On Tuesday afternoon, a campus initiative to raise awareness of how blacks are treated at the University of Michigan quickly went viral and ignited a nationwide conversation about race and diversity. The social media campaign, #BBUM (Being Black at the University of Michigan), encouraged students and others to share their experiences of being a minority at the Ann Arbor institution. The hashtag was trending nationally on Twitter for several hours, and almost 13,000 tweets have been made so far — an impressive outpouring over such a short time period. “We really just wanted to create a platform for our voices to be heard,” Tyler Collier, a senior at the school and president of the Black Student Union, tells Yahoo Shine.
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Collier was inspired to start the initiative after recent racially charged incidents. As a black leader on campus, he says he simply wanted to give black students, who represent 4 percent of the student body, a voice that is just as powerful as the majority. Turns out he did that and much more. “Psychologically, it’s very powerful and important for people to speak out,” David Bedrick, a Santa Fe-based therapist, tells Yahoo Shine. “It humanizes their stories.” The conversation is especially important for those who have avoided addressing these issues and it can be as cathartic as "coming out," he says. Ultimately, Bedrick believes, this debate will educate everyone and hopefully bring about change.
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Here are some highlights from #BBUM:
The fact that this is happening at University of Michigan, the higher education institution that was involved in the 2003 Supreme Court case that changed affirmative action across campuses nationwide, is especially poignant. However, it's not the only school grappling with diversity issues and harnessing the power of social media to spark a national conversation. In California, black UCLA student-athletes posted a video on YouTube titled "The Black Bruins [The Spoken Word]" earlier this month. The video, which has over 1 million views, features 12 young men revealing disconcerting statistics such as the fact that African American males make up only 3.3% of the Bruins' graduate and undergraduate population. Students creating social change isn't a new phenomenon, but the tools used to facilitate it are. Social media can propel issues to the national and international forefront in record time.
While the university hasn't made any official comment, they did tweet, "Thanks for engaging in this conversation. We’re listening, and will be sure all of your voices are heard. #BBUM." Kelly Cunningham, a university spokesperson, echoed this sentiment in a statement to Yahoo Shine, "This is an exciting use of social media to move this conversation forward." Additionally, E. Royster Harper, the university's vice president for student life, added his two cents to the conversation, "Got on Twitter to hear and support your voices. Proud of our students. More later." Let’s hope so.