Open Letter to Principal of Harrison College
Dear Ms. Wade:
It is with much concern that we have come to learn of actions taken by the administration of Harrison College deeming the twist-out style often worn by girls and women with non-chemically treated hair as inappropriate for school. As alumni/ae of Harrison College who are proud of the institution, the role it has played in our development and the contribution it continues to make to the growth and education of young people in the region, we would like to share our thoughts with you on this matter. We hope you will be open to transparent and democratic discussion, and that if we are at all mistaken in the facts or our premise, you will kindly clarify.
We speak often of modernized curricula at the secondary level, and the need to pay attention not just to academic/technical areas of study, but to the sense of identity that young people develop as students. Part of this identity is of course the history of their country and region, and their place in this history. Not just in the Caribbean but wherever young, Black women live, we are told that our hair is somehow inadequate: it is ‘hard’ or ‘knotty’. It is not straight ‘enough’, although enough for whom or what one cannot be sure. And where we are kindly allowed to wear our hair naturally as it grows from our heads, there are caveats: as long as it is pulled back or braided tight or otherwise tamed. Now let us concede the expectation of a tidy appearance to accompany a school uniform. But there is nothing inherently untidy about a twist-out style. In fact, it helps keep strands of hair in place, where otherwise they may have blown about. It is no different from a simple afro, unless this too is considered too distracting for school. Among our primary concerns is the message being sent to young women of African heritage in this country that their natural selves are of necessity untidy, unsuitable or otherwise inadequate.
A further concern relates to the overemphasis being placed on appearance in general. How one wears one’s uniform is, or at least should be, a minimum condition for entering school and participating in classes and other activities: as long as one appears reasonably kempt, this should be sufficient to proceed. It should not be so important as to overtake all other considerations, such as academic achievement (for which attendance at class is a necessary input), sporting success, socialization and social interaction, and personal empowerment and development. That a student should agonize over his/her own simple, natural hairstyle in order to satisfy some wholly artificial and arbitrary notion of what is tidy or suitable is a miscarriage of educational authority and a misunderstanding of the purpose of rules and discipline. The latter are not meant to micromanage personal decisions and to stifle pride and creativity, but to provide a framework within which students can make intelligent choices, and can relate to their colleagues, faculty and other staff.
The argument that “students can do whatever they like once they enter the real world, but this is school” also misunderstands the role of formal education and the process of young people’s development. School is the real world. Young people are understanding themselves and their environment, and while becoming who they will be, they also are. They are real, valid human beings with thoughts and ideas to express. They are not drones, not soldiers, and attempting to make them so suggests a lazy, outdated approach to discipline which we are sure does not obtain at Harrison College.
In short, we feel that this needless condemnation of a style of wearing one’s natural hair is harmful and communicates a dangerous message not just to the students and parents of the school, but to the community and the country’s young people. We encourage you to rethink this position, and remain at your service to continue this discussion.