An Instagram Reckoning on Race Is Rocking Tony Private Schools

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Boston College

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As thousands have taken to the streets to protest against systemic racism and police brutality, a movement to expose racism at Massachusetts’ most prestigious schools has also taken shape—but this one is happening on Instagram.

Against a backdrop of nationwide racial reckoning, Black students and alumni from secondary schools and universities across the state are taking to social media to anonymously share stories of the racist incidents they experienced on campus, often at the hands of their white peers and teachers. These Instagram pages, many of which were founded within just the past couple of weeks, document countless painful stories from some of Massachusetts’—and the country’s—most elite institutions.

As first reported by the Boston Globe, there are pages dedicated to at least 10 private Massachusetts schools, including Milton Academy, Dana Hall, BC High, Groton School, Noble and Greenough School, and Phillips Academy Andover. Many of these schools are consistently ranked at the top of Massachusetts’ best private high school lists, and boast rigorous academic resources, abundant extracurricular opportunities, and gorgeous campuses. Phillips Academy Andover’s profile on Niche, a popular school ranking website, highlights the school’s “expansive worldview.” Nobles’ profile says that the school’s “tight-knit community fosters humility, humor, collaboration, honesty and respect.” Deerfield’s says its students support each other “as they examine the world’s most pressing problems, together.”

But the Instagram accounts dedicated to Black students’ experiences at these schools tell a different story. “When I first stepped foot on campus, I was told to not expect a relationship because no one liked black girls at Deerfield,” reads a post on the Deerfield page. “I was talking to a white girl and she told me how much she liked black guys and how she wished she was ‘ghetto’ and could talk ‘ghetto’ so she could relate to them,” an anonymous member of the class of 2014 on Nobles’ page recounts. “She was one of the few white people who talked to me so I laughed.” Says a post on Phillips Academy Andover’s: “I was asked by [a] white roommate how often I washed my hair. When I told her once a week, she responded by saying that I was disgusting.”

When asked for comment, a spokesperson for Andover said, “We hear and value these voices and have reached out to the group on Instagram where we also shared the school’s action plan.” The school also said faculty and administrators had recently joined a student-led forum on diversity and inclusion. A spokesperson for Noble and Greenough said that the school is welcoming the stories shared on Instagram, and know that hearing these accounts will help them “become a more equitable and inclusive school community.” The school is working with a group of student leaders and has also established a “Graduates of Color Task Force” to help guide Nobles’ antiracism work.

 

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Deerfield alums Jada Howard, Chenelle Jones, Alexia Baker, Jennifer Brown, and Aminata Ka, who are all people of color, say that they founded @blackatdeerfieldofficial to draw attention to the “unheard and unseen” POC student experience at the school. “For years, we suffered in silence and our efforts for change have never been successful,” they wrote in a joint email to Boston. “Now with this movement, we have the chance to share our experiences, stories and pain to the world, in hopes of making Deerfield a better place for Black and non-Black POC.” The group says they had dozens of positive experiences at the school and look back on their time as students fondly, but that they also dealt with microaggressions, a non-diverse faculty, and an administration that was not responsive when they advocated for diversity and inclusion initiatives on campus. “We all fell in love with the place,” they wrote, “and wished the place that we loved showed us that they loved us too.”

The @blackatdeerfieldofficial account went live on June 17. Since then, the account has shared over 50 student stories and amassed over 1,600 followers. The founding group, who take stories submitted to them via anonymous Google Form and turn them into visual Instagram posts, say that reading the submissions has been frustrating and heartbreaking. “We can feel the pain echoed in the stories because some of those same stories or situations happened to us during our time on campus,” they wrote. “But in the same breath, the stories no longer surprise us. It is a cycle of racism. We have received submissions from alumni in the ’90s up to the most recent graduating class…The content remains the same because little has been done by administration to foster the change we wish to see on our campus.”

When asked for comment about the @blackatdeerfieldofficial account, the school directed Boston to a letter published by Deerfield Head of School John P.N. Austin stating that the school “can and will do more to create and sustain an inclusive and welcoming campus environment for all students,” especially for Deerfield’s Black students and other students of color. The @blackatdeerfieldofficial team responded with a post stating that they appreciate the school’s acknowledgement of the stories shared to the account, but that they also hope to see the administration and Board of Trustees take immediate action.”It is shameful it has taken an Instagram account publicizing the Academy’s systemic racism for Black voices to finally be heard,” the post reads. “The work is not over.”

It isn’t just high school students who are sharing their stories—Instagram pages devoted to stories from area universities have arisen as well. One of the most active is @blackatbostoncollege, a page run by two current students at the school in Chestnut Hill. One of those students, who wished to remain anonymous, explained that the page has two goals: To provide a safe space for students of color to share their stories and be heard, and to “pop the bubble of ignorance” that surrounds BC. In an Instagram DM, they wrote: “Countless students that go to this school are unaware of the challenges that BIPOC students face when going here. The administration of Boston College has time and time again downplayed the pain that their students experience.”

In a statement, BC spokesperson Jack Dunn emphasized the college’s commitment to educating its students in an environment “that is welcoming and inclusive for all” and said the school had announced an upcoming Racial Justice forum, while recognizing that much more remains to be done.

 

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An admin of @blackatharvardlaw, an account dedicated to stories from Black Harvard Law School students, shared a similar sentiment. “I think people believe that this place is a utopia,” the admin, who wished to be identified only as a Black, female current student, said in a brief phone interview. “But students are encountering and experiencing racism all the time, and I think that’s important for people to know.”

The @blackatharvardlaw admin says that Harvard Law School has not yet directly reached out to the Instagram page in response to the posts, but that many Instagram users have been tagging the official Harvard Law School Instagram account in @blackatharvardlaw posts to attract the school’s attention. In a statement, Harvard Law School spokesperson Jeff Neal said that the university would be grateful to learn more about the experiences of those who have shared their stories with @blackatharvardlaw as administrators work “to make the school a place where everyone can thrive.”

The @blackatharvardlaw admins say that, while they haven’t yet formulated specific asks, they hope that the stories students have shared will inspire the school to combat campus racism much more actively—and urgently. Because if change doesn’t come quickly enough to one of the top law schools in the country, the consequences could be dire. “Harvard Law School produces some of the most important people in the country,” the anonymous account admin said. “Twenty years from now, senators, congresspeople, and mayors are going to be students from Harvard Law School. And if the students are not made to confront this behavior while they’re here, Harvard is essentially giving them powerful JDs without teaching them how to act properly in the world. I think the conversation right now is about how we create systemic change—Harvard can do that. But it has to work at it.”

This story has been updated to include comment from Noble and Greenough School.

Source URL: https://www.bostonmagazine.com/news/2020/06/24/instagram-black-students-experience/