UT Students Create Buzz with Shaved Heads for Cancer Research
Mar 28, 2024

UT Students Create Buzz with Shaved Heads for Cancer Research

Reporting Texas TV

AUSTIN, Texas  – Students with UT SMILE shaved heads Friday for pediatric cancer research.

The organization’s Brave the Shave event on March 22 at Gregory Gymnasium raised more than $5,000 for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, which prioritizes engaging with child cancer survivors and youth who want to help.

Brave the Shave coordinator Miya Walker said students should get involved with their communities to stay informed and cause an impact.

“If we don’t become involved with nonprofits or organizations around Austin, then it really can be a hindrance on the greater Austin community,” Walker said.

Clayton Smith was one of seven people who had had their heads shaved during Brave the Shave. It was his third time, representing Camp Kesem, a national organization that supports children whose parents have cancer.

“I shaved my head when my mom got cancer,” Smith said. “It’s something I do on a yearly basis to really be there to support these kids and everything that they’re going through and everything that their parents are going through.”

Camp Kesem members Jatin Khanna and Clayton Smith pose for photos after getting buzzcuts during the Brave the Shave  fundraiser outside Gregory Gymnasium in Austin, Texas, on Friday, March 22, 2024. (Melody Jones/Reporting Texas TV)

Walker said she didn’t have any volunteers to shave until a month before the event, and multiple barbers backed out, too.

“This event means so much to me and others that if it stopped happening, that would genuinely make me really sad,” Walker said.

She said UT SMILE has had trouble gaining members since the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving a small team with the task of putting on the event.

The pandemic also had an impact on St. Baldrick’s financials as annual donations dropped by 50.4%, but revenue numbers are recovering, with $25 million raised in 2023.

Brian Gillespie, whose 10-year-old daughter Keagan is a cancer survivor, said UT SMILE spreads awareness with poise and kindness.

“It gives me hope for the future. It’s nice to see high-quality leadership at such a young age,” Gillespie said.

“Even though some of the people volunteering weren’t personally affected by pediatric cancer, they understand that it does traumatize people.”

UT SMILE incorporated speeches into its program this year, allowing young cancer survivors and their families the opportunity to share their stories.

“Since Dell Children’s saved my life, I want to give back one day and start my own nonprofit to help kids and adults like me,” Keagan Gillespie said.

Jatin Khanna, another shavee who represented Camp Kesem, said his involvement helped him connect with kids who lost parents at a young age like he did.

“Just sharing my own experience as a kid who lost my parent was something I could never share with anyone,” Khanna said. “Now being part of Camp Kesem, or now, being part of Brave the Shave, I’ve been able to share that experience with others.”

He said Brave the Shave plays an important role in empowering the community.

“I think it’s about giving back to the community,” Khanna said. “It’s about using your own experience and making sure that the world is a better place.”

UT SMILE president Isha Chhabra said her involvement motivates her to continue nonprofit work after college.

“Having a nonprofit and having something that you are really passionate about, that I’m really passionate about, just helps me know that I can fight for something that I’m really passionate about in the future,” Chhabra said.

Thirteen vendors provided raffle prizes to UT SMILE this year adding another $165 dollars to total donations. Walker said she plans to increase the number of vendors at the event when she takes over as president.

She is working with St. Baldrick’s to increase participation next year, potentially adding a prize for the top donor and collaborating with other organizations, like Dell Children’s.