If you were wondering how we got to the point to where an entire group of chaperoned white kids from Covington Catholic High School felt bold enough to openly harass a Native American Vietnam veteran in front of everyone, it’s because racism and hatred isn’t just openly tolerated in certain schools—sometimes it’s even encouraged.
To warn you, this story is vile, but it needs to be told.
Camille Sturdivant is the young, driven black dancer who started dance training when she was four. If you see her performances, you will agree that she is pretty damn good. She was a senior at Blue Valley Northwest in Overland Park, Kansas.
Carley Fine is the studio director of Perceptions Dance Studio in Lenexa, Kansas. She was not a teacher, was not attending university, and was only two years removed from high school. This matters because dance was an elective at Blue Valley NW, and students get grades that count towards the student’s GPA.
Fine was hired because the district superintendent said it was hard to find dance coaches. Fine was a student at Blue Valley and was present at Camille’s freshman tryouts, along with fellow graduating senior Kevin Murakami, which is the only year Camille didn’t make the team.
After she arrived, Fine let it be known that she was not going to follow standard practice.
First, since she was not part of tryouts, the girls would have to “audition” for every performance. In addition, she also encouraged the girls on the team to come and pay money at her dance studio for paid private lessons or take classes—which sort of defeats the entire purpose of being a dance coach. Furthermore, Fine had the students pay a fee to use Perceptions Dance Studio as opposed to practicing at their school.
Yet it was when Camille auditioned that things got ugly:
According to a federal civil rights lawsuit filed in December by Camille Sturdivant, Fine and Murakami pulled then-16-year-old Camille aside, and Murakami told her she was being removed from the dance because “her skin was too dark, and the audience would look at her and not the other dancers.” She was also told that her “skin color clashed with the costumes.”
As awful as that sounds, what the school allegedly did next is even worse.
The parents rightfully demanded a meeting with Amy Murphy Pressly, the principal. Also present was the associate principal, Tyler Alexander. They brought up the racist reason her daughter was told she could not perform:
So what was the response from the principal?
[Camille’s mom] Melodie Sturdivant says the principal’s sole response to the skin color comment was that “Carley is allowed to pick who she wants in her own dance.” It was a weird, out-of-body experience, Melodie Sturdivant shares. “You want to make a scene, jump on a table, but you know the people involved won’t get it.”
Furthermore, the principal reportedly also dismissed the questionable grading practices on the dance team. Essentially, it appeared like Camille’s parents were told to shove it. Amy Pressly and Tyler Alexander, who are both still in their positions as principal and associate principal, seemingly gave a green light to more racism. And that’s exactly what happened.
After all of that, Carley Fine was promoted to head coach. I won’t go into all the racist slights and incidents that Camille was subjected to according to 435 Kansas City Magazine. Suffice it to say, she suffered quite a bit at that disgusting school.
Yet, she rose above. Camille, unlike her favored classmates, made the highly competitive and nationally ranked collegiate champion team: the University of Missouri Golden Girls.
(Well done, Camille!)
But in a parting shot comes the most disgusting piece of vile filth to be heard yet in this story.
Camille was allowed to use the head coach’s phone to play music for dance practice. The words below come from a picture that Camille took of what was on the screen. (The screenshot is on Kansas City Magazine’s page.)
It was a text discussion between Murakami and Fine lamenting that one of their girls didn’t make, but Camille did.
Murakami: I can’t believe Maggie didn’t make it again. I’m heart broken.
Fine: AND CAMILLE MADE MENS. I can’t talk about it.
Murakami: THAT DOESN’T MAKE SENSE. I’m so mad.
Fine: It actually makes my stomach hurt.
Murakami: HA HA (emoji)
Fine: Bc she’s fucking black. I hate that
Murakami: me too.
According to The Hill, when the principal was presented with this, it was finally enough to do something about Carley Fine.
The texts resulted in Fine’s firing after Sturdivant discovered them, but the suit alleges Fine was back on campus working with members of the school dance team several times.
For the final spring show, one of the dancer’s mothers made purple ribbons for all the white dancers to wear with the initials “C.F.” to show their support for Carley Fine—because she apparently was the real victim in all of this. The principal, whom Camille’s parents say had promised to be at the show to ensure Camille’s safety, did not attend. The principal did cancel the team banquet, but a private one was held off-site—and Carley Fine was invited and showed up for that one. Camille was not. Katie Porter, a district teacher, also showed up.
Don’t worry about Carley. She started a new high school dance group, the Dazzler All-Stars. As of Jan. 8, she still claimed to be studio director at Perceptions, where I can only assume she will continue to degrade minorities in peace.
The principal of Blue Valley NW, Amy Pressly, is still overseeing a school where she can ensure that dark-skinned students don’t clash with the uniforms.
Camille Sturdivant, on the other hand, left that nasty, backward school behind. She is currently a rising star who has a very bright future. Oh, and she filed a civil rights lawsuit against Carley Fine, the Blue Valley School District, principal Amy Murphy Pressly, and district teacher Katie Porter.
As I watched the smug face of the kid from another bigoted school, Covington Catholic, while listening to his peers in the back shout “Build that wall!”, I felt pure disgust. Not so much did I feel this with the perpetrators, but at the true culprits—the adults who are supposed to be teaching and guiding them to become better. As with this story, we clearly see that bigotry is learned and reinforced. It falls on all of us to help make them unlearn it.
Well done, Camille. We are so with you.