRC7
— Tal😇 (@talynjefferson) January 26, 2021
After multiple meetings with administrators, Jefferson 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.”
Though Jefferson says she was surprised that her coach reacted in such a manner on this particular issue, she admits that this was not the first time Jamerson had said something inappropriate.
“She once made a remark stating ‘not everyone has long pretty European hair’ — as if a Eurocentric look is the appropriate beauty standard for our sport,” Jefferson recalls.
The incident went viral after several of Jefferson’s friends and teammates posted about it on social media, coming to her defense.
MY FRIEND WAS THE CAPTAIN OF THE TEAM LAST YEAR THE REALLY THE KICKER FOR ME!! If she was so bad in the past why was she captain ? She is a DAMN GOOD CHEERLEADER AND SHE WAS DEDICATED ASF NEVER MISSED AN EVENT !
— JayZee (@tharealjayzee) January 22, 2021
“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. 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,” she says.
According to Jefferson, though most of the reactions have been overwhelmingly supportive, there have been others that have taken the side of her former coach.
“There are some people who use the fact that I did not want my hair to hit anyone against me, by claiming that my braids really were a hindrance,” she says. “Those people seem to be missing the point that it was not directly about the braids or the bonnet itself, but about the microaggressions and the verbal attack. To those people I ask this: If it were my natural hair that was causing an issue on that day of events, don’t you believe that the coach still would’ve said those exact same microaggressions?”
Ottawa University has since made its Twitter account private, but it released a statement to Yahoo Life on Friday claiming that it is limited in its ability to discuss the matter but has done a thorough investigation.
“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. 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,” the statement read in part.
On Saturday, Jamerson resigned from her position. “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. “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.”
Asked for her reaction to Jamerson leaving, Jefferson reponded, “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 adds that even with Jamerson gone, she doesn’t want to return to the team.
She hopes the same for the university community at large.
“A microaggression does not mean that someone is racist, but that also does not mean that they are not capable of saying racially insensitive things in disregard of their very own white privilege or white benefit,” she explains. “This situation was very unfortunate, but things like this happen and we should not shy away from admitting our wrongdoings, accepting them and apologizing so we can all move forward in a positive light.”
Jefferson says that the incident has been a blessing in disguise, as she has gotten offers from other schools and has also applied to a historically Black college where she hopes she can resume cheerleading.
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