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Saturday, April 20
The Indiana Daily Student

city politics

Bills banning race-based hair discrimination in schools introduced in state legislature


Bills that would prohibit race-based hair discrimination in Indiana public schools were introduced in the Indiana House and Senate last week. 

Senate Bill 94, written by Sen. Fady Qaddoura, D-30th District, would prohibit discrimination based on traits, like hair texture and protective hairstyles, that have been historically associated with race. House Bill 1124 , written by Rep. Vanessa Summers, D-99th District, would also prohibit discrimination based on traits that are historically associated with race, like hair texture and protective hair styles.  

Jennifer Drobac, an emeritus professor of law at IUPUI, said the House and Senate often work on similar legislation and negotiate on language both chambers are comfortable with. 

The bills would amend the Indiana code concerning education. Drobac said there are several existing Indiana code sections prohibiting discrimination, including the Indiana Civil Rights Act and the Indiana Employment Discrimination Act.  

However, Drobac said the Employment Discrimination Act isn’t effective for workers because employers must agree in writing to be sued under the Indiana code. 

“Since employers do not agree to be sued in writing, the main remedy is through the Indiana Civil Rights Commission, which is a wonderful body but is overworked and underpaid,” Drobac said. 

Anything applying to education, however, does not have this requirement, Drobac said. There are limits, she said, as private and parochial schools in Indiana can discriminate if it furthers their religious mission, but these limits are well understood. 

“This looks like a much more protective aspect of the Education Code, which is truly designed to help children and employees of the public education system,” Drobac said.  

Charter schools would also be covered under this bill according to Molly Neary, a press secretary for the Indiana Senate Democrats.  

The bills define protective hairstyles as hairstyles such as braids, locs and twists and hair that is tightly curled or coiled. The bills also include traits that have been historically associated with race, like hair texture and protective styles, in their definitions of race. 

This means that someone who is not from a particular race, wears a protected hairstyle, they may not be protected under the bill, Drobac said. The statute tracks hairstyles associated with a particular race, and Drobac said it appears it is protecting a person from that race, ethnicity, natural origin or religion. 

“For example, Orthodox Jews who have particular hairstyles would be protected under this law in their schools,” Drobac said.  “But someone who's a Protestant, for example, wearing that similar Jewish hairstyle might not be protected.” 

Historically, African American women and other women of different backgrounds, like Creole women of color, have been discriminated based on their hair, Ameriha Renfro, president of the IU Campus Curls and Coils club, said. 

The club’s main goal, Renfo said, is to be inclusive and have equality for every person in relation to their hair. The club tries to make others comfortable and promote good health, good haircare and teach people how to take care of their hair. 

In 2013, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued on behalf of Chastity Jones, whose job offer was rescinded after she refused to cut off her locs according to an article from the historical database JSTOR. The EEOC lost, and in 2016, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the district court's ruling and dismissed the case. 

Renfo said she thinks the bill is important because of how big of a problem hair discrimination has been throughout history. According to Teen Vogue, in the 1700s, Louisiana’s Tignon Laws required Creole women of color cover their hair with a tignon, a scarf or handkerchief, to indicate that they belonged to the slave class, even though some of these women were free.  

As an African American woman, Renfo said her hair is an extremely important expression of who she is. 

“Especially when it comes to braids or sew-ins or anything, like natural, I feel like that's just a part of who I am as an individual,” Renfo said.  

A bill like this, Renfo said, is extremely important because it shows that everyone is accepted. Inclusivity and equality, she said, are things that people must continuously have to work to build on.  

“This bill is going to allow people to just be continuously open and just expressive with who they want to be,” Renfo said. “And not only that, but just literally love the skin that they're in, to say the least, like continue to love the skin that you're in.” 

A common misconception, she said, is that certain hairstyles are seen as unprofessional when the styles are just natural for different women of color.  

“It's just a natural thing,” Renfo said. “It's a natural basis of who we are, and it's not something that we can help or not something that we can change.” 

If either bill becomes law, Indiana will join 22 other states that have enacted the CROWN Act or legislation inspired by it, according to the Legal Defense Fund. The CROWN Act, which stands for “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair,” was first introduced in California and prohibits race-based hair discrimination.   

Drobac said this idea is timely and that people are concerned about diversity and inclusion. She said people also see that Indiana is going in the wrong direction with respect to some minority workers and students. 

“But what Indiana really needs to do is protect all of its residents,” Drobac said. 

Drobac said she believes the Ssenate bill’s sponsor is well motivated, but that others may appreciate the legislation for less noble reasons. Indiana recently took steps to discriminate against transgender and other members of the LGBTQ+ community, Drobac said. In May 2022, the Indiana legislature passed House Bill 1041 which prohibits transgender women and girls from participating in female K-12 sports.  

When the state takes a protective stance towards African Americans, it splits off the LGBTQ+ community from other minority populations, Drobac said. 

“Indiana then has the ability of say, ‘Oh, no, no, no, we protect people in Indiana., See our new protective hairstyle legislation?’ And point to that as being the fact to exemplify how inclusive Indiana is,” Drobac said.,  “When in fact, Indiana is also moving in the wrong direction with respect to other constitutionally protected traits, such as gender and sex.” 

 Senate Bill 94 was referred to the Committee on Education and Career Development and House Bill 1124 was referred to the Committee on Education on Jan. 8. The final day of the legislative session is on March 14 according to the General Assembly’s website.  

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