Baylea Davenport has a heart for children with cancer, and recently took a “bald” step to help them.
On March 31, the East Tennessee State University freshman had her head shaved after surpassing her $250 fundraising goal with $285 in pledges for St. Baldrick’s Foundation, which funds childhood cancer research. That day, she and about 20 friends gathered in the Lucille Clement Residence Hall lobby for the occasion. She was surrounded by smiles and words of support as two friends cut off her pigtails, and another, using shears borrowed from her mother, buzzed off the rest of Davenport’s hair.
Having her head shaved for St. Baldrick’s is something Davenport had thought of a few times after hearing of the foundation through Alpha Epsilon Delta, a pre-health student organization. She ultimately decided to go for it this spring after the nephew of her best friend back home in Columbia, Tennessee, was diagnosed with leukemia on Christmas Eve of 2016. Not only did she do this in his honor and to let him know he would not be alone in losing his hair to chemotherapy, she donated her sheared locks to Children With Hair Loss, a non-profit organization that provides human hair replacements at no cost to children and young adults who lose their hair due to illness.
“I was really excited through the entire thing,” Davenport said. “Then, the first time I felt my bald head, I teared up a little bit, because it was just the weirdest feeling! I’ve had long hair my entire life.”
Afterward, Davenport was intrigued by the reactions she got. “In the two days that I’ve been bald people in public have reacted one of two ways: they either stare at me or refuse to make eye contact,” she tweeted on April 2, following that up a couple of days later with a humorous tweet about a friend petting her head in biology class and telling her it felt like a peach. In another tweet, she quoted a friend who told her, “Don’t let something as meaningless as hair define how you see yourself – it doesn’t make you any less beautiful.”
“People on the street definitely give me weird looks sometimes,” she said, “but everyone who knows why I did it and why I’m currently bald is very supportive. Everyone’s told me they’re proud of me.”
Cancer research may eventually become more than a philanthropic endeavor for Davenport, a biological sciences major.
“We were doing projects in my high school biology classes related to diseases, and I thought it was the coolest thing I’d ever heard, so I wanted to study it,” says Davenport, who came to ETSU for its pre-health track and enjoys being part of the university’s Pre-Health Living and Learning Community.
In her spare time, Davenport enjoys art, in which she is minoring, and playing the trumpet. In the future, she hopes to earn a master’s degree in genetic counseling, and would like to find unique ways to combine her scientific and artistic skills.
“With wanting to be a genetic counselor, working with people who want to have children but may not be able to or are struggling to,” she says, “I’d love to be able to create a very child-friendly atmosphere in my own office with paintings and murals.”