A 16-year-old student athlete in Houston, Texas, is demanding—with the backing of the American Civil Liberties Union—that her school district answer for discrimination during her time as a top runner on a cross-country team.
In a letter sent to Spring Branch Independent School District leaders, the girls’ family and ACLU attorneys allege that the district’s “biased dress code policy and enforcement” and “unequal treatment” towards girls on the cross country team likely run afoul of the Constitution and Title IX legislation.
The letter alleges that staff at the school district gave lower-quality coaching to the Spring Woods Tigers girls cross-country team, and also enforced a sexist dress code policy by forcing girls to wear shirts in the Texas summer heat while boys were not required to heed the same rules.
“Significantly, the District’s enforcement of the dress code only when [Genesis]—the only Black runner on the girls’ cross-country and track teams—participated indicates it is engaging in racially discriminatory practices that are all too common in the United States,” read the letter.
Genesis, who asked not to use her last name due to privacy issues, told The Daily Beast she was singled out after she and others protested treatment by the running team’s new coach, but that she has refused to back down in order to set an example for other girls.
“I want people to know that this is a new generation, and you can’t continue to follow the same misogynistic and sexist rules that you may have followed in the 50s,” the teen, Genesis, told The Daily Beast. “We are not that—it’s a new generation.”
Representatives from Spring Branch ISD did not reply to requests for comment from The Daily Beast, but in a statement provided to the Houston Chronicle, the district denied any discrimination.
“We are aware of the situation with one student at one of our high schools who is dissatisfied with SBISD practices, which are applied to all athletes at that campus,” read the statement submitted to the Houston Chronicle. “SBISD is currently investigating this matter.”
Genesis said she found it strange that the school district would claim they don’t discriminate.
As the teen pointed out, her letter is only the latest firebrand issue in a school district.
“I felt that really odd because … they just recently tried banning a book by a Black author,” she told The Daily Beast.
Spring Branch ISD has recently received attention for banning books with LGBTQ+ characters, as well as a book called The Black Friend: On Being a Better White Person by New York Times best-selling author Frederick Joseph.
According to the ACLU’s letter, problems began for girls on the cross-country team at Spring Woods High School when a coach first told them that they could no longer take off their shirt like the boys while running in Houston’s extreme heat and humidity—a longstanding practice, according to the letter submitted by the ACLU.
“In Texas, as we know, it gets really hot,” the teen told The Daily Beast.
High school cross-country athletes can run up to 8 miles a day and young athletes aren’t always the best at staying hydrated, Genesis explained. Running in a sports bra—just like professional athletes—helps with dealing with the heat, particularly when you can’t buy top-line running gear.
”You don’t know what these kids have at home, so you don’t know if they’re able to buy the proper dry fit clothing material,” said Genesis, who said she documented through photos how teammates would profusely sweat during practice. “The cheapest option may be cotton.”
At the time, Genesis said she was told by her coach that the decision had been made by the principal at the school. But when she asked principal Jennifer Collier, she was told that running in sports bras was just fine, according to the letter.
The following season, team members of any gender were able to take their shirt off once more. But once Genesis returned to practice, the option was banned once again for all genders, according to the family and the ACLU.
“Black girls and other girls of color are disproportionately targeted for dress and grooming code enforcement,” the letter points out.
“She began to question more things, because she kind of lost trust in what was being said,” said Genesis’ mom, who requested not to be named to preserve her daughter’s privacy.
Throughout the 2021 and 2022 seasons, her mother said she noticed that coaches began to treat her differently because of her daughter’s informed critiques on school rules and what she described as improper training. According to the ACLU letter to the district, issues on the team included the fact that coaches provided boys with a greater level of instruction and oversight, while cutting short girls’ practices and neglecting both their medical and training needs.
As things escalated, a parent meeting took place in 2022 that shocked Genesis’ mother.
“They said, ‘This is a rule, we don’t want any butts, boobs and bellies out.’ And so I was very offended by the comment, I thought it was very misogynistic. And I couldn’t believe that the coach said that in a parent meeting.”
According to the letter, just days after the announcement, a boy ran without a shirt at practice. Genesis then took hers off too—and got reprimanded, she said.
At that point, things continued to escalate: She was completely ignored by coaches and wouldn’t get feedback on her running even when she asked, according to the letter.
And, she felt, both her and her family’s complaints to the district weren’t getting the serious response she felt they deserved. A district investigation into her family’s claims was inadequate, the letter claimed.
Instead, despite not missing a practice either season, the cross-country standout didn’t hit her personal record again and despite being the team’s top runner, did not win 2021’s top running prize—both essential resume-builders for a college running career, claimed the letter.
Because of the disappointments and treatment she said she’s received the last two years, Genesis told The Daily Beast she plans to hang up her running shoes for college, and study to be a teacher.
“It takes a lot of perseverance and grit to be able to do this, and endurance, but the coach plays a really important factor, because they’re the ones who are determining how your season will play out,” said Genesis.
For now, however, she refuses to quit her high school team—or to quiet down.
“I still wanted to continue to run so that my teammates knew that just because somebody wants you to quit, it doesn’t mean that you should,” said the teen. “Because you can’t make somebody else make you lose love for something that you’re supposed to love. “