Two years after the Black Student Union launched its #BBUM Twitter campaign, the challenges brought to light by those who used the hashtag to share their experiences as Black students at the University are still fresh in the minds of both BSU members and the University community.
More than 10,000 tweets racked up within the first two days of the hashtag’s launch, and soon BSU members were at the helm of a movement that quickly captivated the University’s attention and garnered media coverage nationwide.
Shortly after the launch of the hashtag, several BSU members held a Martin Luther King Jr. demonstration on the steps of Hill Auditorium. During the demonstration, members protested stagnant minority enrollment and demanded the University meet seven goals for improving campus climate and diversity of the student body. A new location for the Trotter Multicultural Center and an improved Race and Ethnicity requirement were among the demands made by the BSU.
The University has since addressed several of the demands outlined by the BSU, however, in a one-year follow-up with The Michigan Daily in January 2015, both University administrators and the BSU agreed increasing Black enrollment to an amount equal to 10 percent was, and still is, the most difficult demand to address.
University alum Robert Greenfield, who served as treasurer of the BSU when #BBUM was launched, was fundamental in both drafting the demands and subsequent negotiations with University administrators. In an e-mail interview with The Michigan Daily, Greenfield looked back on the creation of both #BBUM and the BSU’s seven demands.
How did #BBUM start? What was the catalyzing factor that led to the movement? What sparked it?
Our BSU Executive board wanted to start a campaign to help mend the fractured black community on campus — particularly the black organizations on campus that were at odds with each other. Tyrell [Collier], the Speaker at the time, came up with the “#Being Black at the University of Michigan” and Cap [Kendall] came up with the abridged version “#BBUM.” It was not sparked by racist activity on campus, though that helped it gain momentum — and it changed it from a dialogue within the black community, from the black community to a dialogue from the black community about the campus environment as a whole. A catalyzing factor was the “Hood Ratchet Thursday” party hosted by the IFC Greek fraternity and the worsening racial climate nationally. People must understand that [the racial climate] has always been like this (or worse), it’s just that the majority ignores it most of the time.
How did that movement turn into the seven demands?
Once we gained national attention, we (had) leverage to go back to the U of M black community and ask what they wanted to have done/fixed. Many of the demands are lasting agreements that the University never came through on (but agreed to) — this included the 10 percent critical mass of black students on campus.
Why were these specific demands chosen and why only seven? Explain the reason behind the demands and the process leading up to the Martin Luther King Day demonstrations.
We chose seven because they were the most important — there is no significance to the number itself. The reason behind the demands was to (for the most part) have the University follow through on blank promises it made [in the past]. The MLK demonstrations served as an official unveiling of the demands on a day that is supposed to be about change (not just about remembering the past in this “supposed” post-racial world).
What did negotiations with administrators look like. What aspects of it stick out in your mind? Any difficulties?
It was slow and political. Administration is slow (at least in my eyes). At times it was aggressive. Many of the executive board felt like we were getting stringed on long enough to eventually graduate (and so end the movement given that activism like this unfortunately dies with the founding activists that graduate and leave campus). The main difficulties were convincing admissions that they are doing a poor job with black recruitment.
Meetings between the University, the BSU and community members are still ongoing. Last week, the University held a weeklong diversity summit intended to garner input from the community on improving equality and inclusion on campus. As for future demonstrations from the BSU, Greenfield had a short message for the University community.
“Stay tuned,” he wrote.