Calgary Board of Education (CBE) cosmetology students are praising changes coming to their classrooms that will mean representation for students of colour and a more diverse skill set for all students.
CBE cosmetology student Praise Adewumi says over the last four years in the program, she's learned a lot — and really enjoyed it — but she's also been disappointed by the lack of representation in the curriculum when it comes to curly and textured hair, and the people that have those hair types.
"I learn all these things and then I can't actually apply them to like my friends and my family," said the 19-year-old.
"I don't think it's right for a hairstylist to have somebody enter your chair and for you not to be able to help them and then say that you're fully certified."
Following student advocacy in the past two years, a fundraiser was launched earlier this year by the non-profit EducationMatters — which supports educational enhancement programs at the CBE — with the goal of raising $10,000 to outfit all nine CBE cosmetology programs with non-white, textured and curly haired mannequins.
With change on the horizon, Adewumi says it's about time.
"Although Black people are a visible minority in Alberta, it doesn't mean we're not here, right? So this kind of an event is really important in order to get people thinking in the right direction," she said.
The fundraiser is now halfway to its goal, and some mannequins are already in classrooms.
"Calgary's curly hair community is getting behind this campaign, with Curl Warehouse gift-matching the first $1,500 donated to this campaign," said EducationMatters in a statement. "Kensington's Honey Salon is also running a fundraiser in their salon."
CBE cosmetology teacher Coralee Dahl says the mannequins will mean an expansion of learning opportunities to help students understand a wide range of hair types, cultures and potential client needs.
"There is a huge lull in our industry where people are afraid to work with textured hair, and it's completely unacceptable now to not be able to offer a wide portion of the population the ability to get their hair done by qualified people."
She says these changes will better prepare students to welcome any client into their chair.
Chloe Streit was one the students behind a 2020 petition calling for more representation of people of colour in the cosmetology program.
Now graduated, she says it feels good to be heard and see action on this issue.
"I think it will honestly make the world of a difference in the up-and-coming generation of new hairdressers and barbers," Streit said.
"I think that it's something that's been needed for a very, very long time,so I'm really looking forward to diversifying the curriculum that's being taught and the resources that are available."
Current student Rachel Peters says up until now, most of her education has been centred around straight to loosely-waved hair — and that left her wanting.
"It will truly round out my education as textured hair historically has kind of been neglected within the Alberta curriculum and within even just a hair styling industry," she said.
"I think learning about it will make me the true hair stylist because it's our job as service providers to be able to work on any client that walks through our doors."
Adewumi says she hopes this change will encourage more students of colour to enrol in the cosmetology program.
"I entered with two other friends who were also Black. But then after they learned that they wouldn't be able to do any sort of black hair, they left. But knowing that finally, there is that opportunity for them to learn is really nice," she said.
"For one, it will take away the stigma from students who aren't Black to properly understand what goes through Black hair, and hopefully we will be able to get rid of some of the micro-aggressions that can come with Black hair.
But also, it will open up the doors for Black students to want to get involved in this industry, especially in Alberta, and really diversify the industry as a whole."
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.