Duke Revises Policy to Prevent Race-Based Hair Discrimination

The policy, amended last year, also applies to temporary and contract employees

Jasmine Cobb, Professor of African & African American Studies and Art, Art History and Visual Studies at Duke University.

This story is part of the Working Toward Racial Justice series.

Kim Hewitt

Natural hair – a term that encompasses Afro-textured hairstyles such as locs, braids, twists and hair not chemically straightened – has been a target for bias against Black people, including in workplace settings.

Last year, Duke amended its anti-discrimination policy to prohibit discrimination or harassment based on hair texture or hairstyles commonly associated with a particular race. The policy also applies to temporary and contract employees, third parties within Duke programs and employees of Duke contractors.

“It’s about creating a supportive environment where people feel they can thrive,” said Kim Hewitt, Duke’s Vice President for Institutional Equity and Chief Diversity Officer. “There’s a sea change in terms of the number of women who do wear natural hair. There was a time when almost nobody did it at work.”

Hewitt said Duke’s policy was updated to be consistent with a Durham City Council ordinance that expanded Durham’s non-discrimination policy in 2021 to ban hair discrimination by public and private employers in the city. That ordinance drew inspiration from Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair (CROWN) Act, a bill created in 2019 and championed by skin and hair product company, Dove, the National Urban League, Color of Change and Western Center on Law & Poverty, to end hair discrimination.

The CROWN Act, which has passed in 20 states, prohibits racial discrimination based on natural hairstyles in schools and workplaces. Last year, the act passed in the U.S. and North Carolina houses of representatives before stalling in the senates.

Ashleigh Shelby Rosette

Fuqua School of Business professor Ashleigh Shelby Rosette said policy changes like at Duke signal support for Black women.

In 2020, Rosette co-authored an article, “The Natural Hair Bias in Job Recruitment.” Across four studies, Rosette and the authors demonstrate a bias against Black women with natural hairstyles in job recruitment.

“We found that Black women who wear their natural hair are the least likely to be hired,” Rosette said.

Hewitt said that Duke’s policy reinforces an environment at Duke where all community members can be authentic.

“This supports the values articulated in the racial equity work,” Hewitt said. “It’s related in particular to the kind of climate that we want to create here: that people feel welcome, and they can bring their whole selves.” ›

Read Duke’s policy on prohibited discrimination: oie.duke.edu/ppdhrm.

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Aliaha Austin, graduate student at the Sanford School of Public Policy, gets her hair styled by Jeunesse (Jey) Hall, stylist and owner of Natural Roots by Jey on University Drive in Durham.

April 27, 2023

Crowning Moment