Election Section

Students at historically black college object to TV ad limiting hairstyles

The Associated Press
Saturday December 15, 2001

BALTIMORE — A public relations firm is under fire for inviting students with only straight, chemically processed or short hair to appear in a TV commercial for historically black Morgan State University. 

Sahara Communications sent a letter — which arrived Monday at the university’s theater department — saying that students with dreadlocks, head wraps, corn rows or braids were not wanted for the campaign. 

The request outraged many students, who saw it as a blatant attempt to portray a false image of the school, where 90 percent of the 5,700 students are black. 

“It’s ridiculous that a black college would typecast its students,” sophomore Zakiyyah Seitu said. “For a long time, black people have had to change who they are so they can fit in, and a lot of us go to a black college so we don’t have to change who we are.” 

The only two men in the theater department were told they could not be in the ad because of their hairstyles, and a female student was asked to go home and change her hairdo, students said. 

While the filming continued, school administrators met with about 20 upset students and assured them that all interested students could participate, college spokesman Clinton R. Coleman said. 

“The commercial was not intended to be exclusive from our point of view,” he said. 

Sahara spokeswoman Karen D. Sloane-Thomas said company officials met with students Tuesday and “the issue discussed has been resolved.” The firm, owned by Morgan State graduate Sandy Harley, would not elaborate. 

Morgan State signed a three-year, $1 million contract with Sahara in July and hopes to air the commercial next spring on area TV stations. 

“They don’t want to portray Morgan as a historically black college, but other people have got to be aware, if they come to Morgan, they’re going to be around people with head wraps,” said senior Yullanda Hinds. “If you look around this campus, what do you see? Hair.”