Electronic Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

M.A. in Southern Studies


Southern Studies

First Advisor

Evelyn Lowrey

Second Advisor

Shennette Garrett-Scott

Third Advisor

Ethel Young-Scurlock

Relational Format



This thesis will provide the framework for black women’s stories of struggle and resilience through natural hairstyles at a Mississippi predominantly white institution – The University of Mississippi. Although the framework of this essay is set in one institution in a state located in the Deep South, the stories and methods apply to the American society and how the lack of black representation in white spaces shape black lives, specifically black women’s lives. Like creating black safe spaces in white spaces, black hair is used as a theme in this essay to shape the stories of black women’s experiences – whether they are of conformity or rebellion at this predominantly white institution. The University of Mississippi, nicknamed “Ole Miss” after a wealthy planters wife – an unofficial fact many members of the black student body believes is true – is a campus that continues to uphold racism through a standing confederate staand buildings named after slave-owners and wealthy planters while also trying to meet the demands of the Black Student Union and other black organizations demanding change and restructure of an institution that encourages black students to attend, but fails to protect them. The stories of these black women will unfold the nature of white society through this institution. The stories of hairstyles shape what every black woman experience and how the demographics shape their hairstyles and life choices. The structure of this thesis is shaped around hair, but this story is more than just hair. These stories reflect what black women – (former) students and faculty – struggle with because of their hairstyles. These stories shape black womanhood. Blackness is diverse and complex. Diversity and complexity apply to hairstyles maintained by black women whether the hair is relaxed or natural, in braids or weave. Certain hairstyles reflect a woman’s character and life decisions. I will highlight those hair making-decisions through their experiences and argue whether a hairstyle relates to conformity or rebellion for women of color at this predominantly white institution. The hairstyles and experiences at this university shape the black identity and womanhood as these women navigate this institution as the minority.



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