Racism on college campuses is nothing new and not at all surprising, but it still brings with it a familiar feeling of disappointment when it interferes with students’ ability to enjoy the college experience and participate in activities they are good at. In the case of one black student from Virginia, racism led to her being rejected from her school’s basketball team.
Jasmine Orsted told the Washington Post that the comments started almost immediately when she began practicing with other students hoping to land a spot on the University of Mary Washington’s women’s basketball team.
One white player wondered aloud, “Why black people name their kids the way they do?” to which another responded that she didn’t have to worry about that because her school “wasn’t in the ghetto” and only had one or two black players on the team, for which she was glad.
“I was astounded,” Orsted said of her 2014 experience at the Fredericksburg, Va., school. “I couldn’t believe that somebody would actually say that, especially in the presence of somebody that’s black.”
The coach ultimately barred Orsted from trying out for the team because of a lack of “chemistry.” Believing that said “chemistry” meant tolerating the racism from other players, Orsted filed a federal lawsuit against the university and settled last month for $160,000.
Mary Washington did not acknowledge any wrongdoing, but as part of the settlement, the school committed to bringing in an outside professional to lead annual sensitivity and inclusion training for staff and students in the athletic department, and from now on, any student who participates in preseason activities for a sport will be guaranteed a tryout.
Orsted is now attending Bowie State University on a basketball scholarship, and she hopes that her decision to take a stand against racism will help others.
“I just want anybody else who goes through this to know that they have to believe in themselves and not let anybody make them think that they’re being too sensitive, that they’re the issue,” she said. “Not let the bullies win.”
The settlement prevents Orsted from disparaging the school, but she is free to discuss the contentions in the lawsuit.
From the Post:
But as the preseason went on, the racial comments continued, Orsted said. One player expressed fear of going to a black church. Another said that black girls don’t shave because their legs are dark. When a girl said she had gone to Haiti, Orsted said another white player asked, “So, did you get a picture with a skinny little hungry black boy?”
When she was asked about her heritage, Orsted told the other women that she had an African American mother and a Norwegian father. She said they were incredulous.
“‘So you have a white dad who married a black woman and they had a baby together?’” she recalled one player asking. “And they just all fell on the ground laughing. And I’m standing there like — this is 2014 at the time, that’s not something unheard of, I don’t understand how it could be funny.”
Orsted told the Post that the team already had two black players on it, one who made jokes about her own race, and the other who would laugh along with white players when racial comments were made.
Orsted said that she and another black newcomer were the only ones who didn’t laugh. That student, who asked not to be named for fear of retribution, said in a deposition that when she confronted other players about a racial joke, they gave her “weird looks” and began distancing themselves from her. She, too, was cut from the team before tryouts and has since left Mary Washington.
Even with all the racist comments and jokes, Orsted was still determined to try out for the team, but two weeks before tryouts, coach Deena Applebury called her in for a meeting and suggested she try a different sport.
When Orsted told Applebury about the racial comments, the coach promised to look into them but added, “When you have, you know, a group versus one person, I kind of have to go to the group because it’s a team sport, for right, wrong or otherwise.”
Orsted told the Post that once her lawsuit began, she looked through old yearbooks in the library and noticed that in the past 14 years, there had only been three blacks on the women’s basketball team.
Ron Wood, who coached the men’s basketball team, said in a deposition that he had warned Athletic Director Ken Tyler about racial issues at the school in 2013, but that Tyler told him that if he continued to press the issue, he would be removed as coach, and that happened two weeks later.
In the summer of 2015, Orsted came face-to-face with several members of the Mary Washington team at a summer league game. Her team was beating them by 20 points as the game wound down, and with one minute left on the clock, the Mary Washington players left the court without shaking her hand.
Because in addition to being budding racists, those young ladies weren’t very good sports, either.
Read more at the Washington Post.