The University of Arkansas at Fort Smith came under attack on social media over the weekend due to a complaint about the UAFS men’s basketball coach.
A letter by Mr. and Mrs. Reginald Williams and Tyler Allen Williams, a former UAFS student and basketball player, was posted on Facebook Saturday. The letter described what the Williamses described as a racist act by the coach in regards to the Tyler Williams “dreadlocks” hairstyle. Williams, from Edmund, Okla., was a guard and the second-leading scorer for UAFS for the 2018-19 season.
In the posted letter, Williams and his parents said UAFS Coach Jim Boone, who was hired as the coach to replace Justin Bailey, who resigned in March, told Williams he did not like hair like his and he would not recruit players who had hair like his. In his 2018-19 roster photo, Williams sports chin-length dreadlocks that are pulled back from his face.
“When I met Coach for the first time, he made an offensive and racist statement directly to me,” Williams is quoted as saying in the letter.
The comments made Williams feel as if he “had fallen back into the darkened days of African American history that he had read books about, has seen in movies, television and discussed in our home. To witness this tragic setback was devastating to Tyler,” his parents wrote in the letter.
According to the post Williams and his parents met again with Boone to discuss the first meeting. At that time Boone said, “We make it clear that once you get in here, you are not going to have your hair a certain way.” The post noted that because he was a senior, Williams would not be required to change his hair. In the letter Williams’ parents stated the whole hair issue was racist, because it is Williams’ natural hair.
“Boone is attempting to enforce grooming policies that disproportionately affect people of color, particularly black people,” the letter said.
Outrage ensued over social media as the post was shared multiple times about a UAFS employee acting in a racist way over an ethnic hair style. Williams tweeted a post on Twitter that he would leave UAFS “due to undisclosed reasons and I will be attending Southern Nazarene University for the 2019-2020 season.”
In a message from Dr. Terisa Riley, UAFS chancellor, that was sent to employees and posted on social media Monday (Sept. 2), it is noted that the incident had been reported to the university two weeks ago and is under review by the human resources department.
“At that time, the allegation was sent to the university’s EEO officer in the Department of Human Resources to be investigated. This is our standard practice for investigating any allegations of wrong-doing against employees of the university. The Department of Human Resources has not issued a final report; thus, I will not comment on specifics of the investigation in order to protect the rights of the employee and former student,” Riley said.
She said UAFS will not tolerate racism or retaliation.
“We never want a student to leave the university feeling disrespected or devalued, and this situation serves as a powerful reminder that we must continually assess and work to create an inclusive environment that values all members of our community,” she said.
The findings from human resources are expected later in the week, according to a UAFS spokesperson.
The idea of racism targeting hair styles is not new. In February the City of New York took action to do something about it. Through its Commission on Human Rights, the city banned discrimination based on hairstyles, according to an article in the New York Times.
This ban means that in the city, employers, landlords, school principals, gym owners and others can not engage in “a persistent form of racism that renders certain judgments of how African-Americans wear their hair.” Those who do will be subject to penalties and civil damages.