In March, Jade Payadue, 29, walked away from a life-long dream of becoming a nurse while studying at the University of Holy Cross in New Orleans, Louisiana.
In an exclusive with HelloBeautiful, Payadue states that she was forced to leave during the junior year of her undergraduate program due to a culmination of events that began with her hair. According to the school’s policy, Payadue’s mane violated a four-inch rule implemented by the university.
A portion of the school’s policy states the following, “When in lab coat or uniform, hair must be neat and may not extend below the bottom of the collar of the lab coat or uniform. Therefore, long hair must be secured above the collar, off the neck and shoulders and appropriately contained at the back of the head. If the hair is ‘put up’ the hair may not be higher than four inches. Hair must be clean with the appearance of being shampooed regularly.”
Payadue says that she was told to trim her hair or straighten it to comply with the rule. In a statement to WDSU, the school has stood by their policy.
Payadue’s story again touches on corporate racial politics and how companies and institutions levy respectability and professionalism against features belonging to communities of color—specifically when it comes to hair.
Payadue says that although the media attention has mostly focused on the politics of policing Black women’s hair, the real issue is being ignored.
“What I’ve noticed is that a lot of people are missing the fact that the situation is not just about my hair. A big part of the issue is the retaliation,” Payadue said. “I followed the grievance procedure. I did what I was supposed to do within the university. I took the steps that I was supposed to take as they were written in our handbook, and in response to me doing what I was supposed to do, I was forced out of the university.”
The incidents first began on February 6 when Payadue says an instructor, spoke to her about her hair during a uniform inspection.
Then just days later on February 19 after an exam right before a white coat ceremony, she was told by a separate instructor, Amy Herbert,that her hair again violated the policy.
“Our exams are taken electronically and after we finish we have to get our iPads checked to make sure it went through and when I was doing that an instructor was like, ‘Your hair it looks a little too high, it’s too big. You need to make sure you fix that before the ceremony.’ I told her, ‘I measured it and it’s not too big, it’s not bigger than four inches.’ I actually had a ruler in the car. I always measured it because I knew they were going to keep on me about it.”
After the ceremony, Herbert approached her again.
“She said it still looked too big and she patted my hair down like I was a puppy,” Payadue stated. She said she did not react while her hair was being touched.
A few days later she was called into a meeting with another instructor where she was told she was unprofessional in her reaction to Herbert. She was also told she would need to sign a contract and write an essay to allow her to continue clinicals.
Payadue said that she signed the agreement and completed the essay, but also wrote that she did not agree with the process of what she was asked to do. Along with the essay, she turned in a formal 20-page complaint against the university.
After she turned in the compliant, she was called into another meeting with the head of the nursing program, Dr. Patricia Pretcher. According to Payadue, Prechter asked her what could be done to eradicate the problem.
“My response to her was that there was nothing she could do, because she was part of the problem and that I am not going to find a solution to a problem that I did not create,” Payadue said.
Payadue was told that she was required to go to two mandatory counseling sessions and agree to a probationary period that would last the duration of the program.
Following another meeting with Pretcher and several instructors, Payadue met with the provost of the school, Victoria Dahmes. Payadue said that she was never asked for her side of the story.
“I told them that I felt that they need to have a student advocacy program so that students are not pulled into meetings with—because there’s always two instructors—where the student has no one to advocate for them,” she said. Dahmes said she would investigate, but Payadue said she had no faith in the integrity of the investigation. The meetings took place within a two-week time span.
Payadue says she felt it imperative that she stand up for herself when she submitted a 20-page complaint to the University. After receiving the complaint, the school sent her an ultimatum, giving her 24 hours to make a decision about her status in the program.
On March 12, Payadue decided to withdraw from the program. In the period since, Payadue says she has suffered depression, anxiety, and has lost weight due to stress.
Payadue, a wife and mother to an 11-year-old son and five-year-old daughter, says that she initially chose the school because it was conveniently located—only minutes away from her home.
Though her time at Holy Cross is over, Payadue is considering Louisiana State University or Xavier to complete her education, but now feels uncertain about pursuing nursing.
“I don’t feel confident in the field anymore. I know that my instructors are teaching me how to treat patients, and yet showing me differently in how they treat us,” she said.
To Payadue justice would be to continue to fight against the policy and bring awareness to the issue. She says that she is not the only one who has suffered at the hands of the policy, but she is the first to speak out.
“For those who are forcing these rules, I need them to understand that things are changing and we’re not going to sit by and be mistreated and take it silently. I’m not begging anybody for acceptance.”
Payadue says she has sought out legal counsel and will continue her fight in the courtroom. She feels the only way to rectify the matter is for the school to offer a full financial reimbursement. “I wasted money. I wasted time, I basically paid them to harass me,” said Payadue.
She wants to show women of color that they do not have to be forced into silence.
“I would like to tell others who have gone through what I have gone through that they don’t have to sit down and take it. They don’t have to bend and mold themselves into what others want them to be,” she said.