University students took to Twitter in droves Tuesday afternoon to share their experiences as Black students in Ann Arbor and bring attention to issues of race and diversity on campus using the hashtag #BBUM.
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The campaign, initiated by the University’s Black Student Union, has built up over the past few days before trending nationally on Twitter Tuesday. The hashtag gained momentum after the student organization distributed an e-mail to community members and other campus groups encouraging them to participate in the online conversation.
LSA senior Tyrell Collier, BSU’s president, said the #BBUM campaign was planned to raise awareness of the experiences of Black students and for the BSU to collect subjective data it can couple with University statistics to address pressing issues Black students face.
Collier said BSU encouraged students to tweet both negative and positive experiences, though the tweets have been predominantly negative, which he expected.
He said the issue is especially pressing on campus because while the University frequently discusses ways to increase diversity, many communities have yet to witness tangible results.
“I would like to see the lives of Black students valued more,” Collier said.
By 10 p.m., over 10,000 tweets included the hashtag from Ann Arbor and beyond.
“I don’t think this is a problem specific to the University, I think it’s an experience that Black students at predominantly White universities across the nation are facing,” he said of the far-reaching responses.
Black enrollment at the University has fallen precipitously over the past decade largely due to Proposal 2, an amendment to the state constitution that bans affirmative action policies that was passed by Michigan voters in 2006. The proposal, formally named the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative, bars the University from considering race in its admissions process.
Immediately after the passage of the proposal, University President Mary Sue Coleman gave a dramatic address on the Diag promising to maintain the University’s commitment to diversity. However, the institution has been unable to stanch the decline in minority enrollment through alternative outreach policies in the wake of the affirmative action ban.
In Fall 2006, Black students made up around seven percent of the undergraduate population. In Fall 2013, the University reported that Black undergraduate enrollment had fallen to 4.65 percent. Hispanic enrollment as a percentage of the overall undergraduate body also declined over the same period.
At a search forum for the next University president in September, the Presidential Search Advisory Committee — which includes the University’s Board of Regents — heard from a number of students about diversity issues. Several student speakers at the event said many minorities feel they lack a voice on campus and occasionally experience bias incidents with both students and instructors.
Collier said the University has not yet contacted BSU about Tuesday’s campaign. University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald stressed that the University’s next step will be to listen to the students and their experiences on campus.
“I think at this point the listening is the most important part and how we might respond is the next step and we haven’t gotten there yet,” Fitzgerald said.
He said the University is aware of students' concerns and recognizes that there is always room for improvement in any organization.
However, the University's social media team responded to the campaign via Twitter Tuesday afternoon: “Thanks for engaging in this conversation. We’re listening, and will be sure all of your voices are heard. #BBUM”
E. Royster Harper, the University's vice president for student life, created a Twitter account late Tuesday to address the issue.
“Got on Twitter to hear and support your voices. Proud of our students. More later,” Harper wrote.