The very first time a lacrosse stick met Pamella Jenkins’ hands, when she was a sophomore at Rye Country Day School in White Plains, New York, she was hooked.
A converted basketball star, Jenkins loved how the complex mechanical movements needed to deliver in games could improve daily with desire and practice. “All you need is a wall, a stick and a ball,” she says. “I loved the fact that if I kept working on it, I could immediately see results when I played.…I loved that kind of instant gratification.”
After a fruitful prep and college career in lacrosse, today Jenkins is the third head coach in the eight-year history of the DSU women’s lacrosse program. She is the self-professed mama bear to a team of mostly Black players from across the country—players who come from mostly white prep programs in a predominantly white sport, and who know the sting of casual racism and microaggressions that come with the territory.
“We’ve talked about that feeling of being a black dot on a white piece of paper,” Jenkins says. “And peoples’ eyes are immediately drawn to that dot, everything that dot does.”
But little could prepare the Hornets for what transpired in Georgia on April 20, 2022. At 10:31 a.m. that day, Liberty County Sheriff’s Office deputies stopped the team bus on the I-95 as the players were traveling home from a tournament. What began as a routine stop (buses are prohibited from traveling in the left lane on Georgia highways) escalated into a tense and demeaning ordeal.
Sydney Anderson, a sophomore defenseman from the Bronx, could hardly believe what was happening.
“In the moment, there was a mix of emotions I was feeling,” she says. “I was scared. I was anxious. I was feeling really inferior and confused as to why this was happening. I remember the bus just being completely quiet. We were all just silent and shocked. One of my teammates was like, ‘What’s happening right now?’… because the majority of us have never experienced racial profiling.”
As cops rifled through the players’ personal belongings—including one now-infamous scene where a deputy badgered senior Aniya Aiken over a gift-wrapped present from her aunt—the DSU women’s lacrosse team managed to keep its composure.
And Anderson knew something the deputies did not: that she was a reporter for The Hornet Newspaper, the school’s student-led publication. Anderson detailed the entire episode in a May 4 article.
“Breathe, but not too heavy. Look, but do not appear guilty. Speak, but never answer back. These are the constant reminders of being Black in America,” she wrote.
Later, she recounted: “Everyone was confused as to why they were looking through the luggage when there was no probable cause. The cops began tossing underwear and other feminine products in an attempt to locate narcotics.”
Within days, Anderson’s story (and accompanying video by freshman Saniya Craft) exploded into national headlines—prompting widespread outrage over a clear-cut example of racial profiling and predatory policing tactics. U.S. Sens. Tom Carper and Chris Coons and U.S. Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester called the incident “deeply disturbing” in a joint statement.
Throughout the ordeal, the players and staff kept their cool. They had nothing to hide. These were Division I athletes, after all; a drug offense would mean a lost scholarship. But as Anderson’s story and Craft’s footage showed, the deputies were needlessly antagonistic, pushing for confessions and threatening possible jail time.
“I think what impressed me the most was how calm and respectful [the student-athletes] remained through that whole situation,” Jenkins says. “And to be accused of something like that and to keep your composure the way that they did…and to be respectful and so articulate in such a tense situation…just made me super proud. I didn’t say anything at the time—I just wanted to lead by example by being calm. I always say that if I want them to do something that I have to first do it myself.”
The Hornets teammates were forced to relive the experience throughout the deluge of national news coverage and statements. And even after the media cycle runs its course, the DSU women’s lacrosse players and staff will be left with the remnants of trauma. Anderson says it took weeks for the latent emotions inside her to boil over.
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“We have to go out and travel again. I’m not sure how they’re going to react. They might not even know how they’re going to react to get back on a bus again,” Jenkins says, adding that she and DSU will work to prioritize mental health and counseling resources for this school year and beyond.
Even through the pain, some good emerged: Anderson’s article showed the world the power of the truth and it gave her burgeoning journalism career a major boost. This past summer, she landed an internship with the Black Wall Street Times in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
“Of course I’m sad that this happened,” she says, “but I’m grateful for the opportunities that it has opened for me in the future.”
Related: Dr. Tony Alleyne Awarded for Helping Under-Resourced Students