When they arrived at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County’s campus for their first year in 2018, junior biology major Adanna Ekekwe and junior mechanical engineering major Zaria Oliver felt like something was missing. As Black women in STEM, the pair faced racism and sexism without a specific enough place to go and vent.
“There were times where I was thinking: ‘Where can I find other girls who can relate to me in terms of cultural experiences they have at this campus?’” said Oliver. “I could have gone to the Women’s Center, but, even then, I felt like I wanted something more specific to Black women.”
To fill the void, the pair created CURL P.W.R. in the fall of 2019. CURL P.W.R. discusses intersections between Black beauty and racial discrimination, featuring conversations on Black hair in the workplace and Black love. Amongst these conversations, the club also brings in hair care professionals to give demonstrations and talks on topics like conditioners and wigs.
In general, Oliver and Ekekwe wanted to create a place where Black women could feel free to vent and talk about whatever was on their minds, whether it be classes or hair. Their club is guided by their slogan, “It’s not just girl power, it’s curl power.”
To Oliver and Ekekwe, curl power is the connection between Black women based on their hair. CURL P.W.R. looks to bring Black women together to form a strong community where everyone is supported and listened to.
“If you need a space to go to vent, if you need a space to go to be happy amidst the struggles that can come with being a Black girl at a PWI, then CURL P.W.R. is the space for you,” said Oliver. “Not only will it be easier to talk about what issues you might go through and tell you how we relate, but we’ll also be there to take the stress away by talking about lighthearted topics such as our hair.”
“As Black girls, you’re judged for so much,” added Ekekwe. “But, you should be comfortable doing whatever you want to do without judgment, not just with your hair.”
Currently, the club is discussing actions that UMBC could take that would better support its Black student population. Since this summer’s Black Lives Matter protests, Oliver and Ekekwe believe it is crucial to make Black perspectives and Black stories heard on campus.
While CURL P.W.R. focuses on uplifting Black women, Oliver and Ekekwe said the club is open for all allies.
“We invite anybody to attend, to be allies, and to come to listen and hear different points of view,” said Oliver.