Total Pageviews

Monday, February 24, 2014

On Twitter, ‘Being Black at the University of Michigan’

As my colleague Tanzina Vega reported, there’s a notion in the media and popular culture that millennials are growing up in a colorblind world and “race is a relic of the past.”

But a spate of recent incidents on college campuses challenge that idea. And interviews that Ms. Vega conducted with dozens of students, professors and administrators point out that racial tension continues to play out in both old and new ways.

Since last fall, African-American students and others at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor have been turning to Twitter and other social media tools to help draw attention to their concerns that include declining enrollment of African-American students.

They documented an all-night protest last Tuesday called a “Speak Out” that drew more than 1,000 students. And they expressed their frustration at a regent’s meeting on Thursday because they did not think that Mary Sue Coleman, the departing university president, delivered an adequate response.

The Black Student Union began the social media campaign, “Being Black at the University of Michigan,” with the hashtag #BBUM last November. It was prompted by outrage on campus over a party planned by a fraternity, Theta Xi. The party was described as “World Star Hip Hop Presents: Hood Ratchet Thursday” on the Facebook invitation, which promised a twerking contest, along with “rappers, twerkers, gangsters (no Bloods allowed), thugs, basketball players.”

After complaints were made to administration officials, the party was canceled, as the Michigan Daily reported.

In response, the Black Student Union asked students to share their “unique experiences of being black at Michigan” on Twitter. Students were encouraged to share both positive and negative experiences in 140 characters or less. It did not take long for the hashtag to trend nationally on Twitter and erase the notion that “race is a relic.”

A sample of some of the thousands of posts on Twitter that have been shared with the #BBUM hashtag since November:

University officials responded during the initial flurry of posts on Twitter, and again last week at the regent’s meeting.

But there was concern expressed on Twitter that Ms. Coleman, the departing university president, was not proposing enough change.