Portrait collage of Black students in a photo studio.

Nebraska is one of 19 states that have passed The CROWN Act to address issues of race and discrimination in the United States. 

The CROWN Act, which stands for “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair”, is a law that forbids discrimination based on hair textures and hair styles in employment. Hairstyles include braids, locs, twists or bantu knots.

According to a study by the Duke University School of Business, they found participants viewed Black hairstyles like afros, twists, and braids as less professional.

“For many Black people, altering the texture of their hair is considered essential to social and economic success and reducing tension,” an NAACP Legal Fund study found. “Hair straightening has long been seen as a way to assimilate and make those unfamiliar with Black hair more comfortable with their presence.” 

Black women are 54% more likely to have their hair straight for an interview because they feel they would be more successful, according to The Crown Act’s campaign website

One in five Black women ages 25-34 have been sent home due to their hair and a quarter of Black women believe they have been denied a job interview because of their hair. 

This photo series features six Black students, both men and women, who attend the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. As they look for opportunities and gain experiences in their respective fields, they reflect on the significance of what their hair means to them and what organizations and people should do to combat hair bias and discrimination. 

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Cameron Cannon portrait photos featuring his locs. Photos taken by Odelia Amenyah

Cameron Cannon is a sophomore environmental engineering major from Atlanta. 

His loc journey started during the pandemic, as it was the perfect time for him to start. 

“It is liberating to go from seeing my scalp to now having long hair and a lot of hair, ” Cannon said. 

As his journey with his hair progresses, he is learning how to play with different styles. But most of all, he works to take care of his hair, as locs can put stress on the scalp.

By washing, conditioning and oiling his hair he is able to keep it healthy. 

For Cannon, it can be hard to believe the positive comments people make about his hair. 

“My hair is a chaotic hair style, because it chooses which direction it goes,” he said. 

Cannon has also had people make remarks saying his hair is a mess or is unkempt and dirty. 

“I wash my hair. My hair is not dirty, just because it is not silky or shiny,” Cannon said, “I would have to hurt myself to make you comfortable with my hair. I know I’m black. Do you?” 

When Cannon thinks about entering the workplace, he usually has his hair tied back or leaves it as is. However, being a STEM major makes Cannon question if he needs to cut his hair in the future. 

 “I wish there would be more autonomy with the way people do their hair. I want to have my locs for the rest of my life.” he said.  

Cannon’s dream job is to work for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to help restore environments and consult companies to be more sustainable. 

Despite his aspirations, Cannon worries about how people will see him. He questions whether if he can be his true self. 

“I’ve never changed myself for anybody, I know that if I go into an interview that they will judge me, but as long as they look at my work and get over their bias, I think that’s okay, ” said Cannon. 

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Featured portrait photos of Deia Lasu. Photos taken by Odelia Amenyah

Deia Lasu is a graduating senior majoring in psychology from Lincoln. 

Box braids are Lasu’s go-to style and they usually take 10-12 hours to complete.

Despite the tedious tasks of doing her own hair, it gives her the versatility she needs when she is busy or in school. 

“I’m pretty lazy to a degree about my hair. With braids, I just wake up and go,” Lasu said. “I don’t really have to worry about doing any sort of styling. It’s like constant beauty.” 

Lasu’s hair gives her the opportunity to express herself and to try different styles. However, sometimes comments about her hair make her uneasy. 

“Most people say it’s cool and looks really nice, but depending on who comments on my hair, it can make me feel uncomfortable,” she said. 

Despite the positive comments, she still receives comments that annoy her. 

“People say things like horsehair, or people assume that because my hair is in like braids that I have no hair on my head,” Lasu said. “I also really like colorful hair and I get comments like you can’t have unnatural colors.” 

For Lasu, her hair is normal and it’s nothing drastic and shouldn’t be treated as strange. 

She believes that black hair and black styling is tied to culture and shouldn’t be viewed as negative. 

“Why is this an ordeal? It’s very annoying,” Lasu said.

Now that Lasu is about to graduate, she is thinking about removing her braids and getting a style that she thinks will be more acceptable. 

“I’m going to go buy a wig and as soon as I get the job I’m going to go back to the braids but I need that bob to get through the door, ” she said. 

Lasu’s dream job is to work in humanitarian affairs or be a human rights activist. She wants organizations to understand that hair bias and hair discrimination is a limitation for companies. 

“They are missing out on amazing workers and amazing people by discriminating toward hair, ” Lasu said. ”It puts Black people and Black women at an economic disadvantage, to add hair politics on top of that, is far too difficult for just Black people to survive.”

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Featured photos of Dillion Galloway. Photos taken by Odelia Amenyah.

Omaha native Dillion Galloway is a current junior sports media and communication major.

Galloway’s hair is a significant part of who he is. 

“My hair means a lot to me. Ever since I was a little kid I’ve always liked to grow my hair out,” Galloway said. 

Galloway aspires to be a sports photographer or a broadcaster and announce games.  

However, as he works to gain experience in his profession, he has received negative comments about his hair. 

“People don’t expect to see someone with my hair. Sometimes I will be shooting a game and I have to get down because people will be like your hair is in the way and they tell me to move, he said. “My hair is a part of me, so it rubs me the wrong way.” 

Those comments make him think of a time when he would regularly because people made remarks saying his hair is big, crazy, unkempt, and not professional. 

“I’m like why do you think that way? My hair is a definition of who I am,” Galloway said. “I try my best to manage those microaggressions on my own.” 

Galloway believes people should educate themselves on the history of Black hair and what it symbolizes. 

“I think hair bias is one of the stupidest things,” Galloway said., “Why should someone’s hair matter in the workplace? It’s a symbol of people’s expression. You can have a nice suit, and ‘nice’ hair but you could be a really crappy employee.” 

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Neveah Madlock portrait features. Photos taken by Odelia Amenyah

Neveah Madlock is from Lincoln and is a fourth year student majoring in psychology with minors in dance, entrepreneurship, and business. 

Madlock’s career goal is to do movement and environmental therapy.

“My hair tells you a little more about my personality,” Madlock said. “I wish I could have different hairstyles and have different colors, but this is as close to what I am able to represent what it means to be a Black woman in this community.” 

If it were up to Madlock, she would have her hair dyed white and in locs. 

“I know I can’t go into a professional workplace or even around campus because people are going to think I’m crazy and people might say I don’t know if she should be here,” Madlock said. 

Madlock appreciates the positive comments that people make about her hair because it lets her know that not everyone is going to stereotype her. 

But her hairstyle is questioned by some. 

“Some people say they don’t like my hair or black girls should wear that style. It makes me upset. It’s like someone going up to saying your outfit is ugly,” Madlock said. “I choose to express myself through the way I style my hair.”

Recently, Madlock joined the sales industry and has gotten feedback regarding her hairstyle. 

“People have told me to not have my hair this way because they are going to judge me. It’s a lot of people telling me I shouldn’t do this or that,” she said. “These comments make me feel frustrated and not accepted.”

Madlock recalled in high school, being a part of the dance and cheer team. 

“They wanted me to do a lot of styles that you don’t see black women doing and styles that don’t work for us,” she said. “Doing my hair half up half down, straightening my hair to the point where it was fried. People didn’t understand why I stopped doing it, my hair doesn’t work like that.” 

Madlock hopes organizations value the work people do rather than how they style their hair. 

“In my opinion if you come into a job and you’re getting the job done, I don’t care what you look  like. Other people are going to judge but that is something the world is going to have to adapt to and it’s gonna take time,” Madlock said.

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Featured portraits of Zowie Simpson. Photos taken by Odelia Amenyah

Freshman Zowie Simpson is from Houston majoring in architecture at UNL. 

For Simpson, there is a sense of pride when it comes to her hair.

“It’s very special to me because I have locs and I have been growing them for three years,” she said. 

Simpson’s hair maintenance is important to her and takes time to go to a salon to ensure her hair is healthy. However, the time she puts into her hair isn’t always reflected in the comments people make.

“People say my hair is dirty, matted or ugly. Sometimes it’s even from family and friends,” Simpson said. 

Not only does she get these remarks from family and friends, but she also gets them in the workplace. She questions why some people would even think to criticize. 

“It shouldn’t matter what my hair looks like. I stress about job interviews and how my hair looks, because people generally assume I’m dirty because of my locs,” Simpson said. “I braid them back to try to avoid those presumptions.”. 

Simpson aspires to be an architect and to even landscape and believes people should stop judging people based on their appearance. 

“Don’t make people feel bad about themselves and who they are. They won’t be able to reach their full potential if they are held back,” Simpson said. 

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Alyssa Simpson featured in studio portraits. Photos taken by Odelia Amenyah.

Alyssa Simpson is a UNL senior from Kingston, Jamaica. She is majoring in physics and wants to be an astronaut. 

“My hair shows my creativity and the way I like to accessorize,” Simpson said. “I enjoy the structural art of being able to build my hair and being able to build my hair into different directions.”.

Simpson enjoys playing with different hair colors and enjoys when people make remarks praising her hair. 

“It makes me feel really proud, because when I was younger the urge to have my hair straight and have flowy hair was the goal,” she said. “But now it’s nice to get the same validation for having my hair the way I like it.”. 

Despite, the adoration people may have toward Simpson hair, negative comments about how her hair looks unkempt, and even comments saying her hair looks like pubic hair are things she deals with sometimes. 

“Since I work at the front desk for career services, sometimes I get looks or backhanded compliments,” Simpson said. 

However, she feels supported within her physics department and even though she stands out, she is embraced. Even so, when Simpson is presenting research, she tends to be reserved in the way she styles her hair. 

“I always question whether my hair is professional enough, so I try to make sure it’s as sleek as possible,” she said. 

For Simpson, it is not a good feeling to have her capabilities judged because of the way she expresses herself. She believes it would be a breath of fresh air if people are more inclusive within the workplace. 

“I put so much effort into school. Just because I decide to wear hot pink braids doesn’t change that I am an experienced researcher and sometimes even overqualified for certain positions,” Simpson said. “I am normal like everyone else.”

Odelia Amenyah is a senior at the University of Nebraska - Lincoln. She is double-majoring in Advertising & Public Relations and Journalism. She also pursuing a communication studies minor. She will graduate in May.