Officials at Ottawa University have launched an investigation after a junior student said she was removed from its cheerleading team for refusing to remove her hair bonnet during practice in an effort to keep her braids from striking teammates.
After Talyn Jefferson stood her ground on the issue, she said a white team coach insulted her with insensitive statements about Black hair. Following her dismissal from the team, Jefferson would share her story via text with a friend, who in turn posted the story on Twitter earlier this month, according to the Kansas City Star.
The coach made jokes about her hair and said she understands Black women’s hairstyles, Jefferson said. “I do Black people’s hair,” the tweet quoted the coach saying. “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.”
— JayZee (@tharealjayzee) January 17, 2021
The 20-year-old said she didn’t intend to take her story public on Twitter, but was grateful that her friend shared it on the social media platform, which has brought more attention to her predicament.
“I got kicked off because I was standing up for myself against microaggressive comments that the coach made toward me, that made me and others very uncomfortable,” Jefferson told the Star. “Instead of the university addressing the fact that the comments were out of line and made me uncomfortable and the coach should have apologized, their solution was to kick me off instead.”
She later revealed on Twitter that she has "withdrawn from the school due to personal financial issues,” as rumors began to form that she had been expelled, the Kansas City Star reports.
Last week, Jefferson reiterated on social media that she was being truthful in her portrayal of the event despite attempts to besmirch her character.
“I am NOT lying I have no reason to lie! I was done wrong in this situation. Simple. Of course, people on the other side of this are going to call me a liar, in an attempt to make me look bad. All I ever wanted was for this to be fair,” she wrote.
I am NOT lying I have no reason to lie! I was done wrong in this situation. Simple. Of course people on the other side of this are going to call me a liar, in an attempt to make me look bad.
All I ever wanted was for this to be fair‼️I couldn’t even get an apology…
— Tal???? (@talynjefferson) January 22, 2021
A teammate came forward on Monday and validated Jefferson's story, saying 18 other witnesses can confirm the coach disparaged Jefferson.
I am on the Ottawa Cheer team. Talyn has nothing to lie for. Myself and 18 others can account for what Talyn is stating. This was not a private discussion. This happened during a scheduled practice! So, yes she does have witnesses!
— ELanna Goodwin (@ElannaGoodwin) January 25, 2021
Ottawa University officials confirmed in an email to the Kansas City Star that Jefferson had been let go from the team, but said it “had absolutely nothing to do with her hairstyle” nor the practice incident.
Additionally, officials said, “no student has ever been sanctioned or expelled for wearing box braids, bonnets, or any other hairstyle.”
Jefferson said the school alleges she was removed from the team because she defies authority and has anger issues, according to the Kansas City Star. Jefferson claimed she had no misconduct issues at the university.
— Tal???? (@talynjefferson) January 23, 2021
Scott Albright, a spokesperson for the university, referred to the incident as “regrettable,” and confirmed the matter was being investigated by officials. He declined to discuss specific details, citing restrictions due to student privacy and confidentiality laws.
University President Reggies Wenyika expressed that he's worried about the "narrative" being shared about the event on social media. He said that university officials have talked with Jefferson, other witnesses and evaluated video footage from the incident.
“The university recognizes that incidents of this nature can inflame passions, which can potentially lead to erroneous things being said or written,” Wenyika said. “However the targeting personal attacks and false and misleading information currently being circulated on social media are unfortunate.”
Following the case’s developments, Jefferson revealed that she's looking at other universities to pursue her degree.
Black hair and Black hairstyles have been at the center of discrimination lawsuits across the country.
Sen. Cory Booker introduced a federal CROWN Act in 2019 following a similar bill being passed in California through Sen. Holly J. Mitchell’s efforts, as Blavity previously reported. The Kansas City City Council voted unanimously in October to enact the CROWN Act, which includes hairstyle and texture in the city’s definition of racial discrimination, The National Law Review reports.