Barbershop at Buntrock Commons helps shape a more inclusive campus
A pop-up barbershop is fast gaining a following among St. Olaf College students, providing both a much-needed service and a tangible step toward building a more inclusive campus.
Every other Monday, a conference room in Buntrock Commons is transformed into a fully functional barbershop. There are bright lights and mirrors, music playing, razors buzzing, and a hum of conversation punctuated by laughter. The clientele: primarily students of color, who typically have had to trek to the Twin Cities to find barbers who could meet their needs.
Giovanni Green ’23, Oles Against InequalityThis space can serve as a safe haven for any and all peoples, while also providing familiarity and comfort to BIPOC students adjusting to life on their own in the Northfield community.
Giovanni Green ‘23, a leader with Oles Against Inequality (OAI), the student group that brought the barbers to St. Olaf, says the barbershop fills a service gap and provides a place of connection.
“This space can serve as a safe haven for any and all peoples, while also providing familiarity and comfort to BIPOC students adjusting to life on their own in the Northfield community,” he says.
The barbershop made its debut in October, more than a year after a group of student-athletes first began tossing around the idea and collaborating with the Taylor Center for Equity and Inclusion, which is supporting the project. The project has already gained outside attention, including with a featured story on Minnesota Public Radio.
Aidan Lloyd ‘24 says he was inspired by a similar, permanent barbershop he’d spotted on another campus. Seeing that barbershop made a big impact. Although Lloyd eventually chose to enroll at St. Olaf, he seriously considered the other school in part because the barbershop was evidence that the institution understood its students’ needs.
In the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, Lloyd and other members of the newly formed OAI were looking for transformative ideas for St. Olaf and turned their focus to the barbershop. The COVID-19 pandemic complicated their plans, but by this fall the students had secured a location and an eager team of professional barbers from Trendz Barbershop in Apple Valley.
Funding for the barber chairs, lights, and other supplies came from St. Olaf Athletics, which was already supporting the efforts of OAI, which is primarily composed of student athletes. Athletic Director Ryan Bowles says he was immediately drawn to the idea of the barbershop as a space to build community and was eager to help.
“We believed that the barbershop could make a difference,” he says, “and so far it has.”
Appointments have filled up quickly for each of the barbershop’s dates at Buntrock. Demand has been so high that OAI organizers are hoping to add a fourth chair and barber, and they are exploring the possibility of opening up the barbershop to students across town at Carleton College.
Grace Maxwell ‘22, an OAI leader, says other goals include expanding the barbershop’s services to be more inclusive, incorporating braiding and other hairstyling needs — and potentially even hosting speakers.
“The work for this type of environment is never-ending, continuous, and always reinventing itself,” she says. “The barbershop is only the first step of many to come.”
Lloyd says he hopes St. Olaf’s barbershop can become a model for other colleges and universities with similar needs. He imagines a future where the barbershop is a built-in feature here and elsewhere around the country, providing a powerful and practical sign of inclusion.
“One of the big ideas we had was that this was a legacy we could leave in the school, to make a permanent space,” he says.