Instagram page highlights racial injustice at UMass

@blackvoicesumassamherst provides a platform for Black students to share their experiences at UMass

Collegian+File+Photo

Collegian File Photo

By Sophia Gardner, Assistant News Editor

In late June, @blackvoicesumassamherst posted for the first time on Instagram. The post shared the mission of the account, which was to contribute to a movement which “[provides] safe and anonymous spaces for Black community members of predominantly white and non-Black institutions to share their experiences.” It also detailed how members of the University of Massachusetts community could submit their experiences through direct message. Since then, the account has worked to post the submissions of Black students bringing light to incidents of discrimination on campus that are often overlooked.

 

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According to the creators of the account, who requested to remain anonymous, they originally started the account because they feel that Black students are not always valued by the UMass community or administration.

“From everything we have seen UMass does not care to invest in us, UMass does not care to bring more Black students and faculty into the university, UMass does not care to ensure the safety and dignity of Black students and faculty, and UMass does not care to ensure those who wish Black students and faculty harm do not feel welcome on campus,” a creator of the account told the Collegian.

The University is aware of the page.

“The authentic experiences shared on @blackvoicesumassamherst reflect the need to address long standing inequities at UMass Amherst,” said Ed Blaguszewski, the executive director of strategic communications and special assistant to the vice chancellor for university relations. “The Office of Equity and Inclusion, led by Interim Vice Chancellor Nefertiti Walker, is moving forward to understand and take action on issues raised by @blackvoicesumassamherst.”

The page’s posts aim to bring light to incidents that go unaddressed by the University.

“Most of the time, when these things happen to Black students on campus, no one pays attention,” a creator of the page told the Collegian. “A story was submitted to Black at UMass Amherst of a student who was made by their RD to explain to their floormates why an unknown peer writing that they were a ‘n*gger’ on their whiteboard was wrong, then the student was punished for having a whiteboard . . . in one case an RA told a first-year student that it was ‘just a word.’”

Many of the posts on the page detail racist incidents, for example, racial slurs and microaggressions being used against BIPOC students on campus. They also often detail incidents of hate crimes on campus.

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The page also sends messages to Black students at UMass through posts and stories. One of the story features advice and words of encouragement towards Black students and UMass community members from current Black students and alumni. They also post encouraging messages to the Black community and include a reading list for further education.

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The Black at UMass page is part of a larger movement among college students to offer a safe place for Black students to express their concerns and experiences. The majority of the colleges in the Five College Consortium have similar pages. Amherst College students created a page called @blackamherstspeaks. Smith College has a page as well called @blackatsmith and Mount Holyoke has a page as well, @_blackmhc. UMass Lowell also has a similar account.

The creators of the page specified that they do not have faith in the University’s plan to deal with racism on campus, which the University released on June 3 “in response to recent acts of racism and related violence in the nation.”

“PWIs [Predominantly White Institutions] will often use the appearance of working with Black students to placate students and boost public image, but once the dust settles nothing has really changed,” a creator of the page told the Collegian. “UMass is no different than most other PWIs . . . This plan is a new iteration of what we have seen before. UMass can do everything listed on this plan, without ultimately changing anything about the University’s environment.”

 

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The University intends to use the page in order to better understand the experiences of BIPOC at UMass, according to Walker.

“Our goal is to understand these experiences and share the stories with the campus leadership,” she said. “Those responsible and being held accountable for diversity, equity and inclusion, and climate, need to understand the experiences of our BIPOC students, so that we can move forward with changing the inequities they mention in their stories.”

She went on to further discuss the University’s plans to understand the experiences of marginalized groups on campus. She stated that the University plans to use data from the campus climate survey, one-on-one interviews and focus group interviews with marginalized and underrepresented groups to “understand how they experience diversity, equity, and inclusion on our campus, and begin the process of shifting the culture toward inclusive excellence.”

The Black at UMass page is, in part, a calling on the University to address the racism and discrimination on campus.

“UMass needs to take action now,” said a creator of the page. “UMass cannot once again throw together feeble plans to hold off accountability until the current students graduate and move on, because the next generation of college students have already put their foot down.”

 

Sophia Gardner can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @sophieegardnerr.