Tenth Grade English Students Conduct Research and Develop Website: “Colorism in the Beauty Industry: Past and Present”


View Colorism in the Beauty Industry: Past and Present website

This year English Teachers Debra Galler and Dan Sussman have challenged their tenth grade students with thematic units and project-based learning assignments alongside more traditional literary analysis. The first quarter theme of student work was “Black Lives” and students read two books and completed open-ended projects based on their areas of interest. This summer all students read The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas and during the first quarter they could choose to read either The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead or The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett.

To conclude the unit, students worked with teachers to develop appropriate projects to accompany their literary study and analysis. “We wanted to provide something more project-based at the end of the unit while also providing students with freedom and choice,” said Mr. Sussman. “We did group brainstorming and helped form groups based on shared interest.”

Students Shriya Reddy ’23 and Nathaniel Rodwell-Simon ’23 chose to tackle the topic of colorism as it relates to the beauty industry. Colorism is a term first used prominently by writer Alice Walker who stated in a 1982 essay that colorism is “prejudicial or preferential treatment of same-race people based solely on their color.”

“Our goal was to educate people about this topic,” said Nathaniel.

I was surprised by how little research was available on colorism,” said Shriya.

In addition to compiling research from reading books, websites, and periodicals, the two students conducted a detailed survey of Upper School students. They also investigated the availability of beauty products at four area retailers, specifically darker skin tones in each store and the availability of the types of shades of a product in the store compared to the total types of shades the brand has created. The duo also chronicled the evolution of Black-owned beauty businesses.

The final product? A sophisticated website titled Colorism in the Beauty Industry: Past and Present which provides readers with a thorough overview of the definition, history, and psychology of colorism.

“We knew pretty early on that we wanted to do a website,” said Nathaniel. “It was better suited to the vast array of information that we wanted to present rather than a presentation.”

Shriya pondered further research into the subject: “If I do further research, it would probably be about colorism in my community and in Asia and India because I’m kind of interested in that, too.” 

Both students were appreciative of the structure of the assignment. “I think this was definitely a unique project,” said Nathaniel. “I haven’t done this type of in-depth research with a presentation for an English class before.” Reflected Shriya: “I really liked the amount of freedom we had as far as what we could do with the project.”

Additional topics explored by students as part of this unit were: the evolution of hip-hop, police officers’ attitudes towards the Black Lives Matter movement, exploring whether MFS students are racially biased in their evaluations of student poetry, The Color of Love: a screenplay based on true events, and more.

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