The 1990s babies matriculating at top-tier universities are in the midst of active protest. They have been for a while now.
Back in November, several black students at the University of Michigan launched a social media campaign on Twitter, using the hashtag #BBUM, an acronym for “being black at the University of Michigan,” to describe their unique and often irritating experiences as black students at a predominantly white school. Among their frustrations were the usual: hearing how they gained admission because of affirmative action policies; not being “black enough” because they achieved excellent grades and “sounded white”; having to be the spokesmen and -women for black America in history class; or, on the other side of that spectrum, being ostracized because they weren’t acclimating to their new settings fast enough and instead were choosing to be rowdy, urban or culturally demonstrative on campus.
News of the campaign spread, and black students from peer schools like Cornell University and Duke University adopted the idea to articulate their own sentiments. But as is the norm for high-achieving students, these digital protests could no longer be contained in 140 characters and are now evolving beyond tweets. The black students at Harvard and Georgetown universities are kicking up the effort a few notches and incorporating a visual element into their respective demonstrations.
At Harvard, several black students took pictures of one another holding up signs with statements and questions that have been posed to them by their white peers (and, at times, by other black students). Their campaign is hosted on Tumblr and is promoted and shared using the #itooamharvard hashtag. There’s also an accompanying video production about the campaign that will premiere on March 7. The visuals are compelling narratives and all relate to race:
At Georgetown, the students also employed photography to get their message across, but they’re injecting a unique twist into the campaign by opting to turn the perception of black on its head. The black Hoyas created a Facebook page titled “Dangerous Black Kids of Georgetown University” (#DBKGU), which contains photos of different black students appearing alongside their civic achievements, their professional and academic aspirations, and other qualities about themselves that showcase the richness and range of their black lives.
The campaign’s tagline—“Dangerous youth or youth in danger?”—is a direct reference to the young black Americans like Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis who were killed seemingly because of the vicious stereotypes that plague young black people. The black Hoyas want people to know that no black child or student should be perceived as dangerous because of skin color. There are layers to blackness that go beyond the eye. Or, as the kids say these days: There are levels to this.
A few white Georgetown students participated in this campaign as allies:
On-campus student protests are obviously nothing new. In the 1960s during the civil rights movement, black students employed traditional methods to voice their concerns, in the form of sit-ins, marches and boycotts. In 1969 there was the famed Allen Building Takeover at Duke University, where approximately 60 black students took over an entire building on campus and would not leave until administrators agreed to address key concerns relating to the needs of black students.
The style of protest has evolved, but the messages remain the same. Black students want to be accepted and validated. Assata Shakur is probably sitting in a quaint café in Cuba, with a weak Wi-Fi connection, scrolling through these digital campaigns and grinning her ass off.
Diana Ozemebhoya Eromosele is a staff writer at The Root and the founder and executive producer of Lectures to Beats, a Web series that features expert advice for TV and film's most complex characters. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.