In the wake of a resurging civil rights movement sparked by the recent police murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade and many others, Black Emory students have unified and created virtual and in-person safe spaces for other Black students to share traumatic experiences with racism and sexual assault on campus.
At a time when isolation and hurt are permeating Black communities, these spaces are crucial, Black is Gold President Samaia Hill (23C) said, especially at a predominantly white institution like Emory.
Hill founded Black is Gold at Emory in May 2020. Her club specifically aims to create a support network for Black women at Emory.
“Many students that you’re rooming with or taking classes with don’t understand the struggles you face and aren’t willing to,” Hill said. “It’s so important to have a safe space to go where people look like you, have similar experiences as you and where you can go for support.”
Her club, which fosters “sisterhood, service and mentorship,” will also unify Black underclassmen and upperclassmen this fall and create a support group for Black women regarding sexual assault awareness.
While Hill built an in-person safe space, other Black students used social media to amplify Black voices and experiences.
The “Black at Emory” Instagram account was created on June 18 by a Black Emory student who asked to remain anonymous for protection. Her account has amassed over 3,000 followers with almost 100 posts that document experiences of racism that Black students, alumni and staff endure on Emory’s campus.
The creator, a Black woman, said initially the account was overrun with submissions from non-Black individuals wanting to share their experiences. Their submissions ranged from confessions of problematic behavior within white Greek Life organizations to racial slurs directed toward non-Black people of color (NBPOC).
After taking recommendations and feedback from Black Emory community members, however, she re-focused the account to specifically highlight Black experiences at Emory.
“It’s been so hard to find a space on campus for JUST Black people at Emory, so I want to find out how to do that and amplify Black voices more,” she wrote in an email to the Wheel. “So now, the biggest obstacle is getting more submissions from Black people, whether they’re current students, alumni, faculty, staff, or administrators!”
Of the hundred submissions the account has received, she said the stories that have touched her the most are the ones that she felt she could have written herself.
“For so long, I thought I was crazy and completely insane with all of the things that I experienced since my NBPOC or white peers would tell me there’s no way that happened or brush it off,” she wrote.
She noted that being dismissive of others’ experiences with racism is a form of implicit bias that should not be tolerated.
As she continues sharing the stories of Black Emory students, she hopes the University and the Emory community will pay attention and listen to the students willing to speak up, from student leaders of Emory Black Student Alliance and Emory NAACP to those anonymously submitting their stories to her account.
“The school needs to reconfigure how it takes in comments from students because this isn’t the first and only time students have spoken up, but it’s the first time we’re coming together, being heard, and actively getting collective action and demanding a response, and we will not be ignored again,” she wrote.
The posts have created safe spaces for Emory community members to also relay similar experiences and discuss ways to improve Emory.
For Taylor McGhee (21C), who has personally submitted two stories to the account, getting a response from her community on her submissions was surreal.
Her first story detailed her experiences with a “tenured White professor” who made inflammatory remarks about the Civil Rights Movement and minorities, and her second was about the lack of intersectionality in minority spaces and feeling like her Blackness was questioned.
McGhee said she believes the account sparks meaningful dialogue about challenging topics, noting that many Emory students and the Young Democrats of Emory account responded to her first submission.
“I submitted because I wasn’t seeing my experiences represented, getting a response back … was just crazy,” McGhee said. “It made me feel like this is a community that I am proud to be a part of, even though there are injustices happening.”
McGhee praised the account for exposing the many layers of racism on campus and said she has always believed in the power of storytelling and empathy.
“When you read a story or see a story that is related to your own, you feel more engaged and valued,” McGhee said. “I hope that people who are anonymously submitting … there is some level of comfort that you are not alone in your experiences and there people are fighting for you.”