“Having an academic advisor who acts really surprised when you excel in your classes.”
“When everyone looks at you when the word ‘slavery’ is brought up in discussion.”
“No black hairdressers on this side of town. So you have to trek 30-plus minutes.”
“Having to defend why I am part of student organizations that are predominately white.”
“Being asked to speak for your whole race in an article for The Hoya.”
These tweets, from Shavonnia Corbin-Johnson (SFS ’14), Raquel Caldwell (COL ’16), Kendra Tonette(NHS ’13), Jimmy Ramirez (COL ’15) and Aya Waller-Bey (COL ’14), respectively, were all accompanied by the hashtag #BBGU, short for “being black at Georgetown University,” yesterday. The hashtag was part of a Twitter protest held by the Black House between 11 a.m. and 11 p.m. Thursday, during which students, alumni, faculty and administrators discussed the experience many students of color encounter on campus.
A similar event at the University of Michigan, #BBUM, inspired the Black House’s effort, which Waller-Bey, who is the Black House resident director, organized.
“I wanted to bring that conversation to Georgetown, and I really wanted us to have an outlet to often speak out,” Waller-Bey said.
Students tweeted about racism they have encountered on campus, prejudice in the classroom, uninformed conversations and daily inconveniences — like other students asking to touch black students’ hair — along with the sense of community among organizations like the Black Students Association and the Georgetown chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
“I just wish, you know, the greater Georgetown community can really see… how we feel when someone asks if they can touch our hair,” Waller-Bey told The Hoya.
“If you do something racist or say something racist, and you say ‘I’m so sorry I didn’t know that was offensive, I didn’t know that was racist,’ that doesn’t change the impact that it has,” she added.
Many of the grievances expressed by the student participants revolved around Georgetown’s deficiency of diversity programs, specifically in its lack of a formalized African-American studies department and major and the absence of a diversity requirement for students.
“If Georgetown could really find a way to pull into action and streamline a diversity requirement, have a mandatory experience where students are kind of able to engage in a conversation, I think that would be valuable,” Waller-Bey said.
She said that she hopes that #BBGU will help raise awareness about these issues in the Georgetown community and encourage the administration to become more involved in diversity issues on campus.
“I want Georgetown, the provost and [University President John J. DeGioia] to say ‘We hear you.’”Waller-Bey said. “And I want them to formally say that ‘We hear what you’re saying. We think these are problems. We are going to do whatever we can to make Georgetown more inclusive of all communities, all unrepresented communities.’”
The Georgetown administration gave #BBGU its full support, endorsing the event in a post from the official Georgetown Facebook page, with many individual administrators also joining in the conversation from their personal Twitter accounts.
“Check out #BBGU — An important conversation — voices of students, alumni, faculty, and staff – we all need to listen and engage,” Vice President for Student Affairs Todd Olson tweeted.
“#BBGU: a powerful reminder that acknowledging privilege and striving for justice is a lifelong endeavor. Never over,” Center for Student Engagement Director Erika Cohen Derr tweeted.
Despite these administrators’ support of the event, Waller-Bey said that university officials have a responsibility to do more.
“I think Georgetown needs to step up,” she said. “These things cannot keep happening. We should have to feel comfortable. I shouldn’t have to feel like I’m on a battlefield.”
Waller-Bey emphasized the importance of holding an event like #BBGU in order to support a sense of community.
“For everyone to be able to partake in this, and for people to give the affirmation to feel like, ‘You are not alone. I’ve experienced this,’” Waller-Bey said. “I really enjoy by having this open forum where you actually can retweet this and say ‘Yes, I understand, I agree, that’s been my experience.’”
Even though many of the posted tweets described negative experiences, Waller-Bey stressed that her intentions for the event are rooted in her love for the university.
“This was organized because we love Georgetown, and because I love Georgetown,” she said. “And the students here really care the experiences of themselves and the experiences of others, and they really want to create an outlet for people to share, you know, their stories and their narratives.”
Waller-Bey hoped that this event will serve as a catalyst for more thoughtful discussion about race on campus that could lead to increase sensitivity and respect.
“I love Georgetown. … Because of that, I challenge it to be a better Georgetown so people behind me can have a better experience,” she said.