This article was originally published by The Mennonite

Barbershop Talk creates space for discussion about race, masculinity on campus

Photo: Lindon McDonald (center), a first-year exercise science and marketing major, has his hair cut by Tydebol Mason during the Barbershop Talks. Xavier Newson (right), a senior business major, looks on. (Photo by Dr. Mitch Mitchell) 

This story originally appeared in The Record, Goshen College’s student newspaper. 

Goshen (Indiana) College students met for conversation and haircuts during the college’s first Barbershop Talk Series on Feb. 8.

The goal of this talk series is to open up a safe space for minority males of the student body to voice opinions, experiences and concerns. Local men from the community were present, as well as several local barbers who offered haircuts and shape-ups for students.

The Barbershop Talks were concocted by Dr. Mitch Mitchell, associate director of community life.

“The Barbershop Talk Series was prompted from numerous observations, conversations and interactions I had with minority male students on campus,” Dr. Mitchell said. “Many of them expressed disconnections with the campus environment, having limited involvement in campus activities and a lack of cultural affirming programs at GC.”

Dr. Mitchell has spent extensive time investigating and analyzing the experiences of black men as part of

Lane McDonald, a junior history Major, Lindon McDonald, a first-year exercise science and marketing major, and Xavier Newson, a senior business major, receive haircuts during the Barbershop Talks. (Photo by Dr. Mitch Mitchell)

a program called the Black Male Leadership Program, as well as determining the impact the program has had on retention rates at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU).

Nearly 30 students were present at the barbershop talk to enjoy the provided food and haircuts.

“I expected maybe a quarter to half of the actual amount of people that showed up, which was awesome,” said Jesse Loewen, a senior social work major from Goshen.

Many students used this platform to raise some of the concerns they have being a minority male student on campus. Topics of conversation ranged from the willingness of students to come to certain events, comfortability on campus and the role of hip-hop music in the culture we live in.

One of the opening points of conversation, led by Dr. Mitchell, was, “What does the barbershop mean to you?”

The question revealed that many of the people in the room came from very different places. Some people had been going to barbershops for the entirety of their lives. Others had started going to local barbershops in recent years, and still others had never been to a barbershop.

Some of the guests shared their experiences growing up in a barbershop environment, remembering them as places where they could be comfortable, expressing their views without judgement.

Gilberto Perez, senior director of intercultural development and educational partnerships, also helped in the formation of this unique program.

“Mr. Perez challenged me to develop an initiative to support students of color, and he said would finance the initial event,” said Dr. Mitchell.

Many of the students present appreciated the rare platform, citing it as one where they were supported and could more easily connect with those around them.

“I thought it was a great experience, probably the best event I have ever attended on this campus,” said Ari Benjamin, a junior physical education major from Trinidad and Tobago. “I expected it to be ‘just another race talk,’ but it blew my expectations away.”

“I hope in the future that less and less people of color feel unaccepted here at GC,” said Loewen. “[It] takes time and effort, and may never be perfect, but it starts with things like this.”

Dr. Mitchell echoed what the students felt, calling it a “momentous and impactful event.” He expects the talk series to take place at least once per semester in the future.

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