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In the United States, Black people’s hair has been a source of contention, punishment, and immense pride. For years, in an attempt to conform to Eurocentric standards of beauty and professionalism, Black women have sought to straighten their natural kinks and curls. In fact, according to a recent survey by Dove, Black women are 80% more likely to modify their hair in response to workplace norms. This intense focus on taming ‘unruly’ hair is, in large part, how Black hair care mogul Madam C.J. Walker became the first self-made American woman millionaire in the early 1900s.

In the 1960s and ’70s, Black people began to rebel against this pressure to conform, and bold natural hairstyles like afros and cornrows became popular. Yet in the year 2020, schools and employers continue to police Black hair. Last year, California became the first state to pass legislation banning employer and school discrimination against Black children and adults who wear their hair in natural styles, and several other states have followed their lead.

In this photo essay, several faculty, students, and staff members share their thoughts, feelings, and experiences of their natural hair journey.

Photos by Christina S. Murrey, Editorial by M. Yvonne Taylor

Professor, Director of Teacher Education Allison Skerrett

“Wearing my hair in its natural state has allowed it to truly flourish and be as beautiful as it was intended to be. When we break free from historical and contemporary narratives about what counts as beauty, we’re able to present compelling images of the beauty of Black women, created just as we are. My hair is now one of my most self-loved features, and I can tell from others’ responses to it—people from all races, cultures, and backgrounds—that they appreciate being educated about the beauty of Black hair and Black women.”

Professor, Associate Dean of Equity, Community Engagement and Outreach Richard Reddick

“I have grown locs twice, the first time when I was a new professional in student affairs in California. Locs are family common now, but in the late 1990s they were fairly unique. Not only that, there are a lot of misconceptions about locs—some people think you can’t wash them (false), or it means that you’re a Rastafarian (false), or that you smoke weed (???). So when I started growing locs, the director of housing at Cal Poly (where I worked) was a Black man, Preston Allen. Preston was great to talk to about what challenges I might face. Essentially, he told me that as a Black man in the field, I was going to navigate racism and ignorance in my career regardless—so I might as well be comfortable and express myself. I also had very supportive supervisors—White women—who appreciated the cultural expression. So by the time my hair became loc’ed, I had been in a fairly progressive work environment—people had always known me as someone with locs. When I went to grad school, I had locs until towards the end of my doctorate. I just cut them because it was time consuming to manage, so when I started at UT in 2007 I had a natural (afro).”

Doctoral Student Tiffany Hughes

“When I first decided to grow wear my hair naturally (in college), I received lots of questions, side-eyes, and pushback from older people in my community. They were concerned that I wouldn’t be viewed as professional if I wore my hair in a curly fro, and were often concerned about what I was going to ‘do’ with my hair. Initially, out of fear of rejection, I would attempt sleeker hairstyles when interviewing for jobs, hoping to keep my natural hair inconspicuous. But, as I age and continue to grow more comfortable and confident in myself, I recognize that my hairstyle has no bearing on my ability to do the work. And truly, if a potential employer has an issue with my hair, that institution really is not going to be a good fit for me. So I embrace my hair, and now use it as kind of a litmus test.”

Professor, Director of the Institute for Urban Policy Research and Analysis Kevin Cokley

“The first message actually came from my mother. She was concerned about how my colleagues (white folks) would respond to me being a new professor. She asked me if I was ‘allowed’ to wear my hair that way. For additional context, when you start locs you go through a period of looking ‘rough,’ with little twists on your hair that refuse to lie down neatly! I have often wondered how far I can advance professionally wearing locs. I hope that my professional accomplishments, rather than my looks, will be the ultimate determinant of my professional advancements.”

Assistant Professor of Practice Ericka Roland

“[Wearing my natural hair] means being free to express myself on my own terms.  I never received the message that wearing my hair natural would be a risk or unprofessional because it has always been a conversation in Black women groups I’ve been a part of that challenge such narrative. It makes me feel free and powerful because it is a signal of me standing in my Black womanness!”

Senior Student Program Coordinator and Alumnus Charles Gee

“No one has never out right told me that it was unprofessional, but often I get looks of disapproval and curiosity. My hair or hair color doesn’t dictate how I support students on campus. It’s good to show our ‘human’ side with the students we interact with because many of them, particularly students of color, need to know that there is no singular look to professionalism. During undergrad, I recall seeing an older white woman who used to work in the Main Building with really long salt and pepper hair but would always have highlighted tips – hot pink, orange, neon green. I made the assumption that she was someone with power and thought, ‘Well if she can do it, I can do it too!’ It feels great to have fun with my hair and let it grow into its own thing. I get to watch it cooperate when it wants to and have a mind of its on. It’s wild to see what a bonnet or a satin pillow case will do.”

Professor Keffrelyn Brown and daughter Kythe Brown

“Going natural was a political and personal choice that took me two tries, and a few years to fully embrace. I believed there was something deeply wrong with a society that denigrated and didn’t allow people to wear the hair they were born with. Realizing this in college made me think deeply about how I could reclaim that part of my identity that had literally been hidden underneath the chemically processed hair I had worn for a good part of my life. I also believed that the only way I could express love of myself, other Black women and girls who had curly hair like mine, and any future children I might have, was to love and embrace the hair I was given, regardless of what society or others might think.”

Associate Professor Terrance Green

“I started loc’ing my hair in 2002. I did it because I always loved locs and because it was an outward representation of an inward transformation that I was going through with my faith. Wearing my locs means that I can express myself the way I want to with my hair. When I first started loc’ing my hair people told me not to do it, or to think twice about it because it was not ‘professional.’ But I honestly never really listened to that advice and did what I thought was best with my hair.”

Senior Events Coordinator Kristin Moore

“I decided to wear my hair naturally almost three years ago. My natural hair anniversary is March 4, 2017. That was a time of new-found independence for me. Although, I never know exactly how my hair will behave from one day to the next, wearing it naturally gives me a sense of autonomy that I never had when I straightened my hair. It represents an acceptance of myself and my heritage that I didn’t even know I was trying to suppress in order to be whatever I thought I was supposed to be. One of reasons I finally decided to go natural was because I felt secure enough in my job after being there for 2 years. Seeing other black folks rock their curls and locs in the professional settings gave me to confidence to try it. I subconsciously felt that I had to prove myself in that ‘world’ before diverting from the norm. Even a few months ago, before I joined UT and was interviewing at various places, I seriously considered straightening or altering my hair for interviews. I’m glad I didn’t!”

Three Brofessors

Reddick: “When I see someone who has locs or natural hair, it’s like we have an unspoken connection. Usually someone with a natural hairstyle has gone through a process and journey about their identity, which is always fascinating and a bond we often share.”

Cokley: “I am very proud to wear locs. I think it is especially important for Black students to see professors embracing locs and other natural hairstyles.”

Green: “I love wearing my hair in locs. When I wear my hair like this it makes me feel connected to my Black roots and it is a form of resistance against traditional notions of what so-called ‘good hair’ is supposed to look like because I know I have ‘good hair.'”

Doctoral Student, Assistant Director of Communication M. Yvonne Taylor

“I started wearing my hair in its natural state in 1996, when I did ‘the big chop,’ which is cutting off the longer relaxed or straightened hair to let the natural kinks and curls sprout from the scalp unbothered. In 2001, I began loc’ing my hair and I had locs for seven years. They grew down to my backside. In 2008, I did another big chop and have worn the kinks and curls in various lengths ever since. Prior to cutting the relaxer from my hair, I literally had no idea what its actual texture was, which is wild.”

To learn more about the policing of Black hair and the Crown Act, read Professor and Associate Dean of Equity, Community Engagement and Outreach Richard Reddick’s opinion piece.

In July, the College of Education’s Educational Psychology Department hosted the 5thBiennial American Psychological Association Division 45 Society for the Psychological Study of Culture, Ethnicity, and Race Research Conference. It is the only psychology conference that focuses entirely on culture, ethnicity, and race and the biases present because of these factors.

“In the current climate, it is imperative now more than ever that psychological research is utilized to help communities of color address these current issues related to immigration and the increase of racial tensions,” said Professor Kevin Cokley, who co-coordinated the conference with fellow College of Education Associate Professor Germine Awad.

Interdisciplinary Collaborations Help Address Complex Problems

The pre-conference opened with a panel presentation and discussion, Fostering Effective and Impactful Interdisciplinary Collaborations. College of Education Assistant Professor Sarah Kate Bearman, a clinical child psychologist, presented.

Bearman’s research focuses on effective interventions for underserved children and their families. She explained how her work within a transdisciplinary space—which involves basic science, translational and intervention research, as well as organizational science, interaction with doctors, nurses, care givers, and health communicators—leads to better outcomes.

“The best way to solve complex social and health problems,” said Bearman, “is a participatory team science framework, which is a collaborative effort.”

4 women sitting on a panel with one holding the microphoneThis interdisciplinary approach helps her create and implement culturally responsive health care interventions for children and families, such as an e-health parenting intervention that can be delivered during routine well-child visits in pediatric primary care clinics. Bearman stressed that team science and community-based participatory research involves continual input from the community. “The research is done with the participants, rather than on them.”

Racial Biases Create Health Disparities

Keynote speaker Lonnie Snowden kicked off the conference. Currently a professor at University of California, Berkeley, he teaches in the Health Policy and Management program in the School of Public Health.

In his address, The Affordable Care Act (ACA), Racial Bias, and Behavioral Healthcare for African Americans, Snowden discussed how policy has impacted ACA expansion, increased access to and quality of behavioral healthcare for minorities, and how biases and stereotypes have negatively impacted Medicaid expansions.

The current combination of biases, both implicit and explicit, and stereotypes surrounding African-Americans and Medicaid recipients has created the concept of the “undeserving poor,” those who supposedly do not deserve healthcare Keynote Speaker Lonnie Snowdencoverage due to their income, race, employment status, or a variety of other factors, said Snowden.

He explained how the concept of the undeserving poor and misconceptions about Medicaid participants has created consequences for public health, healthcare delivery, and employment. This merging of stereotypes has exasperated underlying racial biases in healthcare policies and has led to coverage gaps.

Snowden encouraged psychologists to increase their roles in policy, stating that “what happens in policy creation and implementation can have either a positive or negative impact on people’s lives. The things that we study effect a lot of people, they matter.”

Psychologists of Color and Public Policy

In addition to presentations of findings and networking for practitioners, researchers and students, a plenary panel presented Using Psychology to Impact Public Policy: The Role of Psychologists of Color.

Rice Academy Affiliate Fellow Luz Garcini discussed how her background as a 16-year-old undocumented immigrant impacts her research. She shared with the audience how she frames the issues surrounding undocumented immigrants in terms that can affect public policy, particularly by focusing on the unaddressed health care needs of the population and the subsequent toll those needs take on them and the larger society.

Awad discussed how her research about how Americans of Middle East, North African descent has helped inform policy discussions of categorization of this population within the 2020 Census. All of the panelists stressed that though policy work is difficult and time-consuming, psychologists of color, and those who address issues related to people of color, need to be in the room in order to improve the health and well-being of diverse populations.

This was the first time the conference has been held at the University of Texas at Austin. Previous conferences were held at the University of Michigan, where it was founded by Professor and VP of Diversity Robert Sellers; the University of Oregon; and Stanford. 

Cokley is the Oscar and Anne Mauzy Regents Professor for Educational Research and Development. 

China’s former One Child Policy had profound effects on the parenting of children in the country. As China promoted the policy, extolling the benefits of “high-quality” only children, parents began to devote extraordinary time, attention, and resources to their single child. The children also felt pressure to be the “great” offspring that their parents and country expected them to be.

It was thought that such inordinate attention to and pressure on only children would create generations of “Little Emperors,” children with an exceedingly high self-regard, leading to egocentric character traits considered negative, especially in Chinese society.

Educational Psychology Professor Toni Falbo has spent much of her career studying the effects of China’s One Child Policy on children. Her latest study evaluated research previously published about China’s only children through a new lens that included what has been learned in intervening years.

Head shot of Professor Toni Falbo

Toni Falbo

Falbo’s research compared how only children saw themselves and how they were seen by others, such as the parents and classmates. The results show that singleton boys had a high regard for themselves, a high level that did not match the assessment others had of them. Meanwhile, singleton girls assessed themselves as others saw them.

Says Falbo, “Gender seems to moderate the self-enhancement attributes of the only children we studied. Whereas the boys described themselves more positively than did their parents and peers, the girls described themselves as positively as their parents and peers.” In fact, says Falbo, the girls’ self-assessment was comparable to the self-assessment of girls with siblings.

“While China’s One Child Policy caused parents to favor boys with some negative consequences regarding their egocentricity, it had a positive impact on girls,” says Falbo. She believes that this is because parents devoted resources and attention to girls in a manner that they would not have prior to the policy. “The One Child Policy opened up opportunities for girls, which created a positive effect for female only children.”

To read more, download “Evaluations of the behavioral attributes of only children in Beijing, China: moderating effects of gender and the one-child policy” and listen to a BBC story about only children that features Falbo’s research.

-Feature photo by Lau keith on Unsplash

Hegemonic Psychology: The Politics of Ethnic Minority Research

Conducting research that focuses on the experiences of ethnic minorities is fraught with sociopolitical challenges. In predominantly white academic settings the norms for publication outlets are often antagonistic toward so-called “low impact”, “specialty” journals. This has created an academic culture that often marginalizes and penalizes ethnic minority research. In this talk, psychology is used as an example to demonstrate how hegemonic processes perpetuate the marginalization of ethnic minority research. The question “How do we measure the impact of ethnic minority research?” will be addressed. Traditional and alternative metrics of impact will be discussed.

Kevin Cokley, Ph.D. is the Oscar and Anne Mauzy Regents Professor of Educational Research and Development and Professor of Educational Psychology and African and African Diaspora Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. He is a Fellow of the UT System Academy of Distinguished Teachers and is Director of the Institute for Urban Policy Research & Analysis. Dr. Cokley’s research and teaching can be broadly categorized in the area of African American psychology. His research interests focus on understanding the psychological and environmental factors that impact the academic outcomes and mental health of African American students. His publications have appeared in professional journals such as the Journal of Counseling Psychology; Journal of Black Studies; Journal of Black Psychology, Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology; Educational and Psychological Measurement; and the Harvard Educational Review among other outlets. He is the author of the 2014 book “The Myth of Black Anti-Intellectualism” that challenges the notion that African American students are anti-intellectual. He is the past Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Black Psychology and was elected to Fellow status in the American Psychological Association for his contributions to ethnic minority psychology and counseling psychology. He has written several op-eds in major media outlets on topics such as Blacks’ rational mistrust of police, the aftermath of Ferguson, police and race relations, racial disparities in school discipline, and black students’ graduation rates.

Join Educational Psychology Associate Professor Germine Awad as she discusses both the ramifications of classifying people of Middle Eastern or North African (MENA) descent as white on the U.S. Census form and the necessity of giving them their own designation.

Awad’s research focuses on topics related to prejudice and discrimination, identity and acculturation, and body image among women of color. She has focused primarily on Arab/Middle Eastern Americans and African Americans.

Discovery Minute is a video series that highlights and introduces various topics that are researched by faculty at the College of Education at The University of Texas at Austin. Our faculty explore topics that have a direct impact on education, policy, health, and our community.

Many teachers and students in the Houston and surrounding areas are only just beginning to return to school in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. For some, schools will remain closed, and students are being redirected to other locations. Many families lost their homes; some lost their livelihoods. Meanwhile, families and educators in Florida are just beginning to assess the impact of Hurricane Irma.

The effects of natural disasters impact the lives and the psyches of students, and caregivers and teachers often struggle with how to respond.

Erin Rodriguez, an educational psychology assistant professor at The University of Texas at Austin’s College of Education studies stress and coping in children. Here, she provides tips to caregivers and teachers to consider for helping children following a natural disaster.

Tips for Caregivers:

  • Emotional and behavioral difficulties following a natural disaster are not uncommon. Children may have symptoms of posttraumatic stress and depression, as well as conduct problems (i.e., “acting out” behaviors).


  • Children may also experience academic and social difficulties. These problems may be related to emotional difficulties, but can also result from disruptions in schooling and daily activities due to the disaster.


  • Children who have greater access to social support, through parents, family members, teachers, friends, and other supportive adults, are more likely to show resilience in the long term.


  • Following a disaster, adults should provide ways for children to return to daily routines and activities as much as possible, including school and extracurricular activities. Returning to these activities can reduce the risk of ongoing disruptions and provide multiple avenues for social support.


  • Some children are at increased risk for emotional and behavioral difficulties following a disaster. This risk is increased if they experienced more immediate threats (e.g., threats to life) during the disaster, face ongoing stressors (e.g., losing their home/relocation) from the disaster, and if their parents/caregivers also experience emotional difficulties from the disaster.


  • While symptoms can get better for some children over time, children with increased risk may experience more severe and lasting difficulties. These children can benefit from evidence-based treatments, including treatments that use cognitive-behavioral strategies. Evidence-based treatments are particularly effective when children can access them within the first few months following the disaster.


Head shot of Dr. Erin Rodriguez.

Erin Rodriguez – Assistant Professor

Says Rodriguez, “After a natural disaster, adults sometimes assume kids are resilient, but that may not always be the case. If a parent or teacher notices signs of anxiety, or mood or behavior changes in the weeks or months after a disaster, they should seek out mental health professionals who can assess whether treatment is needed. The good news is that there’s strong research supporting the benefits of early intervention for kids who need it.”

Jane Gray and Kevin Stark

Kevin Stark and Jane Gray

Educational Psychology Professor Kevin Stark and Clinical Assistant Professor Jane Gray are leaders in psychological assessment and treatment of youth in schools. Stark is co-founder of the Texas Child Study Center at Dell Medical Center in Austin, where Gray is director of psychology training. Stark is recognized internationally as an expert in the treatment of youth depression and is a nationally recognized expert in the application of cognitive-behavioral interventions to behavior problems in schools. Gray is also director of behavioral health at the Texas Center for Prevention and Treatment of Childhood Obesity.

Associate Professor Jill Marshall, Department of Curriculum and Instruction, discusses “stereotype threat’s” effect on student outcomes, the importance of helping students develop visual-spatial skills, and how reframing the teaching of math and science using project-based approaches can help engage underrepresented students.

Educational Psychology Professor Kevin Cokley explains how “imposter syndrome” can affect underrepresented students in STEM classes and what educators can do to help ward off its negative effects.

Associate Professor and Director of the Center for STEM Education Victor Sampson discusses how science teachers can modify how they teach to better engage every student in learning scientific methods and retaining content.