by Langley Leverett, Arts/Entertainment and Opinions Editor
September 5, 2020
The students of Sigma Tau Delta and the Multicultural Organization Reaching Equality (MORE) joined each other on Sept. 3 in Young Auditorium from 7 to 8 p.m. to discuss the graphic novel “Hot Comb.” This event was designed to combine literary review and cultural awareness, while also providing a way for two organizations to fellowship through academic interest.
“Hot Comb,” illustrated and written by Ebony Flowers, is a coming-of-age novel that offers keen insight into African American hair culture. After reading the book, students were encouraged to come to the event prepared to listen to an interview between professional hair stylist Sarah Byrd-Price and MORE President and junior biology major Dayja James.
This event was possible due to Sigma Tau Delta’s faculty sponsor Amy Sonheim and the Speer Writing Center’s director Jennifer Pittman who applied for the NetVue Professional Development Grant. Together, they co-direct the grant in order to encourage writing as a way to reflect on vocation.
“Jennifer and I believe that God calls us individually, but we also believe that God calls us corporately, as a group,” Sonheim said. “Without a doubt, one of the things that Ouachita is called to do is to learn to live in community. So for us, that meant asking, ‘What’s never talked about at Ouachita that could stand some limelight?’ And we thought, ‘Well, the complex culture of African American hairstyles.'”
Following this decision, Sonheim and Pittman decided to use the grant award to purchase 35 copies of the novel from a Black book-seller, Pyramid Art, Book, and Custom Framing. These copies were then distributed to students free of charge. Along with reading the book, students were given a survey with questions about the culture of hair and asked to explain their personal experiences.
“It’s an honor to be able to have this discussion together. At this point, everyone is already feeling mask fatigue. I think people are confusing masks with gags, like they can’t talk or can’t speak,” Sonheim said. “So this discussion celebrates, yes, that we can listen, reflect, and discuss, and even ask questions.”
Designed to give community back to the students of Ouachita, this event also allowed students to gain valuable perspectives on cultural awareness.
“Yes, our Black hair experiences are unique, but it’s also no different than my White friends or my Hispanic friends having hair-days too,” James said. “I think we need to focus more on realizing that we can be different, but we can also unify under the fact that there is a struggle, and we’re not in it alone. Being open about the different types of hair and realizing that it’s diverse is creating an understanding environment for everyone to have that conversation. That is the start of being culturally aware.”
Sigma Tau Delta President and senior psychology and English major Tray Armstrong understands the value in reading diversified texts. Diverse reading allows the audience to discover other truths and personal revelations.
“At its core, ‘Hot Comb’ is talking about the human experience. Reading books like ‘Hot Comb’ helps me widen my scope. It gives us an appreciation for experiences outside our own,” Armstrong said. “We’re able to not only diversify our experiences through reading, but also our views and perspectives. It may not give us new answers, but it does give us new ways to empathize with others.”