Haircut Elegy

Every two weeks, I get my haircut.  Every two weeks, I pop into a hair salon located in between a blue-collar sports bar and a shady looking tattoo parlor.  The salon isn’t by any means fancy, it’s functional and for $7, men can get a nice trim and fade. For twelve years since moving back to Texas, it has been a regular part of my monthly routine.  If I do my calculations right, I have accumulated almost 300 haircuts since moving into this part of Houston.  For most of these haircuts, one person has cut my hair.  His name is Tim (or as the ladies in the salon call him, “Timmy”).

Today, I popped in for my bi-weekly trim and fade.  For the past two months, my trips to get my haircut has been met with a bit of anxiety.

For most of my visits, Tim will usually get up from his station and immediately got his chair ready for me.  Since he has been cutting my hair for 12 years, I feel like I get some kind of V.I.P. treatment.  Tim usually allows me to “cut” in line whenever there is a wait for a stylist (he only did that for his regulars).  When he cut my hair, he always would ask how my family was doing.  He wanted to make sure that since my last visit, all was doing okay and well on my end.  I would in return ask how he was doing.  I would always hear about how busy or not the shop has been and during some weeks in the year, he will inform me on his next trip.  Over the many years he cut my hair, I’ve heard in extensive details his trips to Vietnam, Amsterdam, London, Cozumel, Hawaii, and most recently Cancun.  In fact, his last trip just occurred right before my haircut at the start of October.  At that visit, I heard how him and his wife just sat on the beach and drank tropical drinks.  I was always jealous to hear about his trips and flights.  For a barber, he did much more traveling in states and abroad than this professor!

Flashback to my visit in mid-October.  When I went in for my cut then,  I walked in and noticed Tim wasn’t at his station.  I asked the ladies when Tim would return.  Immediately, they had a look that something wasn’t right.  The stylist that works across to Tim told me that Tim was sick.  I replied that I could wait another day.  She then said for me to come over and sit.  I knew then that they had something to tell me.  Once I sat, she said that she would cut my hair and let me know more about Tim.  Then, she told me that Tim was diagnosed earlier that week with Stage IV brain cancer.  I was shocked.  He just cut my hair that month and he appear all fine.  She told me that soon after that cut, he started experiencing symptoms at work.  Notably, one day he froze up and told the ladies that he couldn’t move his arm.  They knew something wasn’t right.

Today, I found out that my barber of 12 years was pulled off life support.  Cindy, the stylist who first broke the news to me said and her and the other stylists went to the hospital this morning to say their goodbyes to their co-worker.  I asked how long Tim has been at his cutting station and she told me that he has been working there for 15 years.  Imagine, that many years at the same spot and the same location seeing most of the same people.  Cindy said that he’s with his family but that Tim likely would not make it past the weekend.  I told her that I would pray for his family and that I was truly sorry at the eventual passing of their colleague and friend.  My haircut was done.

Why did I just write four paragraphs about a barber who gave $7 haircuts?  While I never truly broke bread with this individual or even saw him outside of his work environment, I felt nothing but empathy for his fellow stylists in the salon and I felt like I was losing a good friend.  When I left after getting my haircut, I reflected that Tim, while only seeing me only 2 times a month, truly took care of how I looked and for the few minutes I was in his chair, how I felt.  Our conversations about his trips, my work, and even whispering what the other Vietnamese ladies were gossiping about in the shop, made me know that I held a good relationship with him.  I didn’t even have to let him know what I needed for my cut.  I just walked in, sat down, and off he went to make me look professional.  Last year, I jokingly walked in and sat on his chair and said, “Tim, I’m running a race this weekend and I feel like a Mohawk today.”  He looked at me and told me, “Mr. Ric, you know if you ask me for a Mohawk, I’ll give you a Mohawk.”  I told him I was joking and he immediately told me that he would do whatever I wished.  If I did, he would make it the best Mohawk that would look good on me.  He was serious when he said that and I felt somewhat bad that I made that joke.  Over the years, he would suggest a new cut or trim for me.  Just recently, he started to get really fancy on me and started to use his razor scissors.  He said he only used them for regulars whose hair he knows.  I know nothing of scissor but when he used them, I always freaked out a little since I would see big globs of hair fall into my lap.  Despite this, I trusted him.

I feel that when you develop a trusting relationship with a barber, it is somewhat like what our college students experience when they establish a trusting relationship with and advisor, counselor, or any other student affairs professional.  Mahoney (2009) mentions the importance of including “relational” competencies as part of career advising work.  Under this area, things like appreciating the individual, compassion, and just knowing that you are present and reliable helps students get services that are seen as having impact.  Another important aspect of any advising relationship is establishing trust.  Trust doesn’t occur after one visit.  You have to work hard to create it.  Not everyone will establish trust you and that is okay.  However, there are those who will look for you to help them with an urgent need or issue.  In higher education work, I have seen this many times in my administrative and faculty work.  Students express this trust in coming into my office to vent, to cry, or to celebrate.  Students will email me to disclose an urgent matter and see if I am available to discuss.  Students will even text me sometimes to let me know they are in town or interested in having lunch or happy hour.  They just want to reconnect or stay connected.  These outcomes only occur when you have a trusting relationship.  A relationship that likely lasts well after college.

Returning back to Tim, my barber.  Now that I know he will no longer cut my hair like he has for 12 years, I now have to seek out someone who I can trust with my hair.  I know that sounds silly, but think about it.  You likely rely on someone or some product with that part of yourself (even if you have no hair, you likely shop around for the best moisterizer or facial hair product).  For me, most importantly I have to find someone who will take the time to find out how my family is doing, someone to ask me how my last running event went, a person who will celebrate with me any good news from work or home.  See, my haircut is much more than that, it is a relationship that makes me feel like I matter and makes me know that someone beyond work and home shows care for me.

Tim did exactly that for 12 years.  I’ll miss my barber.

Today, Cindy I feel has taken the role of my new stylist.  In addition to our sad talk, she did discuss with me how she’s envious that I’m going to a holiday work party tonight and several more next week.  She also asked if I was cold in her spot since the A/C was on full blast and she herself complained that it was cold.  She told me also that Tim’s regular customers will be notified once he passes.  I feel like she’s going to get my trust.  Oh, my new haircut looks good as well.

Farewell Tim.  This post is dedicated to you.



Mahoney, E. (2009).  Career advising competencies.  In K. Hughey and Associates The Handbook of Career Advising (p. 48-67).  Jossey-Bass.

De-“Google it”

(blog originally posted on August 9, 2017 on

Recently, one of my students in my online History of Higher Education summer course presented a short summary of her final campus history project to her classmates and myself during a videoconferencing meeting at the end of the session.  The student presented her topic on the Tougaloo Nine.  This historic moment at this college was an event that was not part of my higher education knowledge.  In short, the Tougaloo Nine were a group of African American students who attended Tougaloo College in Jackson, Mississippi in 1961.  Denied access to the city public library to complete class assignments due to segregation, the students decided to hold a “read in” at the library as a protest of the segregationist policy in place at that location.  Hearing my student’s presentation fascinated me since I was actually becoming the learner, becoming aware of an important part of higher education history (in my opinion).

After hearing the presentation, I immediately texted my close faculty colleague in my program to ask him if he ever heard of the Tougoloo Nine.  I asked him since we both share a passion for knowledge on student activism and social justice actions in higher education.  As soon as I sent the text, he immediately responded that he didn’t know and that he wanted to learn more.  In the same time as he was typing his response, I shared with him my excitement in learning about this very interesting history event.  As soon as he read my second response, he asked to send him more information.  I could sense his deep interest when he typed “please fill me in!”  I read the text message and when I came upon his request to fill him in on additional knowledge, my response was almost immediate.

In a quick moment, I typed the message, “Google it.”


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Today, in our vast world of information technology and quick access to zillions of pieces of data and facts, we have privilege of accessing this information in effortless and fast means.  It just takes a few moments in a search bar to open the door to this vast land of knowledge.  Often when I’m researching on a topic, I reflect on how I did the practice of finding information when I was a college student.  I recall going first into the library to seek out which drawer to use to find my materials in the *card catalog*.  I recall if I really wanted to be “cutting edge”, I would sign my name on the list of other students to use the ERIC database on one of two computers connected to a dot-matrix printer that would provide the results of your searches in many folders of perforated printing paper (I would love to rip off the holed-strands of paper on the edge of the sheets!).  I recall if I didn’t get good results from my searches to remind myself that there were always the many sets of encyclopedias sitting on the shelves waiting to be used as a last resort.

My, how times have changed since then….or has it?

Going back to my colleagues request to learn about the Tougaloo Nine, I knew I had the information he was seeking.  I was the one who heard the information from my student right then and there, right?  I was the one who initiate the question of “did you know?”  So, why did I tell him to “Google it?”  Honestly, my response in my opinion wasv – excuse my language – a bit of an asshole-ish response.

Why?  I felt that I was not only being a good colleague and friend by not helping him more, but also not a good teacher.  I had knowledge.  The knowledge excited me.  In turn, I wanted someone else to know.  Once that interest was shown, I left my friend and colleague hanging.  I felt like bum.

To make myself feel better, I immediately gave a short written summary of the presentation and did a quick internet search using some of the reference information provided by my student and sent him via email a website where he could find more information.  I hoped that this would satisfy his curiosity and I would feel good that I gave him new knowledge.  As I reflected on this situation, which truth be known only lasted maybe ten minutes or so, I started to think about how my current role as a faculty member provides an interesting characteristic.

I am able to start the chain of information gathering and learning for individuals.  When you think about it, this is a very important role to fulfill.  As I write this, I am currently attending the Digital Pedagogy Institute ( on the beautiful campus of the University of Mary Washington.  So far this week, we have discussed the many definitions of learning, teaching, and instructional delivery.  What makes these discussions unique is that they occurred in critical lenses.  Among the discussions with my colleagues have been how to we create communities and networks within the learning spaces we are asked to fill and direct.  As an online instructor, the task is extremely challenging since first, one must first debunk the myths one can have when you mention the words “online learning”.  Second, some students may not want to seek out community within an online classroom.  They might just want to be told what is needed to complete the course and that is it.  In any case, my role as a professor is to work with these challenges to create a learning space where one not only learns new knowledge, but also leaves hopefully with a new perspective in their own worldview.

Throughout the week, I have reflected on these tasks and how we as a society have approached the act of “learning”.  In my opinion, we have become a society where we have, in a sense, become more educated in that we now have access to resources that we not available to us ten or fifteen years ago.  If you do an internet search on “The Tougaloo Nine”, you will in most cases find several sources at your fingertips in a matter of seconds.  We are now able to find knowledge with great ease.  In addition, we have our own life experiences.  These experiences give us insight on how we should approach situations we encounter in our lives.  In the higher education arena, Love (2012) made the case that lived experiences provide what he called “informal theory”.  Informal theory served as an important bridge between theory and practice.  We are able to adapt formal theories from what we learn and observe in our daily lives.  Without sounding too theoretical, I understand his argument to be equal to stating “don’t underestimate what you already know!”  We know more than we realize.  However, in this age of technological advances, we fail to expose and optimize that knowledge.

Just Google it.”  No offense to the brilliant minds (although some work is currently needed with their mindfulness of diversity) at Google, search engines like those at Google and others have allowed us to become lazy teachers.  Instead of sharing the wealth of knowledge possessed from our experiences, we instead take the easy way out when one seeks to tap into our knowledge.  It is easy to just tell our students and friends to “google it” when they need help.  Our educated selves are now filled by proxies located in boxes on the top right hand of our computer screens.  When we excite another person with our new found knowledge on a topic, instead of telling the person what we have just learned, we often go with the easy response of saying, “google it!”

I find it a bit humorous that even knowledge that we know about our cities and communities are sometimes responded by a quick “google it” statement.  If a friend asks me about any recommendations on great places to eat in Houston, I will sometimes find myself telling them to consider a general area of the city and to then “google it”, even though I know a few places.  I guess I could be seen as the local expert of my current city, but instead, I trust instead the knowledge of an internet search.  In doing this act, I transferred my role as a trusted knowledge source to another entity that doesn’t know the personal needs of the person seeking my advice.  I removed myself from the learning process and in a sense, the relationship I have with the person asking for my help.

I titled this entry “De-‘Google it‘”.  This isn’t a manifesto arguing against the presence of the internet and to wish its demise.  I value what the internet has given society.  There is much to demise from the internet but one cannot argue how valuable it has become in education today.  If the internet should suddenly disappear, we would still be okay as a society.  I am certain that a degree of inconvenience will occur, but I would politely say “Welcome back to the 80s”.  However, we can do better.  By “de-googling”, I am making the argument to share what you know readily.  Start the process of unearthing the knowledge that you possess from your lived experience.  You have theories to put into play, as Love (2102) suggested in his article.  When someone asks you a question, first try to engage in dialogue with the individual(s) asking a question.  What do you know?  Make an attempt to talk about what you already know.  Learning is an active process and some would argue that if one does not show some level of effort in sharing and obtaining information, effective learning has not occurred.  “Google it” avoids this dialogue.

Returning back to my Tougaloo Nine scenario, I have followed up with my colleague and confessed that I felt like – again, excuse the language – “a total dick.”  In explaining my response, I felt that I as educators, I didn’t fulfill my role in his learning.  In that brief moment, I did feel the impact of what it means to be a teacher.  By not doing what good teachers do, I failed at educating.  After my confession, I did feel better.  We both understood that we would eventually discuss more this piece of higher education history and continue to learn about social justice in higher education.  While this hasn’t occurred just yet, I know now that we will do what Google cannot – to listen and hear what we know.  Maybe not or maybe so.  Hmmm, let me ask Alexa (just kidding!).



Love, P. (2012). Informal theory: The ignored link in theory-to-practice. Journal of College Student Development, 53(2), 177-191.