The UM Women of Color Network will present a two-part event to provide personal insight and advice for women on how to maintain natural and healthy hair this week.
“Pressed by Perceptions: Natural Hair Care and Cultural Expression on a College Campus” will be held tonight in the last week of Black History Month and again Thursday in honor of Women’s History Month. The events will be from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. both days in Weems Auditorium at the Robert C. Khayat Law Center.
Natural and healthy hair has now become a movement across the world. Increasingly more African-American women are turning away from chemicals and relaxers and instead choosing a more natural route to maintaining and growing their hair.
LaTanya Dixon, a member of the UM WOCN, is leading a committee of six women who have organized this campus event.
Part one of the event will give those in attendance knowledge of how to properly nourish and style natural hair. There will also be a panel discussion in which women from campus community describe their natural hair journeys from student, faculty and staff perspectives, according to Dixon.
Part two will consist of a panel of faculty and staff who will discuss cultural expression in the workplace. A mixer with light refreshments will follow the panel discussion to extend the conversation of cultural expression and build community.
Speakers and guests for the event will include Katrina Caldwell, vice chancellor for diversity and community engagements; Acacia Santos, Miss Ole Miss; representatives from four members of the National Pan-Hellenic Council– an acting body for the nine historically African-American fraternities and sororities– and many other faculty and staff who will share their personal hair experiences and advice.
“I believe attendees will appreciate hearing the voices and stories of people they see every day on campus with whom they may not regularly get the opportunity to have these kinds of discussions,” Dixon said.
Santos said she looks forward to hearing the stories of the other panelists.
“I think it’s so important to hear from everyone and know that there are people who have gone through the things you’re going through and have come out just fine,” Santos said.
The struggles many black women face with their hair are not commonly discussed.
“I want those attending to know that they aren’t alone in this,” Santos said. “We’re here to encourage our natural beauty and show those in attendance that it can be done.”
AJ Lester, hairstylist and brand owner of AJ Hair Addiction, said she is excited about the event because it gives women the opportunity share their knowledge of hair. Lester focuses more on healthy hair, as she is currently transitioning to chemical-free hair herself. She will give a live tutorial of a common go-to hairstyle for women wearing their hair natural.
“I feel the event will be a confidence booster for students, staff or anyone who has natural hair or is uncertain,” Lester said.
“Attendees can expect to learn about the experiences and perspectives of women in our campus community, who wear their hair natural in spaces that may or may not be accustomed to natural hair,” Dixon said.
Black women are sometimes more nervous or anxious about how the public may react to their hair and how it’s styled.
Many African-American women start the process of relaxing, or chemically treating, their hair at a young age to achieve a straight, non-kinky texture.
Jannell Granger, a senior international studies and Arabic major, began the process at the age of 13 and stopped two years ago when she grew tired of relaxing her hair. She wanted to do something different with her hair and chose to let it grow naturally.
Going natural is a big step for some women because it can mean a drastic change in appearance.
“When I first did the big chop, I feared that I would come off as masculine,” Granger said. “I remembered that I am not my hair.”
“The big chop” is where women decide to chop off all their relaxed or chemically treated hair. Sometimes this requires women to cut their hair to finger nail length or shave their hair down to its most natural point.
Hair grows from the root, and the newly grown hair is what’s considered to be the most natural of the hair shaft that has been relaxed.
Women can go from easily manageable straight hair to a small ‘fro or a shaved head.
According to Granger, her mom always told her her hair is only 10 percent of who she is, and her confidence is the other 90 percent.
“I have not had an issue wearing my hair confidently, because the most beautiful woman in my eyes is a curly redhead, my mom,” Granger said. “She wears her hair with confidence, and her ability to do that inspired me to do the same.”
Granger will also be speaking in a panel discussion for the event.
These are the types of stories that can be expected during “Pressed by Perceptions: Natural Hair Care and Cultural Expression on a College Campus.”
“We hope their stories and advice will help normalize the cultural expressions of women of color on college campuses,” Dixon said.