A Black high school student in Texas was sent back to in-school suspension this week for refusing to change his hairstyle. It is the latest in a series of disciplinary actions taken by the school, including a suspension lasting over a month.

Jaleesa Reed is an assistant professor at Cornell University whose research focuses on the intersections of beauty culture, identity and place informed by human geography. She says rather than opting for punitive measures, institutions can create more enriched learning environments, promote inclusivity and embrace diversity by providing students with opportunities to learn about cultural hairstyles.

Reed says:

“The specifics of the dress code at Barbers Hill High School are familiar; dress codes have a history of restricting expression in the form of dress, especially for female students. These standards are typically presented as rules meant to reduce distractions in the learning environment. In Texas, where the CROWN Act prohibits race-based hair discrimination, the school district instituted additional requirements around hair length with the reasoning that students should ‘sacrifice’ their ability to express their cultural heritage in order to increase conformity.

“Unlike appearance conventions around hair color and length, locs have historical and cultural significance across the African diaspora. Their length represents the time and labor invested in maintaining locs, which also highlights the reasoning behind the resistance to cutting them.

“These repeated attempts to control Black hair expression through organizational policies demonstrate the need for the CROWN Act to be in effect at the federal level. Rather than punishing students, providing opportunities to learn more about cultural hairstyles could enrich the learning environment and foster acceptance of differences.”

Cornell University has dedicated television and audio studios available for media interviews.

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