The trust between barbers and their clients is special, and the Bell National Resource Center is trying to bring similar relationships to Ohio State.
The BNRC and the Young Scholars Program partnered to kick off the spring semester’s first Barber Shop Talk Monday. Barber Shop Talks, which began in fall 2019, create a space for candid and authentic conversations on campus in the form of free lineups and discounted haircuts for black male students.
The event is hosted once a month at Hale Hall, the university’s black cultural center, and students can sign up for a service when they arrive and will be helped by one of three barbers. Typically, 60-75 students attend the event.
Continuing the program this semester shows that people on campus care about what is on black male students’ minds and gives black male students the autonomy and authority to facilitate vulnerable conversations, Andre’as Williams, BNRC program coordinator, said.
“A barber shop is the black man’s country club,” Williams said. “We can discuss things we might not be as open to sharing with others around.”
Williams said the monthly program has been picking up momentum since it began in the fall because black male students don’t have a space like this anywhere else on campus.
Markese Hayes, a third-year in economics and attendee of the event, said a barber shop is an outlet for a variety of discussions.
“When you hear ‘barber shop,’ the first thing you think of is that safe haven where you can talk about whatever you want to talk about, whether it’s relationships, family or breaking news,” Hayes said.
The total number of students who identify as African American male is 1,342, and the total number of male students who identify African American as at least one of their races is 1,868, Williams said. With just over 3,000 undergraduate black males at Ohio State, there is little representation for this population elsewhere in their everyday lives, Williams said.
“A lot of our students may or may not come from a community that reflects Ohio State,” Williams said. “Either way, it is going to be a bit of a culture shock for those students with them usually being the only one that look like them in a lecture hall.”
Williams said getting acclimated to campus can be a culture shock for these students because of the rigorous classes and the new community, but not all of those students know about the resources for times when they feel overwhelmed.
Limited representation and unintentional discrimination were the most prominent topics brought up by attendees at Monday’s event.
“You get people who assume that just because you’re a black dude at OSU, you gotta be playing [a sport],” Hayes said.
Ché Jackson, a fifth-year in science and mathematics education and attendee of the event, said that many people feel stereotyped as getting to the university for athletics instead of academics.
“[People think] we’re not smart enough to get here academically,” Jackson said.
The second issue that challenged the attendees at the event was the stigma around black males’ mental health. Williams said black men don’t talk about their issues or address them in a healthy way because of this stigma.
Nate Knight, Morrill Scholars program coordinator and event attendee, said everyone should have a safe space to discuss such issues.
“Everybody is going to have their trials and tribulations,” Knight said. “Sometimes you really need those spaces to be able to decompress.”
In the safe space the Barber Shop Talks create, students who attend can develop their identity both academically and socially, Knight said.
Other challenges the attendees mentioned at the semester’s kickoff event were being treated as the “token minority” in class, feeling a need to be more conscious of the way they speak depending on who they are talking to and being told they’re only at Ohio State because of affirmative action, Williams said.
Jackson and Hayes said Monday was their first Barber Shop Talk experience, and they look forward to attending each month this semester.
“You might not know them for long, but they your brothers. They gonna relate to you the most out of anybody at OSU,” Hayes said. “It’s all friendly, it’s all in good spirits and you create a family as time goes on.”
Jackson said that in his first year, an upperclassman told him, “Your black is different than my black, and that’s OK,” which is the mindset he plans to bring to the rest of the talks.
“There are so many ranges of black, but just knowing that it’s OK to be black in this space — whatever black you are,” Jackson said.
The next Barbershop Talk is 4-6 p.m. Feb. 25 in the Martin Luther King, Jr. Lounge in Hale Hall.
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