“Does anyone on campus do braids?” “Anyone know where I can go for a good fade?” Two and a half years ago, a group of friends noticed “that everyone kept asking the same questions all the time” on the Black at Brown online chat, says Alexis Newell ’20. Inspired, Newell and her friends founded Brown Black Hairitage, Brown’s first and only black hair club. Every week the lounge of the Brown Center for Students of Color becomes a safe space where black students gather to discuss their hair and all that comes with it.
Each week approaches a different topic, like the stigma of black hair in media and society. Students—full disclosure, I’ve been one of them—are able to talk about negative experiences they’ve had surrounding their hair. One student recalled a time when she was nicknamed Medusa just for having long braids. Another grew tense as she shared a recurring high-school experience: “Strangers, without asking, would shove their hands into my hair. I always thought it would stop if I changed hairstyles, but it didn’t,” she said. “No matter the style, people still placed their hands in my hair. It’s demeaning, non-consensual, and invasive.”
During general meetings members discuss, debate, and advise one another on more positive topics, as well, sharing favorite local hair braiders and barbershops. Other weeks are workshops on topics like winter hair care, edge maintenance, identifying your hair’s porosity—one key to avoiding dryness by using the right product—and learning how to style your hair in ways that protect it from breakage. It can take a black student six hours, on average, to get their hair styled in a professional salon—a time commitment that can put a strain on any student’s study schedule. Learning to do quick, DIY protective styles, like twist-outs and cornrows, can help a lot.
Outside of the weekly meetings, the Black Hairitage club is working with the Brown Bookstore to provide inventory geared towards kinky, curly, and differently textured hair. The club is also collaborating with other Brown organizations, like the League of United Black Women, to bring alumni back to campus to speak about their expertise and experience with black hair. One speaker this fall was Kerlyne Jean-Baptiste ’16, who founded a product line for black hair called KerlyGirl.