An Interview with SMU Naturals: So Much More Than Hair

 When I first heard of SMU Naturals I was just casually strolling along my Facebook feed as any college girl would during her least interesting class. I saw the SMU Naturals Facebook page and was intrigued and fascinated. I had so many questions. What, why, how, where? Why haven’t I heard of this club before? Is it really a club to talk about just hair? Is that allowed? But when I had the opportunity to meet with the President and Founder of SMU Naturals I learned that it was so much more than just hair. Kay Rodgers’ message and motivation is truly inspiring. Not only is she on the Exec board of Sisters Supporting Sisters – an organization established by and for diverse women with common interests and goals, to promote sisterhood and provide support - she is a senior who is double majoring in Psychology and French Studies and double minoring in Fashion Media and Sociology. I was astounded how she even found the time to look as put together and collected as she did that day. In other words, below you will find an interview that took a quick turn from casual to moving to controversial to inspiring. Enjoy!

Her Campus SMU: What made you want to start SMU Naturals?

Kay Rodgers: When I was a Freshman I went to Night at the Club, where I saw a group of girls at one of the booths all sporting pretty, natural hair. I was excited because I had just gone natural one or two years before that. I said, “Oh my gosh are you guys the natural hair club?” And they said, “Oh no we’re the African Students Club”. I thought, “That kind of sucks. There should be a natural hair club on campus!” So that’s where the idea started, and other campuses like UNT and UTD all have natural hair clubs. I thought why not SMU? Then, when I was a sophomore there was a little controversy surrounding the Greek Rank posting (if you want to find out more about this terrible post click here). That was also at a time when people were saying really racists things on Yik Yak that were upsetting and targeting black women. I felt like ok we need this club now. We need to have an outlet for black women or women of color in general who don’t match the SMU beauty standard. I feel like SMU has a certain beauty standard that so many of us don’t fit. I wanted to start that club where we could support and celebrate each other, and celebrate our unique form of beauty. We had our trial meeting in the Spring of 2016, and we officially started in the Fall 2016. That’s when I met Lezly Murphy our Vice President. I was telling her about my idea and she really liked it, so we started to work together to really create this club and holding meetings.

 

HCSMU: Do you think this club came out of a necessity of seeing and experiencing people becoming more vocal with their racial views or do you think it would still be necessary regardless?

KR: It would definitely be necessary regardless. When the idea for the club was coming about it was at a time when things, at least on the SMU campus were more racially charged because there were increasingly more incidents occurring like the Greek Rank Post and the YikYak comments about black women. The club definitely is thriving in a post-Trump America where there are so many of us who feel like we are being marginalized and feel like a certain kind of beauty standard or intolerant viewpoints are running rampant in the country. It’s definitely been a place of solace, a place where we can get together and have fun and a place where we can talk about hair, skin care, makeup, beauty, etc.  

 

HCSMU: Is this club meant to appeal to just black women with natural hair?

KR: It is a club where we talk, and promote natural hair. But we do welcome everybody. We like to have advice on how to wear your hair relaxed and we definitely want you to come if you are just curious about black hair. If you have curly hair and you can kind of identify what we are talking about and if you are not black. Come one, come all. We do have men on our exec board as well. Everyone has hair, and if you’re black it will be somewhat similar whether you are a guy or girl in texture so anyone could benefit from our club.

 

HCSMU: What would you say to those people who would say that this club is not very inclusive of all people?

KR: The purpose of SMU naturals is to help women and men of color feel more appreciated, celebrated, and uplifted. I don’t think that that is a divisive goal at all. I think that’s very inclusive. If we all strive on this planet to care for each other and support each other, you shouldn’t really have a problem with helping another group support themselves. If you are in the majority, you should be okay with people wanting to get together and uplift themselves the same way that you feel within your community.

 

HCSMU: If I was a white blonde girl and walked into your club what would be the reaction?

KR: We’ve actually had a few white women come to the club and I am often surprised to see them there. At Night at the Club we were there with Sisters Supporting Sisters this year and a white woman came up to me and she said, “I love what you are doing I am so happy that this is here”. I was so shocked. You know it’s really great when you can bridge that gap and you have people who you really didn’t necessarily think would be supportive or care.

 

Kay Rodgers, President – "SMU Naturals on this campus is a revolution. There is a certain culture on this campus that doesn’t include everybody, so for us to take the time to recognize ourselves and appreciate and celebrate and uplift ourselves is definitely a revolution. I know some people could see that as a problem because when someone decides to love themselves it can hurt other people for some reason. It can be offensive to them. But we are here and we are going to love ourselves."

 

HCSMU: Are you nervous at all about what the reaction to this article will be once its published?

KR: I’m not nervous at all. If anything, I feel like more people will be happy to know that SMU Naturals is here and we are here to support them. It’s interesting, something that we try to do and something that Lezly is really passionate about in particular is to make sure everyone feels included, even though we have a specific goal and objective in mind of uplifting people who feel that they have been pushed to the side. We want to be sure that people of straight hair feel like they can come or Hispanic women feel welcomed or if you are Asian you feel welcomed. I just hope that that comes across to people who read the article that they don’t feel like they are being attacked or left out and they can see that we are trying to be supportive. They’re going to get this Melanin. We are going to be here whether you like it or not. Skin glowing, hair flowing.

 

HCSMU: What if someone with natural hair decided to change it for a more mainstream approach?

KR: I’ve worn wigs and all of us have worn some different type of style so it’s not like you HAVE to be natural. We want to have the people that we speak to learn that they can be happy and comfortable with whatever style they want. I want people to feel like you can be at SMU and go to a white frat party with your afro puff and you can own that and be confident in that. But if you love weave then wear weave. It’s about loving yourself and what you’re doing, and being confident that you can be who you are. We do talk about protective styles like braids and twists and things like that. They help promote healthy hair growth, so we talk about that and support that as well.

 

 

Lezly Murphy, Vice President - "It’s about providing an organization where people can feel unified, people can feel accepted, people can accept themselves, and where all forms of beauty are recognized and appreciated."

 

HCSMU: Then why SMU Naturals and not some other name?

KR: Well first of all natural hair and kinky hair has been looked down on for a long time. I feel like if you ask a black person what their parents or their grandma or what their older relatives think about natural hair, you will hear a lot of negative things. “That’s not well kept or that’s kinky or that’s nappy or unhealthy." "You can’t wear that and get a job." "When are you going to fix your hair?” It’s a lot of negative sentiments. I mean, we wear our hair naturally because why would the hair that grows out of my head not be for me? Why do I have to be something different than other than how I was born? Why can’t I find the hair that grows out of my scalp to be beautiful? Why do other people not know that? And I guess getting people to see natural hair, there’s no reason for it to be not be considered unprofessional or unacceptable. We saw a need.

 

HCSMU: If you had the opportunity to speak to the entire SMU population about SMU Naturals what would you say?

KR: I would just want to stress the importance of recognizing alternative forms of beauty and how to not play into European standards of beauty. What I mean by that is, think about the images that you see, the comments that you make about different groups of people. If you make a racist comment about someone’s skin tone or you’re to say, “Well I’m just not attracted to black girls. I just don’t think they’re attractive” kind of check yourself, and think about why you think that way and where is that coming from. Try to put yourselves in the shoes of other people and hopefully be able to see the beauty in other groups of people and just really challenge yourself to look outside of that beauty standard on campus.

 

HCSMU: What is the purpose for your male executives within the club?          

KR: When you are talking about beauty and you have a club that’s about hair, I think people might think that it sounds vapid or frivolous or girly. But everyone has hair and everyone has skin, and I feel like everyone would at least want to feel comfortable with that or feel beautiful. Typically, guys don’t want to admit it, but they still have the same needs as anyone. We want to make sure that guys feel like they can come and learn things too and be included. We have had some male support here and there, but I feel like if more guys come they will see that it’s really for everyone. That’s our whole point.

 

 

Hanan Muzemil, Secretary – "For me, SMU Naturals is a safe space that is both educational and supportive. Its about us uplifting and supporting each other."

 

HCSMU: How do you plan on increasing male involvement?

KR: Our upcoming meeting on October 16 is going to involve Black Men Emerging where we will be discussing black male hair and different topics regarding hair. We plan on utilizing the male liaison position. We want to always have someone who is reaching out to the males on campus and promoting the club to them and getting them interested.

 

HCSMU: What is one big event that you do every year?

KR: We are mostly meeting based and we do one field trip to the beauty supply store called Jenny’s in South Dallas it’s the size of a target and full of hair supplies. We also have guest speakers. Last year, we had Gabrielle Union’s PR reps for her hair care line come and speak and gave out samples. We also had a hairstylist come and speak. We have people reach out to us who have heard of us through word of mouth from other faculty members or alumni or different people on campus.

 

HCSMU: SOOOO Free hair supplies?

KR: (laughs) Sometimes. Maybe. It depends. In a typical meeting, we will show a little video about de-tangling or something funny. And then we do an activity: we’ve done a DIY deep hair conditioner, we’ve done quizzes about your hair type and porosity testing. We did a product swap. We try really hard to making it engaging and fun. Then we will focus on a topic like picking the Curly hair/guy in the community and we let them talk about themselves and share their natural hair journey and be featured on all our social media accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram as SMU Naturals.

 

Chandler English, PR Chair- "SMU Naturals is a community. We have fun and uplift each other. We celebrate our differences and never look down upon others."

 

But wait, there’s more! After hearing what Kay had to say, I wanted to meet the legendary Lezly Murphy, a junior majoring in Electrical Engineering with a biomedical specialization. I wanted to see what the exec board had to say about SMU Naturals and their experiences. Read on below to see how SMU Naturals and the uplifting women who comprise their executive board have already made a difference. I also sat down with their Vice President Lezly Murphy, Secretary Hanan Muzemil and PR Chair Chandler English.

 

Lezly - "A lot of times when you think about beauty males aren’t really considered. And our club is about recognizing all kinds of beauty both inside and out so it was important for us to have males on our exec board. We wanted to make our club interactive and highlight people within the community feel appreciated."

 

I asked each exec member to share their natural hair journey's with me: 

Hanan Muzemil, Secretary – I’ve been natural hair all my life and didn’t know how to take care of it before I came to SMU, and I was using all the wrong products. But by learning to take care of my hair I found myself starting to appreciate my hair more, and feel more confident with my natural hair.

Kay Rodgers, President– I’ve gotten perms since fourth grade and my mom did all her life too and she didn’t know what to do with natural hair either, so there was no one to teach me. I wasn’t happy with my hair and with getting it permed all the time, so I just decided to stop putting chemicals in my hair. I started doing research and learned about the natural hair movement and decided to try it out. I ended it up liking it and now I’ll have been natural for five years.

Lezly Murphy, Vice President – In kindergarten I started getting relaxers and texturizers put in my hair, and what that does is it straightens your hair and takes away that curl pattern and that was just because my mom was busy and again during that time period it was like the early 2000s. There weren’t a lot of products or information about how to care for a child with natural hair or natural hair in general. It wasn’t until my senior year in high school where I wanted to try something different before heading off to college. I decided to stop getting relaxers. I remember getting my last relaxer in April of 2010 and I’ve been natural ever since. It took a lot of confidence to branch away from something that I had been doing for more than a decade. Then when I fully transitioned my curl pattern started to come about and I was just so excited. I hadn’t seen what my real hair looked like in almost 12 years. I cut off the straight ends my Freshman year of college. My hair is so much healthier, I am more confident in myself, I’ve discovered protective styles like the twists that I have now. There is much versatility that I’ve come to find in my natural hair. I’m so happy that I made the decision to go natural. I remember my senior year I was nervous about the decision. I went to a predominantly Caucasian high school, so there wasn’t really anyone around me that had natural hair. I felt a little bit by myself but I’m glad that I took the step to discover myself and discover my hair and through that I’ve become so much more confident.

Chandler, PR Chair – I started off getting my hair permed. I’m originally from California, so coming from California to Texas, the heat and the humidity was a lot to deal with. We thought the best way to deal with it would be to perm my hair. I did that until I was in high school and then I decided to do natural hair. My mother was long-time friends with a stylist that she knew from when she was in high school. I was a junior in high school when I went natural. I cut my hair short when I graduated high school and then I have been natural since then. The perm was fully worked out of my hair when I was freshman in college. I like to straighten my hair now only because it’s easier for me to maintain. Usually if my hair is not braided or anything, I do straighten it. I like to go out of my comfort zone and try new things.

 

HCSMU: So, Why go natural?

Lezly - I wanted to discover myself. I think everyone should come to know themselves honestly. In order for me to get to know myself honestly and kind of explore that side of myself I had to be completely honest with myself and that meant to stop getting relaxers and to see what my natural hair looks like. I also think the media tends to display one type of beauty and one type of attractiveness and my personality has always been one of challenging things and pushing the standard. I thought by incorporating a different side of beauty with natural hair, being yourself, accepting yourself, that I could be a part of that movement and help people in society and women and girls appreciate themselves and not feel like they have to do certain things that fit into a beauty paradigm that society has created. I think with every movement you have extremists. I think with the natural hair movement it’s about finding what works for you.I think that’s a big thing for the African American community. We are big on change. We are big on just bettering ourselves and bettering our thinking. How we do things, how we portray ourselves in society, what our culture is. Through some media and the natural hair movement we were able to kind of think that through and be confident African American Women with natural hair.

 

Their goal this year is to become chartered with the SMU Student Senate, and  to expand their reach to the local Dallas Community to educate young girls about natural hair and the benefits.

Interested in getting involved? Their next meeting is October 14th at 7pm. Check out their Facebook Page here.