Over the past couple months, University of Connecticut students have been anonymously sharing their experiences of racism and sexual assault through newly-created Instagram accounts.
The first of these pages to appear online was Black at UConn, which started at the end of June. The stories on this account range from microaggressions by staff and faculty, being called slurs by other students and feeling unwelcome on campus as a BIPOC.
In a video conference interview, one of the three creators of the account — all of whom did not want to share their last names for this article — Adrienne, a fifth-semester linguistics and philosophy major, said she created the account after seeing similar pages for other universities. A few days later, she said she asked her friend Winta, a third-semester physiology and neurobiology major, to be an administrator for the account. UConn alumna Melia said she asked Adrienne and Winta if she could help run the account after she saw a “Black At” page for her high school.
Melia said even though she graduated, she hoped to be more active in the UConn community.
“I felt like I spent most of my time at UConn being passive, and it feels different now and weird that I’m finally talking to people and that I’m using my voice to stand up for something I believe in,” Melia said in a video conference interview.
All three of the women who run the account said they had faced or witnessed microaggressions while at UConn.
“I’m hoping that anyone who comes across the page reads these stories and sees that POC are not being treated fairly and they have to deal with a lot every day and it should not be normal,” Adrienne said.
Winta said the university should be doing more to acknowledge the negative experiences of BIPOC students.
“They keep preaching a 41% diversity of the students,” Winta said. “They keep saying it over and over again but what has that done for us? What has that done for the people of color? Nothing.”
Winta said it has been emotionally draining to run the account but she is proud of the work she does.
“Reading these stories is always heartbreaking. But the one thing I always think of is what these people are feeling,” Winta said. “We just have to read their story but these people are living their story.”
Black at UConn shared a testimonial from a former member of UConn’s Undergraduate Student Government (USG) about their experiences of microaggressions and racial bias while in the organization. This post was a catalyst for USG holding two town halls to address the problems within the organization.
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This is a direct @ to the Undergraduate Student Government at Storrs — y’all are despicable. It’s interesting how y’all always claim to care about diversity but your Black and Latinx members are often talked over, looked past, and not valued. It’s interesting how an almost all white senate passed legislation that allowed the executive branch members to be compensated for their duties, but when the first executive board to be allowed to get compensated was majority Black and people of color, they were constantly being questioned, interrogated and even had members attempt to FOIA request members on the governing board (talking to you Luis T.) I wonder if that would’ve happened if it was a majority white governing board like it’s always been in the past? People would seem to have a problem with the previous administration attempting to use USG resources to support the previous movements on campus against racism even though USG is supposed to be an “advocacy based organization”. Seems like y’all only advocate for things that benefit your white students but don’t care when It comes to issues such as racism and environmental justice. So fuck USG and a big fuck you to every USG member that has ever made BIPOC members feel unwelcome and unheard. There should be a BIPOC run student government on campus if you ask me. I have 0 hope in the new administration. Alumni, 2020
Adrienne said it was a strange feeling to have played a role in causing change and restructure in the organization.
“It feels weird because I’m not really one to speak out,” Adrienne said. “This isn’t something that I’m used to being; someone to change anything. It’s a new feeling.”
Soon after Black at UConn started, another page was created that focused on the experiences of students of color in UConn’s School of Fine Arts (SFA), BIPOC at UConn SFA.
One of the four students that run the account, who wished to remain anonymous, said in an email interview that she and the other students who started the account felt administration wasn’t doing enough to address racism in the school. She said they felt that giving a platform for students to share their experiences would help make real change happen within the school.
“We wanted to make our department heads and deans see stories coming directly from their own students and hoped making these stories public would encourage them to take action,” she said.
The students who run the account were tagging SFA to bring these stories to their attention. The students soon realized the school was untagging themselves from BIPOC at UConn SFA’s posts, and they called on their followers to keep on tagging the school in the comments of their Instagram posts.
“We tag them in our posts to share these stories in hopes of getting their attention but once again they are ignoring their students,” the students who run the account said in an Instagram post. “It’s our job as a community to help make sure these voices and experiences are heard.”
The student said she was not surprised that the SFA page removed the BIPOC at UConn SFA tags.
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(tl;dr tag @uconnsfa in our posts) The UConn School of Fine Arts Instagram has removed us from their tagged photos. We tag them in our posts to share these stories in hopes of getting their attention but once again they are ignoring their students. It’s our job as a community to help make sure these voices and experiences are heard. These stories are a few of many untold experiences. BIPOC students make up an extremely small portion of the School of Fine Arts and are actively being ignored and silenced. We tell our experiences to our department heads and they aren’t listening. Keep reposting these stories and tag @uconnsfa in all of our posts! Don’t let us go unheard any longer.
“They know they have an issue with racism and sexism within the school; they just don’t want it to be seen by the public. It’s frustrating that they’re doing this instead of addressing the account or following us,” she said. “To me it says they’re not willing to listen to their own students and they’re more concerned about how things appear on their Instagram than how they actually are.”
Another administrator of the BIPOC at UConn SFA account, who did not want to be named for this article, said in order to make a more welcoming environment for BIPOC, the school needs to address the account.
“I think they need to start listening to their students. We have this platform so that they can read these and correct the issue within the department,” she said. “I would also encourage them to know that there will be backlash but that they should stand behind their students.”
The student who runs the account, who wished to remain anonymous, said he wanted to give students a space to talk about their negative encounters with UCPD, having had a negative experience with UCPD officers himself.
“I would come across people that had these really large and elaborate stories that would involve some really serious misconduct by the police and of course, it just wasn’t reported,” the third-semester student said in a phone interview. “I wanted to give a forum for people who have had those experiences to voice that without fear of repercussion.”
He said he hopes the university will take accountability and will consider defunding the UCPD to reinvest into mental health services on campus, since UCPD is “incapable” of dealing with mental health crises.
“If they really cared about mental health they would address it directly — They would get more therapists,” he said. “This is a university that tells us to protect our pack, they tell us that we need to take accountability for the protection of all UConn students, and how can we expect other students to do that when the university doesn’t do the same thing?”
UConn Survivors shared stories from sexual assault survivors that named their alleged assaulter and the fraternities they were involved in. After getting threats of legal actions from the people named in these submissions, the account went on hiatus.
The two students who run the UConn Survive account, who wished to remain anonymous, said they started their account in reaction to this.
“We simply could not digest the fact that there were hundreds of stories waiting to be heard but survivors were never given a safe space to share them,” the students said during an Instagram direct message interview. “Being survivors ourselves, we understand how such experiences take a huge mental and physical toll on survivors. That is why we wanted to be able to create a space for survivors to trust us so we can give them a chance to be heard, be believed and supported.”
The creators of the account acknowledged that although UConn has educational programs to prevent sexual assault, these programs aren’t doing enough to teach students what the reporting process is like.
“We hope by creating this account, UConn officials can empathize and understand how difficult sharing sexual assault stories is and understand why [a student] didn’t initially report it,” the students said. “Sharing a story isn’t just telling someone what happened, it’s reliving your worst nightmare.”
The students said running the account has been an eye-opening experience.
“We are more aware than ever; not only about what hundreds of students are going through but also what UConn’s definition of ‘action’ is,” they said.
In a video conference interview, Associate Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Eleanor Daugherty said she encourages students who have submitted to these anonymous accounts to report their experiences through official channels.
“The university does not monitor social media and we don’t make that an expectation of our employees but we do want to know when things happen,” Daugherty said. “So the action that needs to happen is that things need to be reported to the university through the processes we show online”
Executive Vice President for Administration and Chief Financial Officer Scott Jordan expressed a similar sentiment in the video conference interview and said filing a report is as “simple” as clicking a button on the Equity at UConn website.
“We really want you to report them,” Jordan said. “We don’t tolerate bias and sexual harassment on campus.”
Daugherty said the university is constantly improving the reporting process to make it easier for students to navigate, including a centralized reporting tool that her team is currently working on.
“I think we’re always committed to making sure we’re current on making sure students know the tools and the power that they have,” Daugherty said. “I think it is always an ongoing effort to ensure that we have empowering access to resources for students.”
Daugherty said the university takes into account stories of bias and harassment shared with them through proper channels and applies them to diversity and inclusion initiatives.
“Students often share their stories in bias response protocol and I think it’s important to say that it is because of those stories that we have done things like creating the online diversity education model,” Daugherty said. “It is their stories that are informing how we educate others to be mindful about the harm of these behaviors.”
She went on to say that nothing can be done to solve the problems brought up by students in these anonymous accounts unless their stories are shared through the proper channels.
“They always have value, just the capacity to take action occurs when it’s reported,” Daugherty said.
In the same video conference interview, UCPD Police Chief Hans D. Rhynhart said the same necessity for reporting applies to crimes.
“We want to continue to ensure that the reporting mechanisms that the university has are easy they’re transparent and that they are available to people so that when someone wants to report a crime or an incident for action by the university it is very clear on how that’s done,” Rhynhart said.
Rhynhart said it seems these accounts are serving as a healing space for survivors and victims of racial bias and they do not want to disturb the space.
“There is, I think, intent on why people will post on social media sites and that may not always be or may not ever be with the intent that there’s going to be follow up with any university office to investigate,” Rhynhart said.
Students are encouraged to report instances of discrimination or sexual assault through the Office of Institutional Equity reporting form.