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The Beauty Genie Makes Hair Care Products Accessible to Olivet’s Students of Color

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Senior Rahya Kelley leads effort to bring vending machine to campus

Senior Rahya Kelley saw a need for students of color on campus, so she took action. Many do not think about having access to proper hair care products. However, finding hair care products can be challenging for Black students attending college in a rural community. Like many students of color, Rahya waited until going home for a weekend to purchase the products she desired and needed.

Now, thanks to Rahya’s leadership and the support of The University of Olivet, students of color have access to hair care products on campus. The Beauty Genie vending machine – the first of its kind on any college campus – in the main lobby of Mott Academic Center is stocked with Black hair care items like edge control, deep conditioner, bonnets and combs.

In addition to providing hair care products, the Beauty Genie also displays various short educational videos from professional hairstylists discussing how to maintain your hair and the best products for each hair type.

Rahya said, “By only having the option of first come, first serve in stores like Walmart or Meijer, I could only get the products I needed when I went home. It’s like that for a lot of African American students. So, I felt like it was time to change that.”

Rahya shared her frustration with members of the Hiram Archer Student Success Academy (H.A.S.S.A.) when discussing Black hair care needs. H.A.S.S.A. is a student organization named after Olivet’s first African American graduate, Hiram Archer. It strives to support students in their academic, cultural, personal, social and spiritual development. “There was an option of taking weekly trips to the beauty supply store, and I was telling them how my aunt has a hair care vending machine,” Rahya explained.

Senior and H.A.S.S.A. President Laneace Menefee said, “H.A.S.S.A. wanted to act on Rahya’s idea because we have trouble accessing the right hair products for our hair. We just thought that it would make it so much easier and would be a great addition to the campus since we have an increasing number of students of color. We just want to ensure that students of color know they have a resource on campus so they don’t have to worry about making long trips to the hair store. They can have most of their needs or all on campus.”

Joshua Gillespie, associate dean of student life, said, “There are multiple ways to illustrate commitment to diversity. The Beauty Genie is one way to recognize and fill a gap. Students want to feel connected. Students want to feel a sense of belonging. The Beauty Genie signifies a recognition that understanding students’ needs are important. However, one should not be mistaken to believe that the Beauty Genie alone makes everyone feel valued. It requires more, but this is indeed a positive step. The University has a number of ways that make students feel safe, connected, supported, belonged, and celebrated.”

The first Beauty Genie vending machine was placed in a Chicago train station. The company’s CEO and co-founder Ebony Karim, also Rahya’s mother’s best friend, saw the opportunity to serve Black students in remote colleges, where personal care items can be hard to come across. The timing was perfect.

“The Beauty Genie fits with H.A.S.S.A.’s mission because H.A.S.S.A. is not just a safe haven for students of color;  it’s also a place where you can go for resources when you need something like hygiene products, cleaning supplies and food. In rural Olivet, there aren’t a lot of places where you can go and get your beauty or hair product needs, especially if you don’t have a car. And that’s why I think the Beauty Genie is such a great idea because it’s making it easier for us to get what we need right on campus,” said Laneace.

When asked if she hopes other remote colleges will host a Beauty Genie, Rayha said, “Yes, I do, because I feel like everyone should be able to feel like they belong on their campus especially when going to a small school like Olivet.”

The Beauty Genie is one example of how Olivet students are encouraged to advocate for themselves and others. “The Beauty Genie is a significant reminder that students need different things based on their class, gender, socioeconomic status, orientation and the list can go on. Those with influence must never be satisfied,” Joshua said. “And there must be a constant effort to listen and respond to the feedback of all students.”

Learn more about The University of Olivet by contacting the Office of Admission at admissions@uolivet.edu or 269-749-7635.

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