The Black Menaces have taken over their PWI, stoked the fires of necessary and provocative conversations, amassed a 725,000 fan following, and now have plans to expand to campuses nationwide—all before you’ve even heard of them. This group of five students turned friends on the campus of Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah are a part of the less than 1% of undergrads at the private research university. While the school says that it aims to make all students on campus feel welcome, the Black Menaces say that, unfortunately, feeling comfortable hasn’t always been their experience. But instead of feeling resentful, they’ve turned the heat back on BYU by asking their classmates questions to put them on eggshells for once.
The group that consists of Sebastian Stewart-Johnson, Nate Byrd, Kylee Shepherd, Kennethia Dorsey and Rachel Weaver recently sat down with NBC News to talk about their viral social experiment.
“We want a Menace chapter at every predominantly white institution and university in the country,” Shepherd says in the video interview, which is captioned “EMAIL US TO START ONE WHEREVER YOU ARE.”
Since launching their TikTok account in February, they’ve grown their following exponentially by approaching students on campus and asking them questions like, “What do you do to root out racism?” The majority white undergrads often find themselves stumped and stuttering in their responses.
When asking one young white student “Do you think you have white privilege?” she quietly responded, “No. I don’t think it’s a thing anymore.”
“We enjoy making people feel uncomfortable,” said Black Menace member Nate Boyd. “And giving them things to think about that they’ve never thought about before.”
“People grow in discomfort,” another member shared. “...Definitely something that needs to happen on the BYU campus.”
The private school is funded by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and when asked if there are challenges managing their faith and their activism, the Black Menances responded honestly.
“[The church] is gonna have to make a change if they want to be a sustainable religion,” said one member. “For me the church says a lot of things, but action wise, I haven’t felt that way. Coming to BYU just puts that on a larger scale.”
In the meantime, Brigham Young University has formed a new office of belonging to address the needs of marginalized students on campus. The institution also released a “climate report” where they polled all students to inquire about how comfortable they felt on campus. However, the input of the 81% white population should not be seen as an indication of overall student satisfaction and safety.
The success of the Black Menaces on the BYU campus has encouraged the squad to open up their membership and their messaging to college campuses nationwide. So far, the Menaces have officially formed chapters at the University of North Carolina, Duke University, Tulane University and San Francisco State University.