With the Dominican Republic heavily investing in education, the Ministerio de Educación Superior, Ciencia y Tecnología (MESCyT) has become instrumental in furthering the schooling of many young Dominicans through national and international scholarships. On its website, it espouses the importance of tipping the scales so that everyone has access to quality education. While MESCyT presents a positive message to the world, behind-the-scenes, it may be very different. On Tuesday a woman accused the governmental body of denying her a scholarship because of her natural hair.
In a Facebook post, Nicky González Mendez railed against MESCyT. “I am enrolled in the Universidad Autónoma de Santo Domingo and study political science,” she wrote on Tuesday. “For the last few months, I’ve been applying for a scholarship so that I can pursue a masters degree in models and areas of social science research at the Universidad del País Vasco. During the application process you have to lobby for yourself, which meant interviewing with the head of the Ministerio de Educación Superior, Ciencia y Tecnología, Ligia Amado Melo, and speak to her. So today at about 10 a.m, the honorable minister addressed me in front of others that were also waiting to be seen and said: ‘I don’t give scholarships to people who wear their hair like that. I may be old fashioned, but no.’”
When Nicky asked Ligia to reconsider, the minister allegedly told her once again that her hair made her ineligible for a scholarship. She walked away defeated, but not before asking eyewitnesses to corroborate her story. Unfortunately, they all refused. “In a country with such a large black population, not giving you a scholarship because of your afro, which is what the ministry of higher education did to me… and then we say we’re not a racist country,” she added.
Since then her message has blown up, with people like Junot Díaz and Miss Rizos – the woman behind the DR’s first natural hair salon – sharing it on their timelines. With this has come both an outpouring of support, as well as those who want to poke holes in her story. Some proudly displayed their pajóns on her Facebook wall. 1,000 people even signed a Change.org petition demanding that MESCyT remove Ligia from that position. On the flip side, people said they didn’t have to meet with Ligia or that they also have afros and haven’t been denied scholarships.
And while it’s impossible to know what went down in Ligia’s office, it’s necessary to mention that the DR hasn’t always accepted rizos. The beauty industry just started to catch up and has included more pajóns in advertisements. But there’s still those who uphold the pelo malo narrative, perpetuating the harmful stereotype that crespo hair can’t be beautiful. Just at the beginning of this month, Miss Rizos shared a story about a young girl whose school told her not to return until she straightened her curls.
The backlash has forced Ligia Amado Melo to speak out. “She’s confused, because in no moment was she told anything about her hair, that is, she’s plain and simply confused,” Ligia said. “She has her scholarship. She has a right to the scholarship. She was called this afternoon, and she hasn’t come. She has an 84-point average, and she has every right to the scholarship.”
MESCyT embarked on an awkward social media redemption campaign, where it posted images of students with afros that have been awarded scholarships.
But what’s really moving is the images that have taken over Nicky’s wall. Check out a few of them below: