The policy against her against BYU-Hawaii students receives support from the NAACP Legal Defense Fund

Kanaan Barton is fighting against grooming rules that he believes were used to discriminate against him.

(Kanaan VyShonne Barton) Pictured is Kanaan VyShonne Barton, a student at Brigham Young University-Hawaii, who was told by private school administrators to cut his locs.

The NAACP Legal Defense Fund is now joining the fight of a black student at Brigham Young University-Hawaii, who has been pushing for months for the religious school to change its policy on hairstyles after he was told to cut off his locs, otherwise he might be deported. .

Having the national organization on board lends great strength to Kanaan Barton’s fight, not only because the Defense Fund is the oldest civil rights legislative group in the country, but also because of its connection to the NAACP, which has a historic alliance with The Church of Jesus Christ of the Country. Latter-day Saints – which BYU-Hawaii sponsors.

In a letter to the private school’s president sent last week, the Legal Defense Fund pointed to that partnership, and the pledge it made to eliminate “bias of all kinds,” while advocating for the school to strengthen its to update standards for her that students must follow. and staff must adhere to it. As the rules currently stand, the lawyers say, they discriminate against people of color by not allowing them to wear their hair in ways that may be culturally important to them, which applies in Barton’s case .

“BYU-Hawaii must ensure that its dress and grooming policies do not target Black and other students of color,” the organization wrote in the message sent Thursday, “and not carry any vestiges of the LDS Church’s previous attitudes about Black people and their characteristics.”

The landmark partnership between the LDS Church and the NAACP came about in 2018 — five years after the Utah-based faith publicly “rejected past theories that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor” previously held by members were believed.

The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund was originally affiliated with the NAACP and is still affiliated by name and mission, although they are now separate entities. For example, the defense fund litigated and won the famous case of Brown v. Board of Education, in which the court ruled that school segregation was unconstitutional. (The NAACP and the LDS Church announced their alliance on the 64th anniversary of that decision.)

In its letter, the Defense Fund urged that the church and the school enforce these words in practice. And there were calls for a meeting with the BYU-Hawaii administration to discuss hair policy.

“Together we can ensure that students at BYU-Hawaii, regardless of race or ethnicity, are in a space where they feel safe and their rights are respected,” the letter continues.

The defense fund is not saying whether it plans to take legal action, but it is making arguments that the school’s policies violate the U.S. Constitution by discriminating against students and hindering their right to free speech, including speech and expression. unspoken communication and specifically protects the expression of heritage.

The debate over hairstyles at BYU-Hawaii began last September, about a month after Barton transferred to the school to study computer science. His situation drew widespread attention when it was discussed on social media by the popular Black Menaces group that addresses racial and other inequities at BYU and in the LDS Church.

Barton, an active member of the LDS Church, said he was hanging out near the dorms with some friends when a school security officer stopped him, asked for his ID and wondered if he was really a student. Barton said the officer then handed back his identification card and told him that the length of his hair – with twisted dark brown strands down to his shoulders – was against school rules.

As a private school, BYU-Hawaii may require that students agree to follow certain standards as a condition of attendance. The University of Hawaii – as well as BYU’s church-run campuses in Utah and Idaho – maintains a strict honor code that instructs students to abstain from sex before marriage, as well as a ban on the consumption of coffee, alcohol and tobacco.

The section on clothing and grooming states that hair should be “clean, neat and modest, avoiding extremes in styles and colors.” For men, beards are off-limits and hair must be ‘neatly trimmed’. No explicit ban on locomotives is mentioned. And there are no more details about the length.

The honor code previously said that men should have their hair cut “above the collar, leaving the ear uncovered.” That language was removed in an update last year. A ‘frequently asked questions’ document accompanying the current version of the Code of Honor adds that the intention remains that ‘hair should be cut short and neatly trimmed’ for men. But it also doesn’t include the “above the collar” reference or any measurements for acceptable lengths.

There are no outlined exceptions to the rules based on culture.

Barton said locs are important to his family because his mother and sister both wear their hair in the same style. And it’s significant in his culture as an African American of Afro-Guyanese descent, he previously told The Salt Lake Tribune. He also says he works hard to maintain them. Once a month he visits a loctician to ensure they are neat and clean, as the rules require.

He could not be reached Monday to discuss the Legal Defense Fund’s involvement in his case. A spokesperson for BYU-Hawaii did not respond to a request for comment from The Tribune, nor did the LDS Church’s public relations department.

Barton previously said he has tried to work with the school and BYU-Hawaii President John SK Kauwe III to reach a compromise for his hair. But he says it didn’t help much. Lately he’s been wearing his locs folded so they appear shorter, but he said school administrators have told him this isn’t a long-term solution, and he still has to cut them off.

He said it has made him determined to push for a permanent change to the rules so that it is more culturally inclusive for all students; he tries not to question the faith he loves, but he finds the hair policy arbitrary and discriminatory. That includes Pacific Islander cultures, some of which value long hair for men and who make up a large percentage of BYU-Hawaii’s student population. It also applies to Native American and indigenous students.

The Legal Defense Fund specifically mentions the latter in their letter, saying that forcing Native students to cut their traditional hair “reinforces the generational trauma associated with the assimilative hair cutting in Indian boarding schools” that occurred in the 19th century and early 1900s. were active in the United States in the 19th century, could worsen further. 1900. Native students were forced to attend and stripped of their culture.

The organization argues that BYU’s hair and grooming policies effectively operate in a similar manner to the harmful actions of the past and “unfairly require the people subject to them to conform to the norms of another culture.”

Rules that prohibit students from wearing culturally significant hairstyles, the advocates argue, disproportionately impact already underrepresented populations and often leave individuals feeling like they don’t belong.

The NAACP Legal Defense Fund’s action is not the organization’s first against a school for discriminatory hair policies. Similarly, earlier in the 1960s, the NAACP protested the LDS Church’s ban on black men holding the priesthood; the faith’s policy was changed in 1978.

(BYU-Hawaii) An aerial view of the BYU-Hawaii campus in Laie, Hawaii. The campus on Oahu’s North Shore is adjacent to the Polynesian Cultural Center.

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