Letter from the Editor: Strutters’ concerns with my documentary

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Jaden Edison, Editor-in-Chief

A month ago today, The Star released a documentary titled First Black, produced by me, highlighting the organizational history of The Texas State Strutters, The Star and Student Government and experiences of Ravyn Ammons, Carrington Tatum and Corey Benbow navigating through first black leadership in those respective organizations.

I thought the documentary—in which I began putting the concept of it together during winter break—would serve as an educational piece that all of our community and those organizations could be proud of. It intended to serve as a testament to how far we have come at Texas State while still acknowledging there is long trotting ahead.

But since its release, the validity of Ravyn Ammons’ first black head captain distinction in the film has been called into question by Strutter alumnae. Some claim that a [phenomenal] black woman named Brittany Hunter-Lane, who served as a senior captain during the 2010-11 school year, was actually the first black head captain of the organization. 

After days of contemplation, numerous discussions and some sadness about my journalistic credibility being called into question—something that I have worked tirelessly to build—I am writing this to address those claims from former Strutters and explain how I reached the conclusion I did.

Throughout former Strutter Director Susan Angell-Gonzalez’s term as director—from 1997-2013—she used the term ‘head captain’, and when she did, she traditionally had one Strutter appointed to the position.

During the 2010-11 school year, Angell-Gonzalez named Hunter-Lane, then Brittany Hunter, a Strutter senior caption. Hunter-Lane is recognized as the first black captain of the organization.

A bio of Brittany Hunter-Lane from her website.
A bio of Brittany Hunter-Lane from her website.

But the same year Hunter-Lane was appointed a senior captain, another Strutter named Taryn Smith, a white woman, also served as a senior captain, making the two co-captains for the school year. There was no solo head captain listed that year, unlike previous or following years during Angell-Gonzalez’s term.

A Texas State Strutter yearbook page from 2010-2011.
A Strutter document from 2010-11 that shows Brittany Hunter and Taryn Smith listed as senior captains.

The year before Hunter-Lane and Smith’s terms as senior captains, Angell-Gonzalez appointed a [solo] head captain. 2010-11, according to what I had already known and a May 9 phone conversation I had with Angell-Gonzalez herself, was the only year she had two senior “head” captains.

Angell-Gonzalez also said the following year she appointed one head captain and three senior captains. In simpler terms, she had a clear distinction between captains and a head captain on several occasions.

Over the last month, since the documentary’s release, I have received a Twitter message from a Strutter alumna; an email from Hunter-Lane herself; an email from the Strutter Board of Directors; a phone call from Angell-Gonzalez (mentioned above); a Letter to the Editor from a Strutter alumna—all regarding my choice to recognize Ammons as the first black head captain.

Here are quotes from each party summing up their rebuttals to my reporting:

“‘Head Captain” is a new term/office Tammy Fife created in the last few years. Prior to that there was just a Captain and Lieutenants. Occasionally 2 girls were “Captains” because they were both deserving but they were equal and both in charge. So technically Ravyn is the first “Head Captain” but only because that’s a new term. The first African American to be in the highest officer position of the SWT/TXST Strutters was Brittany Hunter.” – Tamara Minter, Strutter alumna

“Within the Strutter organization the term “Head Captain” and “Captain” are not differentiated. Throughout the existence of the Strutter organization, there have been three Strutter Directors (Barbara Tidwell, Susan Angell-Gonzalez, and Tammy Fife). Each Director referred to their top officers by either Captain or Head Captain. However, both titles are representative of the top officer. My title was given to me under the direction of Susan Angell-Gonzalez who has preserved and archived Strutters’ history for the Linda Gregg Fields Strutters’ Gallery. Mrs. Angell also assisted Dr. Kathy Fite in her writing of two Strutters’ history books by providing factual historical information. During her time at Texas State, Mrs. Angell referred to all of her top officers interchangeably as Captain or Head Captain. However, they both are indicative of the top officer. Therefore, to say that Ravyn Ammons is the First Black Head Captain of the Texas State University Strutters is not true.” – Brittany Hunter-Lane

“Brittany Hunter Lane was one of two Senior Head Captains for the Strutters Organization in the 2010-2011 school year. During that school year, Senior Head Captain was the top leadership role in the Strutters Organization. We would be remiss not to recognize Ms. Lane as the first African American Senior Head Captain for the Texas State University Strutters.” – Strutter Board of Directors

“Brittany Hunter and Taryn Smith were two upcoming seniors, and their leadership skills and dancing ability were top-notch; they were outstanding leaders and incredible dancers. And what one had in leadership, the other one had in other abilities and so forth, and to me, they balanced one another out. So I had decided that year that I was going to have two head captains and not one head captain, one senior captain and one junior captain… But instead, I announced to the team, ‘this year we’re going to have two senior head captains, and I’m pulling up a lieutenant who is going to serve as a junior captain.'” – Susan Angell-Gonzalez, former Strutter director

“As anyone who has been involved in the dance world knows, the head officer can be named a multitude of things (and yes Strutters is not exempt – when I was a freshman line member and then a sophomore lieutenant the title of top officer was called Colonel) so whether or not the actual title was Head Captain or she shared the top ranking with another person is irrelevant she was the TOP OFFICER. I want you to think about how you would feel if someone came along and diminished your earned contributions just because it was called something different. Brittany deserves recognition for her representation of Texas State during her time on campus and since graduating.” – Stacy Ache, Strutter alumna

Further, current Strutter Director Tammy Fife reached out to The Star’s director and faculty adviser, Laura Krantz, for a conversation about my reporting. I should also note, I repeatedly attempted to get in contact with Fife through phone and email and still have not spoken to her since the film’s release (outside of a very brief, dropped phone call).

Now, with all of this presented, I want to make something clear to Strutter alumnae who have expressed concerns over my documentary: I will not be involved in a battle of semantics. Further, I stand on my decision to recognize Ammons as the first black head captain of The Texas State Strutters.

The documentary highlighted the rich white history at Texas State and within each organization. Ammons, Tatum and Benbow discussed some of the struggles they faced navigating through black leadership in historically white organizations. Moreover, systemic racism, oppression and lack of diversity and inclusion are well-documented throughout every Public White Institution of higher education in this country.

I take all of that, and I think about what it truly means for a black person to be trusted in a position of leadership in predominantly white spaces or organizations. It means that—100%—someone trusted them to make decisions on behalf of the organization, represent the organization, speak for the organization, teach within the organization and so much more. Moreover, when history shows that a white person was trusted to do those things, and finally, a black person is given an opportunity to do the same—it means that much more.

When I look at the year 2010-11 when Hunter-Lane and Smith were chosen as senior captains, respectfully speaking, I do not see those things—and that is certainly not a reflection of Hunter-Lane’s leadership or dancing abilities; her resume speaks for itself. By Angell-Gonzalez choosing two senior captains and no solo head captain, there was a 50/50 dynamic.

When a decision was to be made, each leader had to check with the other leader. When it was time to go out and represent the organization, two faces were associated with it. When it was time to speak on behalf of the organization, two voices did that. And when it was time to teach, two people shared that responsibility.

When Fife chose Ammons as a head captain for the 2019-20 school year, there was no other woman chosen—there was no 50/50 with a white woman. Fife chose a black woman to lead the way as the one and only head captain of the organization that year—a historically white organization.

Texas State Strutter Head Captain Ravyn Ammons stands stands quietly, watching one of her teammates speak.
Texas State Strutter Head Captain Ravyn Ammons listens to one of her teammates speak, Friday, Jan. 24, 2020, after a team practice at Strahan Coliseum. (Jaden Edison)

It is accurate to acknowledge Hunter-Lane as the first black captain of the Strutters. She paved the way for black leaders of the future and did it with the utmost class and honor; I respect, appreciate and admire her deeply. Ammons is the first black head captain.

In Hunter-Lane’s email, she said something that still resonates with me today: “My story has been untold since 2010; not because I am unwilling to share it, but the same institutional structures that this documentary speaks of were present throughout my time at Texas State.”

Respectfully speaking, the fact that Hunter-Lane feels this way is a reflection of the Strutters, the university and the same underlying principles addressed in the First Black documentary. It speaks volumes that an organization that claims to be about diversity and inclusion did not do its due diligence in making sure one of its most important alumnae ever received the recognition she deserves.

Over the last several days, several former black Strutters have spoken out about not feeling included in the Strutters during their respective times in the organization.

https://twitter.com/_lovehill/status/1266795132419964929?s=20

Witnessing all of these developments have saddened me. But I am even more motivated to ensure that these women—and black students alike—have a platform to voice their opinions and for their stories to be told. The First Black documentary was only one step in that direction.

Again, I stand by my choice to recognize Ravyn Ammons as the First Black Head Captain of The Texas State Strutters.


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