Where Do Black Students Style Their Hair?

Ahsha Davis wraps her braids in a bandana, Herrig Hall room 007, on the campus of Central Michigan University, Mount Pleasant, Michigan, Monday, October 12, 2015.
Ahsha Davis wraps her braids in a bandana, Herrig Hall room 007, on the campus of Central Michigan University, Mount Pleasant, Michigan, Monday, Oct. 12, 2015.

Central Michigan University doesn’t just advertise what is offered within the boundaries of the school’s campus, but also what the surrounding Mt. Pleasant community can provide to students.

For students new to Mt. Pleasant, which has a population of approximately 25,971 people according to the United States Census Bureau, it is easy to point out what is there and what isn’t.

Students mention there are most of the common fast food chains, a decent selection of bars and clubs, a couple of tattoo parlors and even a couple of thrift shops. However, different types of students have different needs.

Black students often call to attention that Mt. Pleasant is missing something essential for collegiate life. There aren’t any barbershops.

However, this isn’t exactly true. Mt. Pleasant does in fact have a number of barbershops. Most of them are within 15 minutes of campus via car. However, what students mean by this is there are no barbershops or salons that specifically style or cut black people’s hair.

For many people in black and white communities, barbershops and hair salons are a place not only to get your hair cut, but also a place to have good conversations, learn about what is going on in the community, and, for some, to just be around their neighbors and friends.

The cultural significance of the barbershop in black communities is well documented in films like “Barbershop” and in television shows like “Everybody Hates Chris.”

Needless to say, that cultural experience can’t be had if there isn’t a barbershop for black people in Mt. Pleasant.

This isn’t to say that black residents can’t get their hair cut or styled anywhere, but a piece of what it meant for people to go to a barbershop or hair salon in their community, or one like theirs, is lost.

Why don’t black students visit the same beauty salons and barbershops as white students?

The answer is both simple and complicated. In the most simple terms possible, black people and white people have different hair textures, therefore, just because someone can style or cut a white person’s hair doesn’t mean that he or she can cut a black person’s hair.

Anne Tecklenburg Strehlow, a geneticist at Stanford University, said in an “Ask A Geneticist” post for The Tech Museum Of Innovation, that human hair texture can range anywhere from, “pin-straight to extremely curly.”

“Follicles that are round in cross-section give rise to straight hair,” Tecklenburg Strehlow said.

“Those out of which curly hair grows are oval. Very tightly coiled hair is due to the nearly flat, ribbon-like structure of the follicles. This hair texture is very common in people of African ancestry,” she said.

In fact, of 100 black students briefly surveyed on campus, 76 revealed they would not want someone of another race to style their hair due, in part, to these biological differences in hair type.

The survey, which was given by Insider, asked students to not only answer yes or no questions regarding their hair, but also attempt to explain why they answered the way they did.

Ahsha Davis, a 19-year-old sophomore from Redford, Mich., said she, along with many of her friends, came to CMU knowing beauty salons might be an issue.

The Metro-Detroit native, and multicultural advisor of Herrig Hall, said many of her friends, “had hair styles that we knew would last us a long time, that’s why so many of us came to school with braids.”

“When I got here, I knew there would be fewer options than in Detroit, but I didn’t know how few options there really were,” Davis said.

Davis is not alone in this discovery. Out of the same 100 black students polled, 61 admitted to having some difficulty in finding a place to get their hair done or cut.

Where do black students go then when they need a haircut or have their hair styled?

Out of those 100 black students, 26 said they waited until they went back to their hometown to get their hair styled. For the remaining 74 students, referrals from friends and honest luck gave them solutions.

Chicago senior Stephanie Turner has tried going to the salons in Mt. Pleasant, doing her own hair, and finding other students who know how to do hair.

The 21-year-old Broadcasting major said she went to Salon Three One Two and wanted a simple wash and trim, but the woman who was styling her hair seemed as if she had, “never touched a black person’s hair before.”

Although Turner admitted that, “she actually did a pretty good job,” she couldn’t help but to feel the wash was still a bit, “half-assed.”

Turner, who has previously found friends to do her hair, had to blow dry her own hair after returning to her dorm later that day. She hasn’t gone to that salon since.

“You should be able to deal with all hair types if you get certified,” Turner said. “That would only make sense if you work in a college town.”

Black students, who make up a mere 7.68 percent of CMU’s population and only 3.9 percent of Mt. Pleasant’s population, have a right to inquire about beauticians in the community and the amount of training needed to work at a salon here, but some students bypass this process completely.

Rondall Murray (right) cuts Martez Coleman's hair, Troutman Hall room 401, on the campus of Central Michigan University, Tuesday, October 6, 2015.
Rondall Murray (right) cuts Martez Coleman’s hair, Troutman Hall room 401, on the campus of Central Michigan University, Mount Pleasant, Michigan, Tuesday, October 6, 2015.

Rondall Murray, a junior from Detroit, Mich., has cut hair on campus since early 2014.

The 20-year-old barber started out cutting his friends’ hair, but has since become one of the common go-to barbers on campus for mainly black male students.

“I Initially didn’t want to [cut hair] at all, but when your friends start offering money, it’s hard to say no,” Murray said.

Murray himself has seen how few barbers there are for black men in Mt. Pleasant, noting that it’s difficult for incoming freshmen to find somebody up here they trust with their hair.

From cutting hair in his Troutman Hall dorm room as a favor for a few friends to having gained loyal customers, Murray said most of his business comes from connecting to minority students.

“I think most of my customers came from friends referring them to me when they were looking for a barber that wasn’t far away,” Murray said.

Out of the same 100 Black students polled, 81 said the only barbers/barbershops in Mt. Pleasant they are aware of came via friend referrals.

Turner, the student who had to blow dry her own hair after visiting a Mt. Pleasant salon, did mention she had been to a salon with a friend and found one person there that could style her hair.

Tyme of Change, another salon in Mt. Pleasant, has a stylist who can work with all types of hair. His name is Cy Williams.

Williams, 33, has cut hair for nearly two decades and has used that experience to cater to those students who would otherwise be getting their hair done in the residence halls or not in Mt. Pleasant at all.

“We pick up our business a lot when CMU students come back from break,” Williams said. “Besides, the population in Mt. Pleasant gets a lot bigger, so that helps. It’s so small without CMU [students].”

Williams, who finished beauty school in 2006, believes to work with one type of hair, you should be able to do all types.

“If you work with hair, you should know how to do all kinds of hair,” Williams said. “That just makes sense if you ask me.”

Williams enjoys seeing black students come into the salon after having not found another place in Mt. Pleasant that can meet their hair needs.

“Students are always excited when they find some place that they could find back in the city up here,” Williams said. “I think the more people find out that there really is diversity in Mt. Pleasant, they’ll be happy about that too.”

 


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