On Feb. 6, University of Tennessee, Knoxville students gathered together in the Student Union to discuss the topics of natural hair and beauty.
Rocky Topics, which began last spring, is intended to create a safe space for all attendees. Furthermore, the series has grown into large discussions about challenging topics that students and faculty feel passionate about.
Assistant Vice Chancellor and Dean of Students Dr. Shea Kidd Houze led the discussion. Houze introduced UT Note Taking Coordinator Tamara Griffin, who is accredited with the idea for this specific session.
“I think there may have been some misconceptions about why people are natural or why people have chosen a particular way to wear their hair. I thought it would be an interesting conversation to have so that people could have a better understanding and get some different perspectives. And to understand more so than anything that we really are all the same and it really is just hair. It’s external,” Griffin said.
Houze asked the audience to think about why they were there and why the topic was important to them. Many of the students found themselves there for similar reasons, such as struggling with acceptance of their natural hair or wanting to hear more about other peoples’ experiences.
Additionally, Houze shared her own experience and gave an informative history on natural black hair. Afterward, students discussed their own experiences and how they could be allies with one another.
“The fact that this issue was raised by students, faculty and especially women of color is something that’s important to talk about and something that’s important to affirm,” UT student Wesley Smith said. “I think that in itself makes it an important topic, a topic worth talking about and a topic especially worth white students being in this space to learn and listen.”
This conversation aided in the understanding of “natural” and what it means to each individual. It also demonstrated how it affects the diverse student and faculty groups at UT.
Houze also led a panel discussion concerning questions about what experiences black women and men have had to go through in order to transition to their natural hair. Hair transitions take place when someone is growing out their natural texture then chopping off the unhealthy or processed ends.
“There are a lot of commonalities between black women in our community,” UT student Karmen Jones said. “Sometimes you can feel like you’re the only individual that’s going through it but just seeing that we all have common experiences shows that we are all on similar journeys.”
At the end of the session, Houze asked a few of the panelists to give a word of encouragement. Many of the panelists encouraged students to build each other up and love one another for who they are, not what stage their hair is going through.
The next Rocky Topics discussion will be on March 11. The discussion will focus on free speech and compassionate care in light of the upcoming presidential election.
Edited by Gracie-lee Strange and Grace Goodacre
Featured image by Amber Scruggs