Calgary

'My hair is beautiful:' Calgary students call for inclusive cosmetology program

Some Calgary cosmetology students say people of colour aren’t represented in their curriculum and a petition is out calling for change.

Students say they aren't being taught how to style Black hair

Chloe Streit, left, and Tamia Okantey, right, are calling for their cosmetology program to be more inclusive and teach students how to work on different types of hair. (Submitted by Chloe Streit, Tamia Okantey)

Some Calgary cosmetology students say people of colour aren't represented in their curriculum and a petition is out calling for change.

Tamia Okantey completed high school this year at Central Memorial.

She studied cosmetology for the last three years and plans to continue working toward becoming a professional hairstylist next year at the Career and Technology Centre.

But she said she's yet to learn how to style and maintain curly hair like her own.

"I've been asking about cornrow braiding and haircutting and styling, and nothing has happened," said Okantey.

Even though she's been studying hairdressing for years, when it comes to her own hair Okantey said she's a little lost.

"Even with me having curly hair and having other family with curly hair I don't know much about it. I'm still learning what products to use and what products not to use," said Okantey. "I love my hair. My hair is beautiful" 

... it's essentially setting us up for failure to not be able to know how to work on different types of hair.- Chloe Streit, cosmetology student

Chloe Streit just completed Grade 11 and has taken cosmetology for two years.

Streit is behind an online petition which has garnered thousands of signatures calling on the province to change its curriculum. She's also sent letters to the provincial government and members of the Calgary Board of Education calling for change.

"We don't have a single Black mannequin or mannequin of colour in our entire school's inventory and I think this is ridiculous because to become a licensed hairdresser, it's not only giving us a bad image, but it's essentially setting us up for failure to not be able to know how to work on different types of hair," said Streit.

Okantey agrees, adding that learning about different hair types would not only make her feel more included but help her career.

"If you can find a person of colour and do their hair and they like you, they will be the loyalest client you have. They will come to you every single time because it's not very often that they can find someone that does their hair good," said Okantey.

The Ministry of Advanced Education said in September, several changes were introduced to help include "all types of people and their hair."

"The adult learning system is a shared responsibility of Advanced Education and our industry partners — and we work together to develop opportunities that are inclusive and reflect the diversity of Alberta's adult learners," a statement from the ministry read. 

But Okantey said she's yet to see those changes. "Honestly, for me, I haven't noticed anything."

She hopes the petition will pressure the government to make real change.


Join CBC Alberta for a personal and in-depth discussion about systemic racism, We Need to Talk, on Thursday, June 25, at 6:30 p.m. MT. Join CBC hosts Sandra Batson and Tanara McLean for a free, public forum discussion that shines a light on systemic racism in the province through the stories of people who have experienced it firsthand, with an aim to put forward potential solutions, concrete actions and examples of success. 

Panellists will include: 

  • Adora Nwofor, Calgary comedian and activist.
  • David Este, professor of social work, University of Calgary.
  • Ryan Holtz, Edmonton podcaster and marketing expert.
  • Jodi Calahoo-Stonehouse, executive director of Natamoowin, Yellowhead Indigenous Education Foundation.
  • Spirit River Striped Wolf, president of Mount Royal University students association.

With special performances from:

  • Alanna Bluebird-Onespot, poet, Tsuut'ina Nation.
  • Andrew Parker, Edmonton teacher.

You can watch it live on: cbc.ca/weneedtotalkcbc.ca/calgary or cbc.ca/edmontonCBC Calgary's Facebook feedCBC Edmonton's Facebook feedCBC Gem or CBC Television. 

Have a personal story to share about your experience with systemic racism? Email weneedtotalk@cbc.ca.

About the Author

Tahirih Foroozan is a reporter with CBC Calgary.

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