Genoa Barrow | OBSERVER Senior Staff Writer
A recent campaign of hate had a local Black school administrator contemplating suicide.
A gut-wrenching resignation letter from West Campus High School vice principal, Dr. Elysse Versher, this week reveals the depth of racism and sexual harassment she says she’s experienced over the last three years. Dr. Versher’s departure, effective June 17, results from what she calls a “lack of urgency” from Sacramento City Unified School District in dealing with concerns she’s raised.
“It feels like they just don’t give a damn,” Dr. Versher shared with the OBSERVER. “I realized, ‘Why am I continuously putting myself in this toxic, harmful environment?’”
Dr. Versher, known on campus as Dr. V, first spoke out publicly in November 2021 after the n-word was written multiple times on a wall near her reserved parking spot at the high-achieving school.
Dr. Versher said the racist graffiti and subsequent threats to her life came after she enforced a dress code created by the school’s principal, John McMeekin. McMeekin reversed her decision to suspend a student who violated the policy, following pushback from a parent, she says. Local monitors of SCUSD practices such as Darryl White of the Sacramento Black Parallel School Board said undermining Black teachers and administrators is common to district “culture.”
Prior to the racist graffiti, Dr. Versher says a parent accused her of getting her job through Affirmative Action and another who didn’t agree with a decision, told her that she needed to get the “black cock out of her ass.” She had also previously reported having her tires slashed. She says the school’s principal dismissed the incident as being done by “some homeless person” who may have come on campus.
Students found Dr. Versher’s address and made comments about being able to get to her.
“I was and still am afraid for my life,” she said.
The past six months have been traumatic for Dr. Versher who says she’s now suffering from PTSD. She admits to an unsuccessful attempt at taking her own life.
“It was the constant attacks from everyone. After the hate crime happened in November, students didn’t stop with the racist attacks. The lack of discipline, the lack of investigation from the district empowered them to keep going.”
She took the threats seriously.
“West Campus is a school that has had students threaten to shoot up the school,” Dr. Versher said. “And the shooting in Buffalo just happened.” White gunman Payton Gendron is charged with killing 10 Black shoppers at a New York grocery store. The suspect live streamed the rampage on a gaming platform and the words “Here’s your reparations” were written on his assault rifle.
“This domestic terrorism is real,” Dr. Versher said.
Students found her home address and pictures of her two young children, which they used to compare them to monkeys. Dr. Versher said she forwarded 80 screenshots of social media pages and sites, where students discussed her to officials, but nothing has come of it.
“They’re using very anti-Black, anti-woman language. They’re using sexually inappropriate language that connotes rape. It let me know that I’m not safe at all,” the exiting administrator shared.
Greater Sacramento NAACP President Betty Williams said lack of action and accountability by SCUSD is another example of the many ways Black women are unprotected.
“This is not an isolated incident. Black women education leaders have faced a pattern of racist abuse, often accompanied by inaction from top administrators,” Williams shared.
“In recent months, Black women administrators in the Sacramento City Unified, Roseville Joint Union, and Los Rios Community College Districts have been subjected to racist threats and violence, sexual harassment, and scapegoating,” she continued.
“Senior administrators — many of whom are White men — fail to protect those who are consistently being harmed. Worse, they often side with those causing the harm, thereby perpetuating a culture of White male dominance.”
Williams points to recent incidents involving Black female school leaders — in Granite Bay, Amber Clark, the Black principal at Granite Bay High School was placed on administrative leave last month after the school’s wellness center highlighted a 2013 film in which a family, not associated with the school, voiced concerns about whether or not their church denomination would accept their gay child; and in March, American River College, President Melanie Dixon received death threats from a student with a history of mental illness.
“School boards and district leaders congratulate themselves when they recruit and hire Black teachers and administrators, yet, they consistently fail to address the systemic racism Black women are exposed to once hired,” Williams said.
The Greater Sacramento NAACP is calling on the region’s leaders to investigate resignation and retention rates for Black women in education.
“Our evidence suggests that these individuals leave at disproportionately high rates due to the constant abuse they endure and lack of support from colleagues, top administrators, and elected leaders,” Williams said.
SCUSD hired Black attorney Mark T. Harris as a community liaison in the wake of recent racist incidents within the district. Harris is charged with finding out why such incidents like ones at C.K. McClatchy High School and Kit Carson and Abraham Lincoln elementary schools keep occurring.
Dr. Versher says she’s never heard from Harris. She’s seen him on local television news broadcasts talking about the incidents at the other schools, but no mention of what’s happening at West Campus.
“It’s crickets,” she said.
The silence hurts. “That’s triggering,” Dr. Versher said. “Do I matter?
In a statement issued the day after Dr. Versher issued her resignation, SCUSD said it immediately initiated an investigation into her complaints after she initially made them.
“That investigation is nearly complete. At this point, out of respect to Dr. Versher and the process, the District will not have further comment until the investigator’s final report is issued. We expect that will happen soon,”
The statement reiterated that the district is “committed to providing an environment that is free of racism and harassment for students and staff.”
Dr. Versher said she’s seen the message before but it’s lip service without accountability behind the words.
“Each statement honestly looks copied and pasted from one incident to the next,” she said.
Dr. Versher never returned to West Campus after the November incident. She began having seizures she’d never previously experienced and was hospitalized several times. The administrator said she stayed at the high school, enduring “years of persistent trauma and degradation” because scholars of color needed a champion.
“In fighting for my students, I sacrificed myself and it almost killed me,” she said.
Dr. Versher has retained a personal attorney. Williams says she’s also working with the Greater Sacramento NAACP team and others at the national level to see what action may be feasible for impacted administrators like Dr. Versher.
“Sometimes the only thing people understand is a lawsuit, sometimes that’s what needs to happen to make a change,” Williams said.
Dr. Versher, she said, has exhibited a great deal of courage in speaking out against racism.
“I’m hoping that at some point, she can turn her pain into power, not just for herself, but for others,” the NAACP leader said.
Support for this Sacramento OBSERVER article was provided to Word In Black (WIB) by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. WIB is a collaborative of 10 Black-owned media that includes print and digital partners.