With the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement after the death of George Floyd, students around the country have begun to stand up for BIPOC (Black, indigenous, and people of color) classmates who have been marginalized in the classroom. In the era of COVID-19, this has manifested in the form of Instagram accounts aimed to “amplify the voices of BIPOC students and provide them space to share their experiences of microaggressions, discrimination, and/or prejudice,” user @deargeorgetown, representing Georgetown University, a private university in Washington D.C., said in an interview with Lenses.
Whether it be high school or university students, these accounts have been founded by individuals at predominantly white institutions (PWIs) where “racism and discrimination against BIPOC students [is] so normalized or pushed under the rug,” user @dearlangley, the account for Langley High School, a predominantly white public high school in McLean, Virginia, said. The accounts usually operate through a Google Form that allows for students to anonymously share experiences where they were marginalized. The account manager then collects the responses to this form and shares them to followers.
According to user @blackatamericanuniversity from American University, a private university in Washington D.C., the feedback has been “positive” but has also “received negative traction.” Although the accounts have amassed thousands of followers nationwide, there are mixed opinions on whether they are beneficial or detrimental to academic communities.
At some schools the accounts have intensified an already competitive culture. “With the many uprising social media accounts that expose the real stories of discrimination and racism, a few students seemed to question the intentions in making this account. Whether I truly cared and was serious about the racism and discrimination at my school or whether I made this to make my own reputation look good for colleges,” user @dearlangley said. In addition, some students believe that accounts like these are “taking away from black voices” and “feel as though the account should be strictly for black people,” user @blackatamericanuniversity said.
Nonetheless, the “general feedback […] has been extremely positive,” user @blackatgds said, the social media account for Georgetown Day School, a predominantly white private high school in Washington, D.C. “The account sheds light on how hurtful microaggressions really are. Sometimes people aren’t attuned to the racist implications of the jokes or comments they make, or how simple behaviors like interrupting someone contributes to the silencing of BIPOC voices. The submissions have been really clear about naming what prejudice they experienced and why it’s wrong or harmful, which is really important,” user @deargeorgetown said. At Stanford University in California, “many students have said they felt ‘empowered’ by the platform which is exactly what it is meant to do,” user @dearstanford said.
With the aforementioned accounts facing the public eye, institutions have addressed the social media movements in different ways. At Maret School, a predominantly white private high school in Washington D.C., “the admin has released a statement about the account, but there hasn’t been any direct communication,” user @blackatmaret said. However, the account manager specified that the statement “was positive on the surface, but many people think they just released it so people couldn’t say they didn’t,” implying a performative nature.
Similar lackluster acknowledgement of the accounts have been seen at other institutions as well. “[Administration] definitely needs to do more to support BIPOC students and address the issues we’ve raised,” user @deargeorgetown said.
Some institutions have not responded at all. “I have received no response from them on the matter despite tagging them in mostly every post. Hopefully they will respond to the page in the future” user @blackatamericanuniversity said.
This frustrational sentiment is shared by user @dearstanford. “Admin has, in no way, attempted to be involved despite being tagged in every single post made on the account” user @dearstanford said.
What are your thoughts on these social media accounts and their effectiveness?
“Social media accounts that share accounts of intolerance of any kind (racism, homophobia, sexism, etc) often amplify the severity of these issues—as they should, given that these issues are often overlooked due to the lack of awareness—and cast a bitter light on people in our very communities. In terms of effectiveness, it is difficult to determine as effectiveness in this regard can be looked at two ways: 1) did it serve its purpose? 2) did it incite any changes? I believe 1) was addressed, however 2) was not. However, for accounts exposing stories like this, 2) does not necessarily need to be met as another group of people who are fellow proponents of change can step in and take the reins from there.” Brittany Peng, Rising Senior at McLean High School, McLean, VA
“As a person who has dealt with years of bullying and discrimination, it was hard for me to speak up about what I went through. But when I finally shared my story and spoke up, it felt so refreshing to just get things off my chest after keeping these feelings bottled up. I hope that other students can feel that way too.” Victoria Shin, Rising Sophomore at Langley High School, McLean, VA
“All it does is feed into the stigma that we are all inherently racist/bigoted/insensitive which is wrong and perpetuates the wrong narrative to malleable young minds. It just polarizes society when we should be coming together at this time” Anonymous student at McLean High School, McLean, VA
“Because we are privileged to go to a school with students’ families having a median income of 190k, it can be hard for some non-BIPOC folks to start to recognize some of it’s older problems. Not to mention that it seems like the administration tries to keep it as much of a “secret” as possible. I can’t really speak on behalf of others’ experiences, but I do know that McLean does marginalize BIPOC through many different ways.” Anonymous student at McLean High School, McLean, VA
“I think it was quite effective, at McLean there’s sort of a bubble where things like people’s experiences with racism aren’t discussed, so it helped bring those instances to light. It was also quite telling from the comments/Instagram stories about how sheltered some people were, since they never experienced or saw acts of racism firsthand. The DearMcLean account made it easier for students to talk about their experiences with staff, since it seemed like the administration would often protect their staff and dismiss reports of racism.” Anonymous student at McLean High School, McLean, VA