What is your name?
Where do you live?
Atlanta, Georgia, USA
What is your occupation?
Assistant Professor of Mathematics at Morehouse College
What is your educational background?
B.S. Mathematics and Computer Science, Spelman College 2006; Ph. D. Applied Mathematics, University of Maryland, 2012
How long have you been natural?
I’ve been natural since I graduated from Spelman in May 2006.
Why did you decide to “go” natural?
My original motivation was simple: Perms burn my scalp. I tried every technique possible, and couldn’t keep my scalp from burning. At some point, I just asked myself “Why?”, and decided to stop getting touch-ups. I still straightened my hair on/off for the next 6 years. In 2012, I moved to France and committed to not putting heat on my hair. It was in my time overseas that I took the time to learn how to work with my hair.
What is your go-to natural hairstyle?
When my hair is long, I typically wear it in a twist-out. When it’s short, I sport a wash-n-go.
Have you ever experienced any challenges in the workplace due to your natural hair?
I’m fortunate in that I work in a mostly black city (Atlanta) in a mostly black environment (an HBCU). So there’s very little pressure in my daily life to conform to certain hairstyles. But on multiple occasions, at professional conferences, I’ve been told that my appearance or hair was “unprofessional” or made people uncomfortable. Early in my career, these types of reactions really discouraged me. But I let these negative experiences spur my outreach activities aimed at changing the perception of what a mathematician “looks” like.
What do you love most about your natural hair?
I love how BIG it is!
What have you found to be most challenging about being natural?
Learning to accept what my hair “wants” to do. This can be related to the weather, the health of my hair, the time I have, or a slew of other things. My hair doesn’t always do what I want/plan for it to do. I had to learn to accept that and work with what I’ve got!
How do you maintain your “work-hair-life” balance?
This is something I really struggle with. Before I had kids, I had all the time in the world, and my natural hair was long, healthy and beautiful. Since having kids, I have trouble finding the time to put together professional styles for long natural hair. Now, I mostly opt to keep my hair short. This gives me a professional look without too much time spent on my hair each morning.
What words of encouragement would you offer to someone who is considering going natural, but may have reservations due to their profession?
Go for it!! Don’t let your colleagues send you the message “We can accept you as long as you’re striving for unattainable standards of beauty.” Also, find a good natural hairstylist. A good stylist will definitely have you looking super-polished and professional with your natural hair.
Follow Dr. Shelby Wilson on Facebook: Shelby Wilson Chembo, Handle: ScrabbitNicole
or visit: www.shelby-wilson.com and www.mathematicallygiftedandblack.com