Like many students, Courtney Jackson had switched his major a few times during his first few years at UTC and was unsure about what he would do in his future career.
All that changed the morning he learned that the older sister of his childhood best friend, Tasha, was murdered by her estranged husband in a parking lot outside of her workplace in September 2014. Tasha had recently filed for divorce and had a restraining order against her husband.
Describing Tasha as “one of the great lights of my life,” Jackson became determined to make a difference in the lives of women in similar situations. He graduated this past weekend with a degree in Women’s Studies and plans attend law school next year. His ultimate goal is to become a Title IX coordinator for a university.
Title IX coordinators play an integral role at universities in ensuring safe, inclusive learning environments by overseeing compliance with Title IX, a federal law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex in any education program or activity.
“Tasha was like a big sister to me. She was such a burst of joy. So charismatic and spontaneous. I wouldn’t be honoring her memory if I didn’t do something to help other women,” says Jackson, who has a tattoo with the names of Tasha’s two daughters, Cyla and Calise, circling his right wrist.
Becoming better listeners
While in the Women’s Studies program, Jackson took such courses as ecofeminism, violence against women and more.
“Before I came to UTC, I never knew the extent of what women go through. From domestic violence to sexual harassment to unequal pay, there’s so much that needs to change in our culture,” he says.
Men need to become advocates for women, he says, and that starts by simply paying attention to what they’re saying.
“We all need to be better listeners,” Jackson says. “When women talk about these issues, it can fall on deaf ears. Instead, we need to tell women that their stories matter, that they matter.
“Men need to step up to the plate. When women suffer, we don’t win. Nobody wins.”
Support from UTC community
Jackson almost didn’t make it to graduation in May. After Tasha’s death, he took two weeks off from school and wasn’t sure he was going to come back to complete his studies.
“I was completely devastated. It was one of the most challenging times in my life,” Jackson remembers.
He credits the support from UTC’s staff, especially Tara Mathis, associate dean of students and director of the Multicultural Center, for helping him heal after Tasha’s death.
“Dean Mathis has my cell phone number. She would personally call me and ask if how I was doing, if I had had something to eat that day. I don’t know what I would have done without her,” Jackson said.
Whatever happens in the future, Jackson says Tasha’s daughters are one of his driving forces. Bright and funny, they remind him more and more of his late friend.
“They’re little firecrackers. I want to build a better world for them,” he said.