Alexandria Nicholson-Dotson ’11 has been awarded Hamilton’s prestigious Bristol Fellowship. The Bristol Fellowship was begun in 1996 as part of a gift to the college by William M. Bristol Jr., (Class of 1917). The purpose of the fellowship is to perpetuate Mr. Bristol’s spirit and share it with students of the college that was such an important part of his life. Created by his family, the fellowship is designed to encourage Hamilton students to experience the richness of the world by living outside the United States for one year and studying an area of great personal interest.
Through her project titled “Mo’ Hair: The Transnational Hair Trade and Culture,” Dotson will follow the global movement of exported Indian hair to its major export cities around the globe. She aims to learn about the type of hair products used by women of color and the impact the west has on international beauty norms. Dotson will also explore how Indian hair is used to create women of color’s sense of self within their culture and community. She plans to travel to India, South Africa, Ghana, Brazil and the Dominican Republic.
In her proposal Dotson wrote, “What a woman’s hair says or does not say about her has long been used to define her identity. Hair can be cut, colored, curled, braided, shaved and straightened, all in the creation of one’s individuality. However, the acceptable standards for styling one’s hair are narrow, especially for women of African descent. Hair in this sense is one of the great dividers among genders, races and cultures. Through globalization the transnational hair trade has taken root, making it a market that now rivals oil companies’ profits. The global movement of hair from Indian temples has created a market for styling options for women of color, and has ironically worked to uphold the Western beauty standard. Has globalization narrowed the range of acceptable hairstyles to long, straight hair? How then does a woman express her individuality?”
Dotson continued, “… the export of Indian hair has not only spread long strands of dark hair around the globe but has complicated the relationship between the person a woman of color wants to be and who she is. Has the Indian hair trade further influenced other cultures to look at long straight hair as desirable? The globalization of the hair industry has created a fusion of identities and cultures, but at what cost?”
Dotson is a Hispanic studies and women’s studies major at Hamilton. A Dean’s List student, she is a resident advisor, chair of the Voices of Color Lecture Series, former president of Black Latino Student Union, co-chair of the Womyn's Community Center and a member of SAVES Sexual Assault and Violence Education & Support. Dotson served as an online journal writer for Hamilton’s Admissions office from 2008-10.
She studied abroad in Madrid in 2010 and while there interned at La Federación de la Planificación Familiar Estatal (FPFE) where she researched the FPFE’s involvement in reproductive rights education for women and youth in Spain. During the summer of 2010 she interned in the law office of Marlene Cooper in Altadena, Calif. Dotson and her brother created and founded the Yellow Tomato, a small food catering company that delivers to local hair salons in Pasadena.
Dotson is the daughter of Helen Nicholson and Michael Dotson, both of Pasadena, and graduated from the Thacher School.
The Bristol Fellowship is intended to be highly personal and is open to all interested Hamilton seniors. Proposals are evaluated based on inquisitiveness, a spirit of adventure, depth of personal interest, and openness to other cultures. While not a requirement, proposals are also considered for their sense of family connection.
William Bristol served as a Hamilton trustee, president of the alumni association, fundraiser and benefactor. He was one of seven generations of Bristol family members to attend Hamilton, dating back to the chartering of the college in 1812. Mr. Bristol's great, great-grandfather became one of the college's first trustees after helping to found the Hamilton-Oneida Academy, which later became Hamilton College.