FARGO — When Whitney Walker got off the phone with a cosmetology school about two weeks ago, it would be the last time she would be put on hold for 20 minutes to see if someone could style her daughter’s textured hair.

Walker, who owns Beauty Bar by Whitney in downtown Fargo, was scheduling a massage and basic cornrows for her daughter. It took two minutes to schedule the massage, and 20 minutes, a hold, and a call back to find someone in the school who could do seven basic cornrows, Walker said.

“I’m not asking for a huge, technical service,” Walker said. “I feel like a hairstylist should know how to do basic cornrows.”

The situation is a familiar one for people with curly, coiled or textured hair.

After Walker hung up, she posted on Facebook, wanting to open up the conversation about diversity in hair. That post opened up Ashley Lee’s eyes.

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Lee, who owns Best-Tressed in Fargo, created a petition that same day, advocating for education on all hair and skin types in cosmetology and esthetics courses. The petition to the North Dakota Board of Cosmetology board members has nearly 600 signatures.

“For there to only be a handful of hairstylists that can offer diversity in hair, and there's thousands of hairstylists in the state and quite a few that graduate annually, what are we learning?” Walker asked.

The spearheading didn’t stop with the petition.

Lee, Walker and West Fargo hairstylist Christina McNeal are calling for curriculum reform in cosmetology schools across the state. The trio joined forces to introduce legislation on the state level, and hope to pass along their idea to a representative during the 2021 Legislature, which convenes in January.

The proposed curriculum is still in its early stages, but would include an equal representation of concerns and solutions for every skin and hair type, and more styling and product options for highly textured hair.

“I'm here to advocate for basic, standard, ethnic hair care training in the four schools in the state,” Walker said. “I think that is discrimination not to. I think that there are enough educators worldwide where if you don't have any in North Dakota, you can bring them in. That should be allotted in your budget.”

The state board of cosmetology has adopted rules regarding curriculum, including requiring each school to teach branches and areas of cosmetology, but the board doesn’t detail the requirements for what each school’s curriculum should look like.

“With a more diverse curriculum in cosmetology and esthetics courses, a huge percentage of the population that is currently overlooked will be acknowledged and taken care of,” Lee said in the petition.

Whitney Walker, left, and Christina McNeal meet Monday, June 15, at Beauty Bar by Whitney in downtown Fargo to discuss plans to move forward in their work to reform cosmetology school curriculum in the state. Carissa Wigginton / The Forum
Whitney Walker, left, and Christina McNeal meet Monday, June 15, at Beauty Bar by Whitney in downtown Fargo to discuss plans to move forward in their work to reform cosmetology school curriculum in the state. Carissa Wigginton / The Forum

Walker wants a fair playing field for everyone, including increasing the amount of products specifically tailored to curly, coiled and textured hair available at salons.

“I have a salon 50 feet away from me, and it’s a little disheartening to be asked by a client, ‘Do you know someone who could do my hair?’ and I say, ‘I do, but not for you,’” Walker said. “So after 20-some of those conversations, I’m like, ‘What is this?’”

Walker said the resources need to be provided so everybody in the “bustling community that’s constantly growing” can be serviced.

As Josef’s School of Hair, Skin & Body’s student body becomes more diverse, the school has been working toward fulfilling that void in its Grand Forks and Fargo schools.

“We agree, and can firsthand attest to the lack of opportunity to educate our students on ethnic or textured hair services,” said Josef’s director of operations Alicia Schaeffer. “Much of what a student learns in beauty school is what they are exposed to in clientele. Fargo has become more and more diverse, and that being said, we need local educators that can not only teach from personal experience, but from professional training in this specific topic.”

Josef’s offers hair cutting, coloring, relaxers and styling for textured hair, and includes a textured hair mannequin in its student kits. But the school is still striving to further give its students a diverse education in hair to be able to offer more within the community, Schaeffer added.

Lee, who graduated from Josef’s in 2012, said she did cornrows on a mannequin probably one time.

“How can we be licensed in something and be professional cosmetologists or professional estheticians and not be trained in everything?” Lee said.

For the first three years of her career, Lee didn’t know much about curly or textured hair.

“I knew it was an issue to find people who did curly hair,” Lee said. “But I didn’t realize in the black community that it’s such an issue, that you don’t feel like there’s many places in town you can get services.”

McNeal, who owns West Fargo-based Hair Therapy, said everybody deserves the same right to be able to walk into a place and receive the same services.

“The purpose is for growth. North Dakota is growing and we’re trying to grow with them,” McNeal said.

To sign the petition, visit https://bit.ly/3hMLAR4.