Camille Sturdivant has filed a racial discrimination lawsuit against the Blue Valley School District for the abuse she was subjected to as a member of the high school dance team.
Sturdivant, who graduated from Blue Valley High School in Overland Park, Kan., in May 2018, has danced for practically her entire life. She’s a national championship dancer. She’s the epitome of Black excellence.
Sturdivant tried out for the Dazzlers dance team her freshman year, but didn’t make it. Supposedly, freshmen usually didn’t make the team. Sturdivant auditioned her sophomore year and earned a spot becoming one of two Black dancers on the 14-member team.
It appears that throughout Sturdivant’s high school dance career, she was subjected to racist micro and macro aggressions, not only by her coaches, but her teammates. In 2017, Kevin Murakami, a former Dazzler and, at that time, a student at Pace University in New York, was choreographing a piece with Carley Fine, another coach of the team.
Murakami allegedly told the stunning dancer that her rich ebony skin was too dark and that it would distract the audience from the other dancers, if she performed. So he cut her from a contemporary dance number, which the team had been working on. He reportedly went further and said that her complexion clashed with the costumes.
‘We felt it was systematic, that it was absolutely harassment’
Sturdivant’s parents were livid.
“Our daughter came home and was a mess,” Melodie Sturdivant said in the deposition filed in federal court. “She didn’t even know how horribly wrong that was because she’s never been told anything like that. We were stunned.”
But the racist acts didn’t stop there. Even the principal and associate assistant principal dismissed her parents’ concern when they complained about what transpired in the dance class.
Melodie Sturdivant said the principal’s only response to the skin color comment was that “Carley is allowed to pick who she wants in her own dance.”
Apparently, grades were being given in this “class,” which was an elective with no syllabus. Mike Sturdivant, Camille’s father, said, “The girls didn’t know what, exactly, they were being graded on. You’ve got Carley Fine running this program and handing out grades, and she’s not even college educated,” he said. “She shouldn’t be giving the grades. She’s still the assistant, and she’s running the program.”
The following year, Camille’s senior year, she was allegedly told she couldn’t dance in the national competition again based on her skin color. She was then informed that she would be the head alternate and would be put back in the dance, if anyone dropped out or got hurt. Another girl, who was in the dance, transferred to another school so that would have put her back in the performance. She was told by the head coach that she would have to try out again.
Mike Sturdivant had enough.
“We felt it was systematic, that it was absolutely harassment,” he said in the deposition. “If you look at it a different way and say you’ve done all the things we told you to do to get the job, and then we offer you the job, but we’re going to make you keep jumping through additional hoops so it never happens.”
Camille auditioned again. She made the team and performed in the routine.
Carley Fine, who was now the head coach, tried to stop Camille from being recognized or performing every chance she got.
And, although she was subjected to constant degradation, the administrators at the school acted as if it was the Sturdivant’s word against their “dedicated” coaches’ word.
That is, until Fine made the dreaded mistake of having Camille take her phone to queue music for the freshmen performers. It was then Camille got concrete evidence of what her and her parents knew along she was targeted because she was Black and an outstanding dancer.
The senior had auditioned for the University of Missouri’s dance team and she made the team. However, instead of being happy for the talented beauty, a hateful text exchange between Murakami and Fine took place.
Camille was smart enough to take a picture of the message with her phone and sent it to her parents.
“What hurt me the most was that she [Fine] is sick to her stomach that my daughter made the team,” Melodie Sturdivant said. “What kind of hatred do you have that you’re sick to your stomach that she achieved her dream”
“This was the only text message we saw, but how deep it runs, we have no idea,” Mike Sturdivant said.
Now armed with “evidence,” her parents sent the principal the screenshot and even hinted at posting the picture on social media. She asked them not to do it. Given the humiliation their daughter endured and the administration’s lack of action, it seemed like sharing the screenshot would have been the fair thing to do. However, they granted her request.
Fine was finally terminated and can’t ever work in the school district again. The obligatory email to parents went out, which stated: “The District expects staff to treat all students with respect at all times, and any report that this expectation has not been fulfilled is taken very seriously.”
This didn’t put an end to racial targeting though. A final team dinner and banquet was held but Camille’s invitation must have gotten lost in the mail. The Sturdivant’s weren’t notified of the events but Fine was present at both.
A final photo of the dancers after their last performance is usually taken and shared on social media. All of the dancers appeared in the photo except the two Black students. Not only that, the white teammates had purple ribbons in the hair to show that they stood in solidarity with Fine.
That was the last straw for the family, and now a lawsuit has been filed.
1.pdf The lawsuit can be read here.