It has been four years since #BBUM — Being Black at the University of Michigan —ignited campus. On Nov. 19, 2013, the Black Student Union launched the movement that brought Black students’ experiences at the University to light, not only with the viral hashtag, but also via protest and institutional demands. The BSU held a Twitter chat to commemorate the anniversary Sunday evening.
BBUM is perhaps the high-water mark of viral student activism in the past half-decade. A planned “hood ratchet” party organized by Theta Xi, a predominantly white fraternity, catalyzed the BSU’s launch of the hashtag used in 10,000 tweets in its first two days. The dialogue then gave way to seven demands addressed to University. Many of the demands — most notably, the perennial ask for 10 percent Black enrollment — are reiterations of changes sought by previous Black Action Movements. These reforms include more affordable housing, a revamped Race and Ethnicity requirement and emergency scholarships.
Four years represents a full campus cycle: The students who led the movement are long gone, faces in faculty and staff have changed and the freshmen who joined in with tweets and posts are now alumni. Even with all the change, though, BBUM still reverberates on campus. At protests against racist graffiti and posters this year, new students held signs emblazoned with the hashtag as they lobbied University President Mark Schlissel. Construction crews broke ground this month on the new State Street location of the Trotter Multicultural Center — one of the campaign’s demands — as the BSU begins celebrating its 50th year on campus. And all the while, Black student enrollment continues to hover around 5 percent.
The Michigan Daily compiled reflections from Black campus community members on the significance of the generation that’s come and gone since BBUM— and where the movement should go next.
1. What does BBUM mean to you?
“BBUM, to me, is belonging. I’ve ever experienced anything like being a part of the Black community at Michigan because I never felt like I ‘fit-in’ anywhere before now. I know not every Black student feels this way, and it's important to recognize that BBUM is different for everybody.” — LSA junior Kayla McKinney, BSU board member
“A barrage of truth telling: people speaking their truth and being willing to share it on the incredibly wide stage that social media provides.” — Elizabeth James, Department of Afroamerican and African Studies program associate and BSU adviser
“Comfort and reassurance. I was a freshman when the campaign started. Before then, I wasn't aware of the collective, shared experiences of racism and injustice among the Black community at U-M, or how I fit into that experience. It was comforting to know I wasn't alone in everything I had gone through and experience as a Black woman.” — Alyssa Brandon, University alum, former Michigan Daily news editor and School of Education staff member
“ I always have a sense of pride. I feel pride in knowing that there are Black students, faculty, and staff that are fulfilling the dreams of our ancestors and reaching for academic excellence here in what is sometimes a hostile environment. Nevertheless, we bring our hopes and determination to engage fully in the UM which belongs to all of us. I look forward to the future shaped and touched by all of us. ” — Wendy Woods, associate director of the Michigan Community Scholars program
“Black excellence” — Arnold Reed, University alum, former BSU speaker
“Black students found a way to transcend their invisibility.” — Austin McCoy, postdoctoral fellow and veteran campus organizer
2. How has BBUM affected your campus experience?
“The experience of being Black at the University of Michigan continuously changes the direction I think I’m going in. From stepping down from leadership positions within my dorm my freshman year in order to attend Black events and meetings, to recently retiring from being an athlete in order to put more time into my community. I think about how my campus life would be different if I wasn't involved in the Black community all the time.” — McKinney
“I was a freshman in college. It helped me to be more in tune with the community, and helped me to meet more people. It was also an eye opener to what the climate of campus was, and I was able to see that it wasn't just me that was experiencing some of these issues.” — Alum Janice Allen, former BSU board member
“#BBUM really helped to pull me out of my comfort zone. Before the campaign, I felt voiceless, and like I didn't have a space where I could be honest and authentic about my experiences. Seeing other members of the community be so outspoken and unapologetic inspired me to do the same. I’ve now learned to use my voice, to stand my ground, and live my truth as Black woman.” — Brandon
“It pulled back the veil from wondering what others were thinking to actually hearing from them. It was us telling our stories, not someone interpreting our words or silencing them. I'll never forget sitting and scrolling through tweet after tweet and saying, ‘Me too,’” — James
“#BBUM empowered me and inspired me to start organizing around racial justice on campus.” — McCoy
“My involvement in The Black Student Union gave me the opportunity to be of service to the student body. My role in enhancing the experience of other students deepened my dedication to the University of Michigan. The BSU is the source of many of my mentors and most cherished friends.” — Reed
3. Where do you go from here?
“Because all of the originators of BBUM have graduated and the school has satisfied one of the biggest demands by starting construction on the new Trotter Multicultural Center, I anticipate that they will let the other demands fall into the background. Which is why it's so important that us upperclassmen educate incoming classes not only about BBUM, but about the BAMs as well to ensure that this history is never forgotten.” — McKinney
“I anticipate that with the celebration of the anniversary of BBUM, the meaning behind it and the demands will be introduced to a new group of students and there will be a better understanding of the history of recent activism on this campus.” — Allen
“I always look to the younger generations to lead us, so I look to the black students in the classes of 2019, 2020, and 2021.” — McCoy
“Throughout my four years at U-M, I used my platform as a reporter for The Daily to help share stories of fellow Black students’ lived experiences on campus. Now, as a staff member, I wonder what I can do to continue to provide a platform for students and help to make this campus a safe space where all members of the Black community can grow and thrive.” — Brandon
“I don't know. But I have so much hope because people know that we are at the crossroads and we must take a stand for equality and inclusion. Working here at U-M with the wonderful students I encounter, being the adviser for BSU at the time of BBUM made me so proud of their bravery. We can’t stop now.” — James
“#BBUM was inspired by BAM, and other movements from past eras at the University of Michigan. It is my hope that #BBUM continues to inspire others to keep striving for greatness, unity, and peace.” — Reed
Daily News Editor Riyah Basha contributed reporting to this article