Campus salon adds stylist specializing in Black hair care

Author: Natalie Davis Miller, NDWorks

All it takes is one bad haircut. And we can all sympathize with one bad haircut. Professional hairstylist Yvette Wade has a client who, after moving to Florida, experienced a cut so bad that now that client waits for a visit to South Bend to have Wade work her magic. As of this month, Wade is bringing that magic to Notre Dame’s campus.

Wade is a master stylist specializing in African American hair care and hairstyles. She recently joined the team of hairstylists at University Hair Stylists, a salon located in the lower level of LaFortune Student Center.

For Wade, who has been in this field for more than 30 years, hair is about more than just the cut. It’s about having healthy hair. “The integrity of the hair — the health of the hair — that’s the biggest thing, regardless of the style you are wearing,” Wade said.

Wade asks new clients a litany of questions to assess the condition of their hair: what works, what doesn’t work, what have they done, what haven’t they done. “There are a lot of factors that go into styling the hair versus just coming in and sitting in a chair and saying, ‘Do whatever.’”

Wade is a much-needed addition to the stylists on campus. Getting a new haircut or style and finding the right stylist to do it shouldn’t be an issue. But for many African American men and women attending and working at Notre Dame, it has always been a stumbling block.

“When Black women know they are moving, they are already searching for a stylist. That’s one thing they are going to think about. I think it’s so misunderstood that it’s not seen as important as it is,” Wade said.

Hair types vary between and among races and individuals. Stylists use the numbers 1 through 4 with subcategories of A-C to categorize hair from very straight, fine and thin (1), to tight coils (4). Because African American hair is fundamentally different from other types of hair, its needs and care are also different. The issue then is finding someone who is skilled in that care, as well as finding readily available hair care products for upkeep. It’s not the easiest thing to do when you are new to an area.

“I am often asked by Black students, faculty and staff where they can get their hair done or buy hair care products,” Eric Love, director of staff diversity and inclusion in Human Resources, said. “I was thrilled when barber Joe Davis [who specializes in cuts for Black men] started on campus last semester, and now I am excited to have a master stylist, Yvette Wade, on campus for Black women and others.”

The salon has had stylists specializing in African American hair care over the years, but it has been close to 10 years since the last Black hair care stylist worked at the salon. African American faculty, staff and students have had to seek out a stylist in the area, wait until they visit a town with an experienced stylist or do their own hair. For students, it’s an issue of not only finding a stylist, but also finding the time and transportation to go off-campus.

Consuelo Wilson, director of the Office of Student Enrichment, has her hair styled by Yvette Wade at University Hair Stylists.

Consuela Wilson, director of the Office of Student Enrichment in the Division of Student Affairs, has been going to Wade for her hair care for 10 years. She found out during one of her regular appointments that Wade would be setting up shop at Notre Dame.

“It’s very convenient for me now, since I work here. I think it’s really important to have someone on campus that knows how to do all types of hair,” Wilson said. “We have students here, from all cultural backgrounds, with different types of hair. Many times they have to find someplace off-campus to get their hair done, and it’s hard for students to get off campus and it’s cost prohibitive. So, it’s important for them to feel like there is someplace where they can go to get their hair cared for — so they can feel as good about themselves as anyone else walking around campus, putting their best foot forward.”

The University Hair Stylists salon is owned and managed by Zak Emmons, who is also the proprietor of the barber shop in the lower level of LaFortune. Both shops have been in his family since the 1970s when his father, Jim Emmons, started with four chairs in a barber shop in Badin Hall. The shop moved to LaFortune in the ’80s.

“I love being on campus and interacting with the students and faculty. It’s really neat to be in the center of a cultural oasis here in South Bend,” Emmons said. “I would love to be able to take care of everyone on campus. It’s a long way from home for many of the students, and it’s nice to be able to provide a service to make them feel more comfortable.”

Arnel Bulaoro, director of Multicultural Student Programs and Services, works to deepen students’ sense of belonging.

“I believe that Notre Dame is a very special place and that whoever you are and wherever you come from, Notre Dame will take care of you and your basic needs like haircare,” Bulaoro said.

Bulaoro also works with the Diversity Council of Notre Dame and its president, senior Jo’Vette Hawkins.

“The Diversity Council has been advocating for better hair care resources and trained stylists in response to requests from many Black students who previously had to rely on external sources for services and information,” Hawkins said. “Ely Rodriguez ’23 and junior Milan Booker, after hearing the concerns of their peers, initiated the Multicultural Hair Care Initiative under the Diversity Council.”

Hawkins explained that the goal of the initiative is to educate students about hair care products, services and opportunities. They worked to secure a vending machine, also located in the lower level of LaFortune, stocked with hair care products for curly and kinky hair. But most importantly, they worked to secure a stylist specializing in Black hair care.

“It was crucial to address the needs of Black students who previously had limited options for hair care on campus and access to resources within the University community,” Hawkins said. “It reflects a positive step forward and shows students that they are seen and cared for. This will undoubtedly be a tremendous convenience and invaluable resource for students who previously had to manage their hair care needs on their own.”

Wade, who manages her own shop, Promise Hair Studio in South Bend, specializes in working with natural hair — twist outs, blowouts, cornrows, braids (not single braids) and two-strand twists; hair cuts, color and extensions; and other processes such as relaxers. She will work at University Hair Stylists from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. every Wednesday. This gives her a chance to be part of a solution to a problem.

“I know what it feels like looking for something and you can’t find it. I don’t know if people realized how hard it is to find not just a stylist, but a committed and loyal stylist. Giving the students access to a stylist who is knowledgeable and cares about the health and integrity of their hair is a win-win,” she said.

Wade sees the needs of the students on campus and looks forward to helping them. A devotee to the hair care industry, she subscribes to the belief that there’s always more one can learn to enhance knowledge, ability and creativity. But the end result always comes down to what she does for her clients and how she makes them feel.

“I think the most rewarding part for me is making someone look and feel better about themselves once they get out of my chair,” Wade said. “The smile is priceless.”

Originally published by Natalie Davis Miller, NDWorks at on May 14, 2024.