As the Black Student Union honors the second anniversary of its 2013 #BBUM Twitter campaign, dozens crowded into the Trotter House Multicultural Center on Thursday night for a candid conversation on the lasting impacts of the campaign on the University.
Started by Black Student Union members as way for students of color to share their experiences as Black students on campus, in November 2013, #BBUM went viral, accumulating more than 10,000 tweets by the first evening of its launch.
The movement captivated the attention of the University community and inspired similar efforts at other college campuses.
During Thursday’s event, which was hosted by the BSU, members displayed tweets from 2014 that were critical of the #BBUM movement.
Some attendees connected negative reactions to #BBUM with negative reactions to a recent campus demonstration on the Diag in solidarity with protests at the University of Missouri.
Several shared Facebook comments and tweets posted during and after the Diag demonstration. Another student shared an anecdote of a friend being threatened by a white man not to participate in the demonstration.
During the event, University alum Veniece Session said there are still strides to be made in building a stronger Black community at the University.
“Being a freshman here, when I first got here, I felt like I wasn’t a good enough Black student because I wasn’t involved yet. I didn’t know what Black organizations I wanted to join,” she said. “If we as upperclassmen are here and seeing new faces, let’s be inclusive and talk to Black people. Talk to people you haven’t seen before. Let’s have some type of inclusivity within our own culture so there isn’t a hierarchy of Blackness."
Attendees also reflected on a 2014 Martin Luther King Jr. Day demonstration held by BSU members on the steps of Hill Auditorium.
Holding black signs with tweets written in white chalk, members protested low 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 Center and an improved race and ethnicity requirement were among the demands made by the BSU. Additionally, the BSU demanded an increase to Black student enrollment equal to 10 percent.
The University has since addressed some of the demands outlined by the BSU, including granting the organization $60,000, for funding a variety of student groups on campus, an increase from the $37,000 previously allocated to the organization. The University also approved Intergroup Relations courses to count toward the race and ethnicity distribution requirement, and increased the classes’ credit value from two credits to three.
Officials also digitized Bentley Historical Library documents with information on the Black Action Movement of the 1960s. The BSU made the demand with the aim of increasing the University’s transparency on past dealings with Black student activists.
During Thursday’s event, one student said he thinks it’s unnecessary to keep making new demands when the demands from previous Black activist movements haven’t been met.
Former BSU Treasurer Robert Greenfield, a University alum, said gaining total support from the Black community on campus is necessary to substantiate the demands.
“We first need 100-percent buy-in of the Black community, and the problem is that in the past, action movements and social action on campus, there hasn’t been that 100-percent buy-in,” he said. “The football players and basketball players, we need them. I think that in the University setting, that’s the only way we’re gonna really get those demands met.”
Discussions between the BSU, University administration and other community members are ongoing. Last week, the University held a weeklong Diversity Summit intended to garner input from the community about improving equality and inclusion on campus.
In a statement Thursday, University President Mark Schlissel thanked the BSU for participating in a meeting with him and E. Royster Harper, vice president for student life.
“I would further like to thank the members of the Black Student Union who joined Vice President Harper and me last Friday for breakfast, as part of our ongoing dialogue over the past year,” he said. “Though the breakfast had been scheduled for weeks, the timing gave us the opportunity to discuss the nationwide campus issues of racism and inequality.”
Schlissel also lauded students for engaging in dialogues about racism and discrimination on college campuses.
Along with discussing campus efforts over the past few years, presenters Thursday also dedicated time to celebrating how #BBUM had strengthened ties within the Black community.
BSU Political Action Chair Diego Zimmerman, a sophomore in the School of Music, Theatre & Dance and the College of Engineering, said he remembered the warm greetings he received when he came to his first BSU meeting.
“I remember my first BSU meeting: Everybody said ‘What’s up,’ met everyone, had the best time,” he said. “I remember that feeling of community I never got anywhere else. I remembered I need to stay here — my family is here.”
LSA senior Arnold Reed, former BSU speaker, said throwing tailgates on game days helped draw Black students closer together and is something younger students should also emulate.
“I want you guys to know, especially younger students, when it comes to throwing events or doing things that you feel like you don’t normally have access to, do it,” he said. “Know that this group right here is going to always support you.”
During the event, Kinesiology senior Cap Kendall said building relationships with faculty members would also be helpful in unifying the Black community.
“I think oftentimes as undergraduates you often forget that there are faculty and professional students who are also our allies (and) are here to help us,” she said. “We need to open up more and let them participate in conversation like this.”
In an interview with The Michigan Daily after the event, LSA senior Chris James, a BSU executive board member, said holding Thursday’s event was vital in inspiring younger Black students to continue the efforts of past BSU members.
“#BBUM started two years, so with the new incoming freshmen, they don’t always get to see the up close and personal of what happens on campus before they got here,” he said. “It’s so important to have this so they can carry it with themselves and keep holding the University accountable for what they say they’re gonna do. We have to keep this fire going.”