all the things that make it more difficult for a woman of color to land a good
job, IUP senior Rebecca Colon has spent the last two years studying one aspect
that might go somewhat unnoticed.
actual issue is race,” she said, “but they’re using hair as the barrier. They’ll say, ‘you may be qualified for this
job, but your hair does not meet our grooming policies.’”
a sociology major and native of Philadelphia, presented her research project, “Discrimination
of Women of Color: Hair Perceptions,” on April 4 during a session at the annual
Undergraduate Scholars Forum at the Hadley Union Building. Her faculty sponsor
for the research project is Victor Garcia, Distinguished University
Professor and faculty member in the Department of Anthropology.
presentation was one of more than 150 during the twelfth annual, one-day
event, which allows IUP undergraduate students to present original research in
a wide array of subjects. Additionally, there were nearly 100 undergraduate
students participating in the poster presentation session.
graduate forum will be held April 5, also at the HUB. A total of 300 students
are involved in the two programs, held as part of Research Appreciation Week at
started off her 15-minute presentation by showing slides of two Google Image
searches. One featured mostly Caucasian women with short, straight hair. The second
had photos of mostly African-American women with curly hair.
asked the attendees if they could guess what specific terms she searched for to
find the photos. The answer: the one on the left was the results of a search
for “professional hair;” the one on the right was “unprofessional hair.”
don’t want to be viewed as unprofessional when I’m looking for a job,” she
said. “But this is alarming.”
went on to show that in her research, she found that many corporations didn’t
spell out directly that they had policies against women with what she called
“curly and kinky” hair, but there were often implied rules that prospective
women had to abide by in order to keep their jobs.
research showed) how corporations can use grooming policies to keep minority
women out of the work force,” she said.
created two focus groups on campus to discuss the issue and its resolution. Each
group led her to a different conclusion.
first group was a mix of Caucasian and African-American females, and the
general consensus was that this was a problem that they felt remorse about, but
didn’t know how to fix. The second group was entirely African-American, and
those in the group accepted hair perceptions as just another obstacle to
of the mixed group they felt like there was an issue,” Colon said. “They wanted
to help the African-American community. But when we talked about hair styles,
the women with straight hair actually wanted their hair to be curly because
they wanted to look more professional. It was kind of a backward shift. They
felt bad and wanted to empower people. Then in the African-American group, the
women were tired of complying with societal norms. They’d say, ‘If I’m
qualified, then the heck with it. If there’s an issue, I’m going to let it be
known.’ They felt like they were able to get through to people.”
who will graduate in May, is in the process of writing her final research paper
on the topic, under Garcia’s guidance.
“I’m really looking forward to publishing this paper,” she said.