The 1980’s was the decade of “big hair.” Young girls and women were in a constant competition, it seemed, to see who could come up with the biggest, best hairstyles. Various products, including hairsprays and mousses, were used in this signature 80’s endeavor. My wife, beginning in 1984, attended school at First Assembly Christian School. She recalled to me just this morning, that there were a few girls who attended there, with hair styles that were typical of the era. My wife doesn’t recall that this was ever an issue with the school administration.
I tell you this, my fine young readers, to lead in to the following developing news item, coming out of Orlando, Florida. On Monday, a story surfaced in the news regarding young Vanessa VanDyke, a 12-year-old student at Faith Christian Academy, a private Christian school in Orlando. It seems that young Vanessa has been the target of some ridicule from other students, regarding of all things, the natural hairstyle she wears. Concerns over the teasing were brought to the school’s administrators, who then informed Vanessa, according to the family, that she needed to either straighten and tone down her hair style, or face expulsion. When questioned on Monday evening by the media, school staff at FCA Orlando would not answer any questions regarding the matter. (1) (2) (3)
Now, the fact that Vanessa is African-American, coupled with the school being a religious organisation, has made for some very interesting conversation on the subject since this story broke. The piece has been picked up by not only the local stations, but also national news outlets including CNN, the Huffington Post, Jezebel Online and the International Business Times. Once there, it made the jump into the global awareness, via sites such as Australia’s “News.com.au.” As a result, the school’s Facebook page began to be inundated with comments from concerned people from all over the world, the overwhelming majority of which were highly critical of the school’s actions. Late Tuesday evening, the administrators of the FCA Orlando page commenced a campaign of “page scrubbing,” and have since removed most of the comments from their page threads.
Enter The Cybersattva. Following last night’s “sanitation” efforts by FCA Orlando page admins, I sent an email blast to several of the school and church’s pastors and administrators, questioning their actions in light of their status as a faith-based institution. This morning, I received a reply from none other than the senior pastor of the church, one Carl Stephens. The following is a screen capture of the actual email exchange, from Outlook:
Additionally, school administrators informed WKMG-CBS on Tuesday, that they are “…not asking her to put products in her hair or cut her hair. We’re asking her to style her hair within the guidelines according to the school handbook.”
(After giving this a second glance, there are two “linchpin” questions that need asked; “Okay, how exactly is she supposed to “style her hair within the guidelines according to the school handbook,” and if that involves shortening or straightening it, how is she supposed to accomplish this without cutting it or using chemical products!?” Quick FCA, claim ignorance!)
In other words, pastor Stephens now asserts that the media did not get its story straight, and that Miss VanDyke was never in danger of being expelled. (The media is always the easiest one to scapegoat in situations like these, it seems.) Pastor Stephens did note in his reply, that Vanessa is an outstanding student, has “excelled and hopefully will continue to do so.” Having viewed the video footage of Vanessa’s interview on WKMG-CBS, however, something about pastor Stephens’ reply just doesn’t ring true. It wasn’t the media that asserted that Vanessa was facing expulsion over her hair style, it was Vanessa and her family, stating that they were informed of this by the staff of Faith Christian Academy of Orlando.
Damage control is a tricky piece of business. Every word, every assertion and every insinuation gets parsed, examined and interpreted. In this case, it has become apparent that the “powers-that-be” at Faith Christian Academy are all but tripping over themselves in their efforts to re-spin this in their favor. Of course, they have no desire to either outright, or by nuance, call Vanessa or her mother liars, nor do they wish to admit any wrongdoing themselves. Their story keeps changing, though. On Tuesday, they attempted to clarify their request for Vanessa to change her hairstyle, placing it against the framework of their school handbook, while at the same time making no mention of the consequences that Vanessa would face for not complying with the request. Today, they deny that Vanessa was ever threatened with expulsion to begin with.
At this point in the tale of “hair and all that is holy,” I have to give pastor Stephens et al. some credit for at least trying to learn how to pedal a bicycle in reverse. It’s not enough, though. In my own, not-so-humble opinion, the school needs to just come clean. They need to admit that they told the VanDyke’s what they did, and that by doing so, they sided with those who were picking on Vanessa in the first place. They need to admit that this unfortunate series of missteps sent the wrong message, and that they will (honestly and sincerely!) do their level best to change the way in which they address these situations, so that this will never happen again within the halls of Faith Christian Academy.
UPDATE – 02 December 2013: THE SCHOOL HAS RELENTED! Apparently, the “powers-that-be” at Faith Christian Academy have come to their senses, welcomed Vanessa back from the Thanksgiving break with open arms, and will not be requiring her to cut or straighten her lovely locks! Vive le coiffure!