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Nursing student says she had to leave school over 'racially biased' hair policy

An aspiring nurse says that “racially biased” guidelines on hair left her no choice but to leave her nursing program.

As New Orleans NBC affiliate WDSU first reported, 29-year-old Jade Payadue claims that the policy on nursing students’ hair at the University of Holy Cross forced her to withdraw, because her natural hair was considered inappropriate.

“When in lab coat or uniform, hair must be neat and may not extend below the bottom of the collar of the lab coat or uniform,” the hair section of the school’s uniform policy reportedly states. “Therefore, long hair must be secured above the collar, off the neck and shoulders, and appropriately contained at the back of the head. If the hair is ‘put up’ the hair may not be higher than four inches. Hair must be clean with the appearance of being shampooed regularly.”

Jade Payadue at her white coat ceremony, where she said an instructor patted her hair down. (Photo: Courtesy of Jade Payadue)

The New Orleans-based university defended the policy in a statement to WDSU, claiming the rules are about safety. 

“The University of Holy Cross expects all of its students, while doing their clinical rotations at various hospitals throughout the New Orleans area, to comply with Holy Cross’s rules and regulations,” the statement reads. “Those rules and regulations take into account those of the hospitals where its students perform their clinical rotations. The hair rule about which a nursing student complained is for the safety of the nursing students.”

But in an interview with Yahoo Lifestyle, Payadue said that the policy targets black women like her who prefer to wear their hair naturally. She has claimed that she was pressured to straighten and trim her hair, which was deemed “too big” and “not neat.”

“The university’s hair policy is arbitrary and racially biased,” she told Yahoo Lifestyle. “The way I styled my hair in no way put my patients, myself, or anyone else at risk. I checked the policies of several hospitals the university uses for clinical, and none of them have the same hair policy as the university.”

Payadue, who is from Harvey, La., started the University of Holy Cross nursing program in fall 2017 but withdrew on March 12, 2018, after coming into conflict over the hair policy.

“Feb. 6 was the day of our first uniform inspection and the day I was first harassed about my hair,” she recalled.

Payadue on Feb. 6, the first time her hair was criticized for violating the school’s policy. (Photo: Courtesy of Jade Payadue)

“I was bullied by the head of the nursing program and an instructor. My hair was measured, and even after the measurement proved my hair was within the guidelines, I was still told that I must find another way to style it if I wanted to continue in the program.”

Payadue did make efforts to appease the school, styling her hair in a “twist out” and then braids for certain important events.

“If I hadn’t changed my hair, I would have risked failing the demo exam and not being allowed to attend my first clinical day,” she explained. “I have noticed other women getting flak about the way they wore their hair. Those women have altered their hairstyles for the most part in order to limit further harassment.”

The nursing student measured her hair to prove that it met the school’s guidelines. (Photo: Courtesy of Jade Payadue)

But another incident would soon follow and would raise concerns about how the staff treated her.

“On Feb. 19, I was told my hair was too big and an instructor patted my hair down without my permission,” she continued. “This particular incident made me extremely uncomfortable around university instructors and increased the anxiety I already felt due to the situation. 

“I was also told I was angry and unprofessional when I showed emotions,” she added. “This situation didn’t make me angry — I was hurt, upset, and confused by it all. The multiple times I was pulled into meetings with multiple instructors and the head of the nursing program caused me to become upset at times. Anytime I shed tears, I was accused of being angry.

“Historically, black women have been called angry when we show any sign of emotion other than happiness. It’s time to rid the country of this stereotype. Black women have every right to show emotions, even anger.”

Payadue eventually chose to leave the program and finished her education at another university before continuing on to graduate school. The alternative, she said, was to stay at University of Holy Cross and sign a contract agreeing to counseling and academic probation.

But she says that her falling-out with the school is about much more than hair.

“I would describe my hair as full of life,” she said. “My natural hair is a part of who I am, and it is important for myself and other women of color to be viewed as acceptable the way we were born. We are constantly told our hair is unprofessional and not neat in its natural state, which is unfair.

“It’s important for me and other women of color to know it is OK to be natural. Straightening our hair and using chemicals is damaging to our hair and our health. We shouldn’t need to do this to make others happy or receive an education or job opportunity.”

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