Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair

ENST Alum Champions the Fight Against Hair Discrimination

When Olivia Savannah Logan, ’15 graduate from the Department of Environmental Science and Technology (ENST), emailed me to sign a petition to bring the Crown Act (Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair) before the U.S. Senate, I felt a little out of my lane. Hair discrimination was not something that had previously been on my radar until stumbling upon a Good Morning America broadcast where Logan was featured in a segment titled, “How Black women are embracing their natural hair during quarantine.” After a screening, and a whirlwind education on hair discrimination in just under five minutes, the petition was quickly signed. 

The Crown Act represents the culmination of widespread efforts to end hair discrimination, a major roadblock in the race towards a more equitable and inclusive beauty experience for Black women and girls. It is now law in six states, strictly prohibiting discrimination based on hair texture and hairstyle. Natural hair is a form of self-expression for many Black women. Aside from natural beauty, it’s highly versatile and elicits a form of connection and sisterhood that communicates solidarity. 

“A lot of Black women exude stylistic preferences and adorn their hair in a way that mirrors their mothers and grandmothers,” said Logan. “But at the same time, many have conformed to European beauty standards, choosing to conceal their natural beauty and features. Unfortunately, media and movies offer a negative outlook on cornrows and other natural hairstyles. Through the influential power of the media, white people are conditioned to demonize or fear Black women and men that wear protective styles such as braids, locs, and twists.” 

This has tremendous implications for the workplace, which is where Logan is predominantly focusing her efforts to break down stereotypes that incite workplace discrimination. 

While they may not realize it, Logan explained, some folks unintentionally introduce veiled racism while on the job. 

“Recently while at work, a co-worker said that my cornrows scared her,” said Logan. “It is jarring to see this type of discrimination in the real world or professional environment.” 

Additionally, due to a loophole in the Civil Rights Act of 1964, there are instances in which you can lose your job if your hair doesn’t conform to a certain dress code. But, people and employers are starting to look more closely and examine situations that may indicate prejudice. Just recently, UPS took steps to change their dress code policy to provide more leniency for beards and hair, with the CEO stating, "These changes reflect our values and desire to have all UPS employees feel comfortable, genuine, and authentic while providing service to our customers and interacting with the general public.” 

Logan is optimistic about the future and is taking some concrete steps towards change. She recently launched an Instagram account called Corporate with Cornrows, intended to celebrate diversity and Black beauty in profes¬sional spaces. After struggling with feelings of self-consciousness and the treatment in her former workplace that came along with personifying authenticity, she took to Instagram to write about some of the experiences. 

She has big plans to transfer content from Corporate with Cornrows along with additional advocacy information to a central online community where women can share their frustrations, receive encouragement, and boost their overall confidence. Down the line, she aspires to open a coffee shop, one that empowers Black women through aesthetics and design. Logan credits her UMD experience for helping her find her voice and her lane. 

“My former roommate was embracing her natural hair which really gave me a sense of community from my earliest days at UMD,” said Logan. “ENST and my amazing advisor taught me to be resilient and to absorb as much knowledge as possible. I tried a lot of new and different things, and was allowed to be different and non-conforming. I was always given opportunities to be my most authentic self, and that is an expectation that I carry into every environment.”

By Graham Binder