Campus Conversations About Race Now Heating Up the Twitterverse - Higher Education
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Campus Conversations About Race Now Heating Up the Twitterverse

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by Jamal E. Mazyck


Dr. John Burkhardt, director of the University of Michigan National Center for Institutional Diversity, applauds “the fact that students have a sense of urgency to question what they are observing.”

Dr. John Burkhardt, director of the University of Michigan National Center for Institutional Diversity, applauds “the fact that students have a sense of urgency to question what they are observing.”

A recent trending topic on Twitter started by The Black Student Union at the University of Michigan with the hash tag #BBUM (Being Black at the University of Michigan) revealed a candid discussion about race on college campuses. The social media conversation about race, identity and sense of belonging at Michigan, has turned into a national debate where many students, faculty and administrators at other higher education institutions have weighed in.

Many believe a Facebook event scheduled for Nov. 7 at UM by the fraternity Theta Xi called “Hood Ratchet Thursday,” featuring stereotypical, misogynistic and negative depictions of African Americans, sparked the social media conversation. UM cancelled the event that was to include a “twerking” contest and a Kindle was to be awarded to the winner. Robert Greenfield IV, treasurer for The Black Student Union at UM, explained that there is “more to it than that,” in an interview with Diverse.

Of a total population of over 43,000 students, only 4.7% are African American as of this fall, down from 7% in 2006. The recruitment of underrepresented groups at UM is of concern but retention is equally important according to Greenfield, “although 4.7% is not a lot, what’s the point if the Black students that are here aren’t nurtured?”

Greenfield discussed the larger systemic issues associated with African Americans matriculating at predominately White institutions and that isolated incidents only capture a small piece of the national puzzle. “The campaign is definitely about awareness, but also to unionize our community.” He also explained that the social media discussion brings to light many student body race related issues that need attention, “months before the cancelled fraternity event and has been indicative of recent events on predominantly White institutions nationally.” Specifically, “the decreasing number of African Americans matriculating” Greenfield added.

Social media has created a space for students to connect and participate in national conversations that tackle concerns related to race, identity and representation on college campuses. A recent YouTube video that went viral entitled “Black Bruins,” a spoken word piece by UCLA student Sy Stokes highlights African American male enrollment at 3.3% of the 19,838 other males for both undergraduate and graduate students at UCLA in comparison to the number of national championships the university holds. Similar topics on Twitter are also popping up at other institutions. Michigan State University is also discussing race relations under the hashtag #BBMSU.

The Twitter discussion highlighted both good and bad on-campus experiences. Some of the #BBUM tweets addressed the feeling of isolation as being the only Black in class.

“Being soft spoken in class because you don’t feel like you belong, but then get docked points because you are not engaged in class”, tweeted one student. Other students tweeted about White students’ use of the n-word in class, “White students thinking it is OK to use the n-word in the class context.”

Some of the University of Michigan Alumni also are weighing in on the #BBUM conversation with their college experience, “I liked the diversity on campus. I had Black, White, conservative, liberal, Asian, European, etc. friends. We all learned from each other.”

“The fact that students have a sense of urgency to question what they are observing and to look at the environment they are in is great. Interesting and effective uses of this new technology.” said Dr. John Burkhardt, Director of the University of Michigan National Center for Institutional Diversity. “Student activism tapped into a conversation that is probably already happening in many places.”

Both Greenfield and Burkhardt are proud that these conversations are occurring at the national level and the need for them to continue is eminent based on the many tweets that mirror the notion that ‘being black’ at a predominantly white institution is a unique experience.

The UM Board of Regents met yesterday and have yet to release an official statement but tweeted that they are “listening and will be sure all of your voices will be heard”. The next Board of Regents meeting is scheduled for Dec. 19.

For more information on #BBUM and The Black Student Union at the University of Michigan visit http://www.theblackstudentunion.com/.

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