From Yale to the University of Missouri to Claremont McKenna College, minority students and their allies are standing in solidarity to combat institutional campus racism with the help of Facebook, Twitter and other forms of social media.
Over the past two weeks, debates about several racial controversies at Yale have quickly been swept into a larger national discussion about racial tension and related issues, such as administrative inaction, on college campuses. Amidst student protests and marches, social media has become a key tool in connecting individual movements and allowing student activists to support and show solidarity with each other. Students on more than 20 college campuses have voiced their support for the movements on Yale’s campus, which have in turn sparked other student demonstrations across the country. For example, students at Columbia University held a rally to show support for Yale and Mizzou on Nov. 12, and over 1,000 students at Ithaca College participated in a campus “die-in” to hold university administrators nationwide accountable for their silence on racial issues.
“With this issue, once you see you aren’t alone, you can speak up, and social media has definitely played a part in getting student voices heard,” said Maya Earls, a student at the Columbia University School of Journalism. “In the past you had to read newspapers and it’s kind of limited in how people feel.”
Earls said she felt that the initial events at Yale served as catalysts for other colleges having open discussions about race. She said there is a popular belief that college campuses are inclusive and open, making people assume they are safe spaces where students will not encounter racism. The events at Yale and Mizzou encouraged students to speak about their own experiences because racism does happen, Earls said.
Over the past few weeks, a number of posts have circulated on social media regarding various movements to address campus racism. This fall, a series of racist incidents at Mizzou sparked a campuswide movement calling for the resignation of the university’s president, Tim Wolfe. Jonathan Butler, a graduate student at the university, began a hunger strike on Nov. 2, stating that he would continue until Wolfe resigned. Similarly, 32 members of the school’s football team said they would not participate in any football games until the president stepped down. Wolfe resigned on Nov. 9. In response to the strike, hashtags such as #StandwithMizzou and #ConcernedStudent1950 — referring to the first year black students were admitted to the university — have all been making rounds on the Internet, positioning the university in the national spotlight.
Besides fostering solidarity among student activists nationwide, though, social media has also shown its ugly side, as cruel commenters take advantage of the anonymity possible on many platforms.
“National social media has been the worst,” Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway said. “People hide behind anonymity to express hatred of all kinds. Social media should be ashamed of itself.” Holloway said there are merits to social media with locally sourced, accurate information, but that most of the rumors turn inaccurate as they spread further from campus.
After a race teach-in held at Battell Chapel on Nov. 11, student activists at Yale were able to speak with Ayanna Poole, a student at Mizzou and founder of the Concerned Student 1950 organization. Her voice ringing around the chapel, Poole gave updates on the latest activism at Mizzou and affirmed solidarity between the different movements. Poole said this is a fight for all universities.
Members of the Harvard Black Men’s Forum released a statement last week gathering behind students of color at both Yale and Mizzou.
“To Our Family at the University of Missouri and Yale University: Your ability to remain strong in the face of adversity, stand true to your beliefs and fight for your right to safely exist at your schools in the face of campuswide and national adversity is more than admirable,” the statement reads. “Your peers at Harvard College want you to know you are not alone in the constant struggle to make your voices heard.”
In 1950, nine black students enrolled at Mizzou — the school’s first black cohort.