If administrators at Florida A&M University forced me to cut my beloved braids because I needed to conform after graduation, I would quickly throw up the “deuces” sign and find a school more accepting of my culture.
Fortunately I don’t have this problem, but a number of business students are facing this decision at another historically black college and university – Hampton University.
Officials of the university’s business program decided to extend the strict dress code of suits and ties to include hairstyles.
The rules prohibit men in the five-year master’s of business administration program from wearing braids, cornrows or dreadlocks according to CNN, and women can only wear their hair in braided styles as long as they aren’t “extreme.”
The business school’s dean, Sidney Credle, believes the policy isn’t racist because the attire can help students overcome the racial stereotypes they can encounter in the professional world.
But it seems the school is preparing them for future racial stereotypes by making them part of the college experience.
There’s nothing wrong with a dress code to make sure students dress professionally, but targeting styles that are unique to the black community says something is wrong with us – and the look of corporate society is superior.
Hampton was actually one of my top college choices during my senior year in high school. But I’m thankful I didn’t go there because the private university’s history of censoring student expression in the past few years is appalling.
In November 2005, the university tried to expel students for organizing a protest against the Bush administration’s policies, and in 2003 after student journalists reported the school’s health code violations in the student cafeteria, officials seized copies of the newspaper and destroyed them.
HBCUs have played a part in history for students to become leaders and speak out against issues hurting black students and the black community. What would have happened if FAMU tried to expel students for participating in the Tallahassee Bus Boycott of 1956?
This issue reminds me of a scene in Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man.” The university president expels the narrator after he accidentally shows a white contributor to the black college a part of town that is “beneath” that of the “college educated negroes.”
That scene reminded me that black people can’t always blame outsiders for the state of the black community because sometimes we can be our own worst enemy.
Maybe the “hair code” at Hampton isn’t what’s really upsetting me. It’s the underlying mission of Hampton and even FAMU’s business schools – to train students to work for someone else.
“We’re developing professionals who will go into corporate America for the most part and so we don’t want extreme hairstyles,” Credle told the WRIC-TV8 news station in Virginia.
Having the acceptable “look” wouldn’t be as important if the business program sought to make students entrepreneurs.
I’m sure the many top corporations are not worried about finding people to fit into their cubicles.
But the lack of black-owned businesses is one of the black community’s major economic problems.
HBCUs should focus on professionalism, not suffocating student expression.
Ebonie Ledbetter is a sophomore newspaper journalism from Fairburn, Ga. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.