Rutgers observes Black History Month with three-day 'HAIRitage' event
To celebrate Black History Month, Livingston Residence Life organized "HAIRitage," a three-day conference featuring workshops, presentations and screenings that focus on what hair means to the black and Afro-Latino communities.
The events were held on Livingston campus from Feb. 9 to 11. They began with a film screening of Chris Rock’s “Good Hair,” and ended with a reception at the Livingston Student Center, according to the event's Facebook page.
The idea of using hair as the central focus of the event originated during a discussion between the Residence Life Coordinators on Livingston campus, said Modinat Sanni, Residence Life coordinator.
They wanted to first establish the department with students and recognize that there is more to Black History Month than what people generally hear about it, Sanni said.
When someone in the meeting mentioned hair, it turned into a discussion of how hair shapes identity in LGBTQIA communities. They also discussed how the socio-economic status influences how you do your hair, Sanni said.
“Once we stopped laughing at the idea we realized that this was a great topic to use to talk about a lot of the different things we try to educate our students on at the University,” she said.
When planning the event they thought of the content of the event before developing the structure, Sanni said. The University was extremely supportive in the planning process.
Sanni said she did not encounter any negative responses while reaching out to different networks at Rutgers for help.
She said her experience working with Rutgers for the conference aided her because there was an understanding that while there are different types of people at the University, many are not engaging with one another and cultures.
“I think that people saw that this could be a very interesting and almost a covert way to talk about some of the underlying issues that exist in our society and manifest themselves on campus,” she said.
Many students wanted to get involved in the event because this was the first year for the event — so they had to taper off on how much they could involve other organizations or students, Sanni said.
It was difficult to deny anyone the opportunity to play a role in coordinating the event because it meant that they wanted to be a part of this conversation, which meant so much, she said.
“It’s a little slower than I had imagined it in my mind, if I had to go back in time I would not have started it at 9:30 a.m. I neglected that fact that college students don’t even know what 9:30 a.m. on a Saturday is,” Sanni said.
This event would not have happened without Sanni's three resident advisors Kaelin Conover, Kayla Dredden and Christian Velez Vargas, she said.
“I hope it challenged people to think about diversity conversations differently. I hope it challenges student groups to think about the types of conversations they have, I hope it challenges departments to think about how they can be innovative around what they’re doing,” Sanni said.
Rutgers Business School senior Kaelin Conover said "HAIRitage" is a great program to redirect attention to the diversity and inclusiveness of the University.
“Being natural myself, I realized the importance of hair. Hair is connected to your heritage, that’s why the name is so completely perfect,” Conover said.
She said that because Rutgers is such a diverse university, it is important to be open to learn about the experiences of other people. Having programs that are specific to the experiences of students that are current are really important to helping students to connect.
“Anything that allows people to come together and speak face to face in a dialogue is always well needed at any point in time regardless if we are experiencing political turmoil. That is always going to exist because we have diversity of thought," Conover said.
Brielle Diskin is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore. She is a contributing writer for The Daily Targum.