Hashtag campaign reveals racism on campus



By Lee Mengistu

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Beginning Thursday morning, students across campus began posting photos and selfies recalling their experiences with discrimination while at UK.

Using the hashtags #NotJustMizzou and #WeAreUK, African American students and allies held signs recounting racist incidents and racist attitudes they had faced or witnessed on campus.

Students posted various stories, including one where a student was pulled over for “driving while black” on campus, or feeling pressured to be a spokesperson for the black experience in class.

A few students on Twitter pointed out problems with the university itself, such as the mural depicting slavery featured in Memorial Hall’s lobby, or accusations of fudged minority numbers in the College of Medicine.

“It was important for me to help bring awareness … because a lot of people are either ignorant to what these actions are, or they refuse to acknowledge that racism exists and it does,” said English junior Darianne Young, who participated in the campaign.

Founders of the campaign, biology senior Rheyana Branch and integrated strategic communication senior Kristyn Cherry, were inspired by a similar hashtag, #ITooAmHarvard, that spread on social media in the spring of 2014.

They felt like the campaign was an important message of solidarity to the University of Missouri and awareness for UK’s general student body.

“I’m sure they started out as microaggressions at Mizzou, and they escalated. It shouldn’t take a major event such as someone becoming a hashtag or imprisonment…for people to realize that it’s wrong,” Branch said.

The University of Missouri has faced a tumultuous semester in terms of racial tension. This week, events escalated with shooting threats and multiple resignations by professors, the university chancellor, and President Tim Wolfe.

UK students have had mixed reactions to the campaign. Some, like biosystems engineering sophomore Alexis Cross, were critical of students who could take issue with the campaign.

“If you aren’t our skin tone or a different variation,” Cross said, “you have no right to speak on what we go through.”

Deandre Jackson, an undecided freshman, was inspired to post a photo of his own.

“I just want to make a difference,” he added.

Education freshman Jamie Peitz was not aware of the campaign, but recognized its importance.

”I think the campaign is cool, I think it’s helpful in getting people aware — I didn’t even know about it, but now I do.”

By Thursday afternoon, UK students had published over 220 related posts and re-posts had been uploaded to Instagram, as well as many others on Twitter. The campaign has also already inspired a similar movement at Indiana University.

Cherry and Branch were surprised by the response on social media.

“To see so many people share their experiences forces you to recognize how pervasive the issue is,” said Cherry, who is earning a minor in African American Studies.

On Thursday night, student leaders from minority groups had dinner with UK President Eli Capilouto to sort through and try to solve existing problems on UK’s campus.

“There are too many shared experiences of people who aren’t really connected — besides their skin color — to write it off,” Branch said.