Four years ago, the Black Student Union launched the online campaign #BBUM, or Being Black at the University of Michigan, and gave the University seven days to respond to seven demands. Some of the demands included more affordable campus housing, an increase in Black representation on campus and a digitization of documents in the University’s Bentley Historical Library.
Now, four years after BSU put forward its initial demands, the organization and the Bentley Historical Library have completed the project to digitize over 66,000 records from the Department of Afroamerican and African Studies.
The formal demand from BSU stated: “We demand for increased exposure of all documents within the Bentley (Historical) Library. There should be transparency about the University and its past dealings with race relations.”
In response to the 2014 #BBUM demands, Terrence McDonald, director of the Bentley Historical Library, explained archivists began compiling recorded interactions between University officials and Black activists.
“The digitization project began when student members of the BSU, working on a history of the Black Action movements, asked if those records could be made more available through digitization,” McDonald said. “We prepared a digital edition of the demands from and University responses to those movements, and the idea for digitizing the collection grew from there.”
In addition to demands, #BBUM sparked a national conversation on Twitter around the experiences of Black students in higher education. The movement staged protests on campus to bring further attention to their cause.
According to the University Record, funds for the project were provided by the Office of the Provost and the process of digitizing the records took more than eight months to complete. The new online collection features audio and video recordings of visiting scholars and activists, including Rosa Parks and Jesse Jackson, newspaper clippings and other materials related to the Black Action Movements from 1969 to 1995.
The entire collection can be accessed digitally by all University students, researchers, faculty and staff, and to the public in person at the Bentley Historical Library.
Matthew Countryman, chair of the Department of Afroamerican and African Studies, said in a statement to the Record that he is especially thrilled that these historical documents have been digitized.
“As we approach the 50th anniversary of the Center for Afroamerican and African Studies’ founding, we could not be more excited to have these essential historical documents digitized and available online to students, scholars and community members,” Countryman said.
LSA senior Kayla McKinney, speaker of BSU, said the group called for digitization of the Bentley records to increase the accessibility of these materials. In addition, McKinney said the project grew out of the group’s desire to call attention to the relations between Black students and the University in the past.
“Since then the Bentley has worked tirelessly both with the BSU and on their own to gain and digitize these records and we appreciate them greatly,” McKinney said. “Having these records digitized is important because student activism is often erased in U-M's diversity effort.”
While BSU says working with archivists at the Bentley has been a positive experience, the group believes the University has, in the past, taken credit for many diversity efforts that BSU says have actually been initiated by student activism — including the establishments of the Office Multiethnic Student Affairs, the Office of Academic Multicultural Initiatives, the Martin Luther King Jr. Symposium and Scholarship, the Department of Afroamerican and African Studies, and the Trotter Multicultural Center. Two years ago, Black students expressed their frustrations when the University announced they would name the Trotter building — the only building on campus named after a Black man — in honor of Regent Mark Bernstein due to his $3 million gift. Bernstein retracted his donation after the compalints.
“None of these would exist without Black student activism, but if you were to listen to the University ‘brag’ about these things you would never know that,” McKinney said.