By Jennifer Hicks
In October of this year POC Talk was contacted by a Evergreen Student and former Geoduck Basketball player about alleged racism and harassment they experienced while on the basketball team here at Evergreen. The reason for this request was that they felt that the school lacks transparency when it comes to discriminatory treatment of students of color on campus and the way they handle the offenders. The student, who has requested to remain anonymous, submitted a Title 9 discrimination case against current Women’s Basketball Coach Jennifer Schooler in February of this year. In support of this student POC Talk has decided to publish the findings of this Title 9 case.
First some background on Jennifer Schooler. Schooler, who has self identified as a person of color herself, has been head coach of the women’s basketball team since May 2014 and served as assistant coach for 4 seasons under Monica Heuer before taking over the position of head coach after Heuer stepped down to become full-time sports administrator for the Geoducks in 2014. As far as game records go Jennifer is credited with“…establishing a program record for highest single-season winning percentage, while also finishing fourth in the conference with a 10-8 record.”
POC talk was able to get ahold of the Title 9 cases from the school through a public information request. The information received is as follows 4 allegations of violations of the college’s non-discrimination policy and sexual harassment policy were made and Schooler was found to be in violation of 2 of the four cases.
The allegations are:
Complaint 1. Allegations of “racially offensive and derogatory comments” made” in front of the team to [student1] and others, …as a means of correcting and developing basketball skills”
Complaint 2. allegations of “violation of discrimination and sexual harassment policies” due to “offensive and derogatory comments made in front of team about aspects of her sexual orientation” in relation to [student 1’s] same sex marriage and portland gay pride t-shirt
Complaint 2 (II). In addition “she instituted a policy prohibiting same-sex, intra-team dating and publicly disciplined member of the 2015-2016 team for violating this policy, and/or failing to report and confront teammates known to have violated the policy”
Complaint 3. Above behavior coupled with the coach’s negative attitude and “negative, intimidating and critical coaching methods, including publicly berating and humiliating players,” this created an “intimidating hostile and offensive learning environment” and “constituted discriminatory harassment.”
Jennifer was found to be violation of the discrimination policy for complaint 1 and complaint 3
She was found to be not in violation for both of the sexual discrimination allegations.
The first complaint come in the form of an insult that was directed at her team. The complainant specified that, “late in the season during half time at an away game against PLU, a visibly angry Coach Schooler came into the locker room and in front of her team slammed her clipboard down on the floor, and yelled ‘I will not coach a team of ghetto players!’ [student 1 and student 2] reported that the Coach looked directly at them as she yelled and as a result they felt the derogatory and negative statement was directed at them and other students of color on the team”.
In another reported incident she was quoted as saying in front of the team, “If you think white teams feel intimidated by Black players, think again because they don’t!”
She was also reported to have told the complaintants, “This isn’t the toughest thing you will face!, which the players said made them feel like she was reminding them about the burden of being a person of color in our society. The students are quoted as saying, “It felt like her angle was was to remind us that we’re Black; to single us out because of our race.”
“[Student 1 and student 2] reported that the makeup of the other teams in Evergreen’s league consisted of all or mostly all Caucasian players. This issue created problems in the past for evergreen with frequent harassment issues directed at players and even directed at former coach heuer. [Student 1] surmised that Coach Schooler did not like that Evergreen had this reputation”.
The coach wanted to change this reputation but the issues arise with the way she went about dealing with the challenge of fighting discrimination focus at students of color.
When questioned about these incidents (specifically about the use of the term ghetto) by Laurie Mastin, (the school’s affirmative action & equal opportunity officer) Coach Schooler had this to say: Coach Schooler acknowledged making the comment and explained she did so to describe “an uncoached streetball type of play” and that “during the game- in the heat of battle or in the heat of a game, but it was never intended to be about race. I’m proud of the diversity on the team” adding “I did not define it ahead of saying it so I could see how they might have interpreted it differently.” She is also quoted as saying “due to our diversity, teams believe we are undisciplined and that we don’t deserve success. When i said this [ghetto-ball] I was telling them to not let anyone have the satisfaction of being able to call them ‘ghetto’ basketball players.”
Coach Schooler seems to have some cognitive dissonance going on between what she tells the players and what she actually believes- how can something be “never intended to be about race” while still acknowledging that the term was being used as a way to address other teams opinions of the players “due to our diversity”? She tries to make it clear the teams are not intimidated by Black players but them almost chastises them with the classic we have to work twice as hard type of mentality often directed at players and students of color. Placing the blame on the students themselves as if diversity is the issue and not white supremacy’s influence on the way people view people of color. She acknowledges that the term ghetto is “bad” when she states that she does not want people to have the satisfaction of calling her team this name but them uses the same term against them. It seems obvious to POC Talk why this would be hurtful to some players of color.
The issue is, it doesn’t matter how she herself decided to define it the word ghetto is a racially loaded term and her responses sounds like classic color-blind deflection. Instead of acknowledging that she made a mistake and that she did make a racist comment she deflects by saying the equivalent of, ‘oh I guess they could have taken it that way but I’m a good person and that’s obviously not what I meant (because I got caught)’, following it up with the classic, ‘I loooove Black people, obviously “I’m proud of our diversity”’. She also places the blame on the victims when she states, “they could have interpreted it that way”, when it is clear from the context that she meant it to be interpreted that way. Make no mistake- what she did say was; you are acting like a Black basketball team, and the obvious connotation of that is that Black equates to bad, unruly, uncivilized, and unprofessional, and that within itself is extremely racist, unprofessional and unacceptable.
For this allegation Coach Schooler was found to have been in violation of discrimination based on race as it is defined by the school.
2nd complaint (I & II):
Schooler was not found to be in violation for both allegations of discrimination and sexual harassment policies. In both cases it seemed to be lack of evidence, lack of witness corroboration, limited accounts and conflicting views that made it impossible to determine whether schooler was in fact in violation. The report did find that, “Coach Schooler is responsible for setting the tone as to appropriate public conversation…and needs to be careful that seemingly innocent conversation or light teasing does not cross the line into discriminatory harassment.”
Examples of verbal abuse:
Allegations of verbal harassment, intimidation and meddling in the personal lives of players were leveled against Coach Schooler. It was self reported that Schooler has high standards of her team, expecting them to behave “like model players”, explaining that her overall interest is to “make them accountable to themselves and their team, and in the long run make them better people”, even going as far as requiring her team to always exhibit good body language. It would appear though that the manner in which she requests these things from her team does not hold herself to these high standards she has set, as what she had called ‘strict coaching methods’ were deemed by the school as crossing into the territory of verbal harassment and intimidation. [Student 1] alleged that Schooler complained that she was “lazy, disrespectful, unprepared and uncoachable.” Schooler herself is quoted as saying [Student 1] is “disrespectful, uncoachable” but in the Title 9 report the investigator found that “…after speaking with multiple persons involved with Coach Schooler and the women’s basketball program, it seems as though [student 1’s] attitude change likely had to do with months of exposure to Coach Schooler’s hostile, verbal criticisms, and not due to difficult expectations, and uncoachable nature, or influence from other players.”
Similar concerns about Schooler’s behavior have been expressed by other students, and at one point the school was even contacted by the parents of a fellow teammate, who called to inform the administration that, “…inappropriate things [were] being done by the coach. She is crossing boundaries that should not be crossed…” The complainant isn’t the only person on the team to feel the pressure when doing with Coach Schooler- all in all “four players reported they felt like there was nothing they could do to please her.” And, “players also expressed feeling intimidation from Coach Schooler and specifically fear of public humiliation if they shared personal information or if they asked questions about any of her policies and expectations”
Not all the players took issue with coach Schoolers tactics- one player who now volunteers with the coaching staff was quoted as saying, “Coach Jen packs a powerful punch, but her style of coaching is meant to push players to be better and not to cut corners.” and, “At first it was hard to receive that level of criticism. Sometimes it really stings but she has my best interest in mind.”
Although not all players have reported issues with Coach Schooler, no players should not be experiencing fear of public humiliation from someone who is being paid by the school and has authority over them as players and students. What worries me most here is that is it appears that Coach Schooler has a bias against players of color, or more specifically Black players- even though Schooler herself is a POC, anti- blackness is not a trait only associated with white people. Anti- blackness and white supremacist world views are ingrained in our culture and the thought process of many american citizens regardless of identity whether consciously or subconsciously. Black people have often through history been deemed lazy disrespectful un-coachable or un-trainable. While I cannot say for sure this was the case in this situation, it seems likely given the evidence provided. In any case public humiliation and harassment are not instances that should be taken lightly especially when they are coming from someone who has monetary power (scholarships) and authority (as a coach) over students and players. This is not an acceptable form of coaching.
POC Talk would like to give space for the complainant’s wishes regarding what action should be taken with regards to Coach Schooler. Schooler did state that she would like to revisit the possibility of the student rejoining the team. The student, despite stating that she “loved the sport of basketball”, has said that she “would never again subject herself to the verbal abuse of Coach Schooler. She also said she would like Coach Schooler to apologize to those whom she mistreated and she would like the College to reimburse those students who lost the tuition waivers which coach Schooler had previously promised but did not provide.
There is also a second ongoing Title 9 investigation against Jennifer Schooler that has yet to be finished to date.