The Hechinger Report is a national nonprofit newsroom that reports on one topic: education. Sign up for our weekly newsletters to get stories like this delivered directly to your inbox.

Get important education news and analysis delivered straight to your inbox

Choose from our newsletters

If you’re on a college campus and wondering how to be anti-racist, Black college students and alumni are giving lessons on Instagram.

As protestors marched across the United States in June calling for racial justice, college students and recent graduates amplified their cries on Instagram. Through dozens of new Instagram accounts, they are sharing, often anonymously, what it’s like to be disrespected and harassed for being Black on campus. They’re also highlighting resources for such things as learning about white fragility, who can and cannot say the N-word and which college courses could prepare you to open your mind and check your biases.

Similar accounts have popped up at elite, private K-12 schools. In early June, Black Amherst Speaks was one of the first to address racism on a college campus.

The account is “for stories, it’s for awareness, it’s for learning,” said Haylee Price, who launched the account with Kyndall Ashe on June 10. They graduated from Amherst College in 2018.

The account’s more than 2,400 followers can read about a student being told to go back to Africa, a teammate using the N-word and a student who pretended he couldn’t see a dark-skinned classmate at night.

“In high school, you kind of still get to go home at the end of the day, whereas in college, a lot of our stories have to do both with the classroom but also interpersonal interactions that happen outside of that, ’cause you’re on campus at Amherst like 90 percent of the time that you go there.” 

Kyndall Ashe, 2018 graduate of Amherst College

While Black and Brown students are often on the receiving end of racism in their formative years, it can have a different impact at the collegiate level.

“In high school, you kind of still get to go home at the end of the day,” said Ashe. “Whereas in college, a lot of our stories have to do both with the classroom but also, you know, interpersonal interactions that happen outside of that, ’cause you’re on campus at Amherst like 90 percent of the time that you go there.”

Related: On Twitter, ‘#BlackIntheIvory’ exposes racism on campus

There are now more than 40 “Black At” Instagram accounts, almost all of which launched in June. Many of them offer resources for learning how to be anti-racist in addition to highlighting racist incidents on campus.

The Black at UMass Amherst account includes a reading list for “if you’re serious about wanting to make a change” instead of asking Black, Indigenous and People of Color “to do the heavy lifting.” Among the recommended reads are “So You Want to Talk About Race” by Ijeoma Oluo and “White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard For White People To Talk About Racism” by Robin DiAngelo. If you’re wondering if you can say the N-word, Black at Tulane has a detailed Instagram story explaining the history of the word and who should and shouldn’t say it. And if you’re questioning whether you’re being a good ally, the Resources section of Black at Michigan will help you find out.

The Cornell Students 4 Black Lives account takes a slightly different approach and operates as a coalition of student and alumni organizations focused on raising money for social justice organizations, while also highlighting how systemic racism plays out in Ithaca, New York, where Cornell is located, and on Cornell’s campus. Since launching on June 5, it has raised more than $118,000, some of which will go to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the Southside Community Center in Ithaca, said Sherell Farmer, a rising junior at Cornell who helps lead Cornell Students 4 Black Lives. The account also points to data on income disparities by race in Tompkins County, home of Ithaca; the achievement gap between Black and white students in the Ithaca City School District, and which classes students can take at Cornell to learn more about racism.

“We do go to a PWI,” said Farmer, using the shorthand for predominantly white institution. There, she said, “folks are not actively taking classes about diversity, about how you engage in social justice work, about what it means to engage in social justice work, so we wanted to be able to disseminate that information.”

“For people who have been locked out of mainstream media, it has been social media platforms that have given them the opportunity to create their own voice and tell their own stories.”

Moya Bailey, co-author of a book about social media activism

The new Instagram accounts are similar to student activism on Twitter in years past, said Moya Bailey, who along with Sarah J. Jackson and Brooke Foucault Welles authored the recent book “#HashtagActivism: Networks of Race and Gender Justice.”

“I see the Instagram accounts as perhaps the new platform that college students are using, but I think it follows a tradition of using social media platforms to get the word out about what’s happening on your campus,” Bailey said.

Related: Students sick of ‘lip service’ from universities over racism

These accounts can also be a way for those who are often marginalized to be front and center.

“For people who have been locked out of mainstream media, it has been social media platforms that have given them the opportunity to create their own voice and tell their own stories,” said Bailey.

Several of the Instagram accounts have already garnered strong followings in just a few weeks. Black at Boston College has reached more than 9,000 followers since launching on June 14, and Black at WashU has reached about 4,300 followers since its June 13 start.

On the Dear PWI account, each post includes a personal story about a student of color being marginalized or made fun of at institutions across the country, and the college or university’s Instagram account is usually tagged in the Comments section. Since launching on June 12, Dear PWI has more than 20,000 followers.

Many leaders of these accounts hope they will be the first step toward inciting change.

“I don’t think that social media platforms are the key to creating systemic and sustainable justice in our country,” said Bailey. “It’s one tool that people have used, and it’s one tool that aids work that movements are doing.”

This story about ‘Black at’ was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for our higher education newsletter.

The Hechinger Report provides in-depth, fact-based, unbiased reporting on education that is free to all readers. But that doesn't mean it's free to produce. Our work keeps educators and the public informed about pressing issues at schools and on campuses throughout the country. We tell the whole story, even when the details are inconvenient. Help us keep doing that.

Join us today.

Delece Smith-Barrow

Delece Smith-Barrow is a senior editor for higher education at The Hechinger Report. She was a 2017 Knight-Wallace Fellow at the University of Michigan, where she spent a year studying how top-tier universities...

Letters to the Editor

At The Hechinger Report, we publish thoughtful letters from readers that contribute to the ongoing discussion about the education topics we cover. Please read our guidelines for more information.

By submitting your name, you grant us permission to publish it with your letter. We will never publish your email. You must fill out all fields to submit a letter.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *