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Campus-wide GroupMe unites redheads 

| Thursday, November 8, 2018

At first glance, Ed Sheeran, Lucille Ball, Ms. Frizzle and at least 108 Notre Dame students might appear to have little in common. However, all of these people share a rare genetic trait: They are among the less-than 2 percent of the world’s population with red hair.

Last year, Teagan Dillon, who graduated from the University in the spring of 2018, created the “Redheads of Notre Dame” GroupMe as a way for redheads on campus to communicate and coordinate events surrounding their red hair. The group currently has 108 members, but is open to new applicants. The only requirement for admission is the group must reach a consensus on whether or not applicants have red hair.

Courtesy of John McGuinness

Members of the “Redheads of Notre Dame” GroupMe gather outside Legends for photo before the Michigan game Sept. 1.

This requirement is a source of controversy within the group, as it isn’t always easy to determine if someone’s hair is red — people have been removed from the group after it was determined that they were simply strawberry blonde, senior John McGuinness, an early member of the group, said. Senior Moira Griffith, a member since fall 2017, said strawberry blonde is not purely red. She also classifies a ginger as someone with “highlighter bright” hair, but said that a classic redhead’s hair is darker. Group member and senior Emily Dufner disagreed, arguing that a ginger’s hair is “orangey.” For junior Evan Slattery, freckles define a ginger.

Griffith said her red hair is an important part of her identity.

“Over time [being a redhead] has become more of my identity than I think it was when I was younger,” Griffith said. “It’s a fun way to stand out. People notice your hair right away. It’s like an electric shock on your head … It makes me feel a little more unique in the mass.”

Red hair is uncommon worldwide. Genetically, the trait is recessive and comes from a mutation in the MC1R gene. Despite red hair’s rarity, the redheads of Notre Dame agree there is an unusually high number of red heads on campus.

“There are definitely more [redheads] here than there would be at other places … with all the Irish blood,” McGuinness said.

However, not all redheads are of exclusively Irish descent, Griffith said. Both Griffith and Slattery said they are at least half Italian.

Though McGuinness said he doesn’t feel a special connection with other redheads stemming from hair color, some members of the group, such as senior Chad Quick, do report feeling fellowship with other redheads on campus when they spot them walking around.

“You just kind of wave and smile in solidarity,” Quick said.

Quick, like many group members, comes from a family of redheads. His dad, mom, sister and dog all have red hair.

The GroupMe is used mostly for meet-ups at large events, as members attempt to take exclusively redhead photos. Ultimately, the group hopes to have a social gathering exclusively for redheads. During football season, group members said, the group is used extensively to locate sunscreen.

Slattery, who said he has been nicknamed ”Big Red” since childhood, was one of the members to plea for sunscreen during the Sept. 1 football game against the University of Michigan. He said he takes great pride in his red hair.

“Last year I grew out my hair to my shoulders and it was who I was. I was that kid with long, red, curly hair,” Slattery said.

Griffith said she enjoys her sense of camaraderie with other redheads.

“It’s like a secret society,” she said, “I’ve had old men on campus before stop me and go, ‘you just look like Ireland.’“

Griffith hopes to organize a campus 5k consisting solely of redheads. She said the race could raise funds to fight skin cancer.

“There’s so much solidarity in our proneness to skin cancer,” Griffith said.

For his part, Quick said his mother told him his red hair was a reason not to commit crimes with the following advice: “You’re a redhead so you’ll never get away with anything.”

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