The stories began flooding in during the month of June. Stories of Black students at USC feeling invisible, threatened and scared on the very campus they call home.
These stories were no longer contained within the walls of a classroom, dorm room or the campus grounds. They were no longer whispers in the halls or forgotten complaints tucked away in file cabinets of administrators. They were gathered and posted on Instagram for all the world to see. The posts detail the horrors faced by many Black students, bringing issues of systemic racism into the public eye along with a compelling call for change.
Using a Google form and the reach of Instagram, a USC student launched the @black_at_usc account with a brutally honest post: “It is no secret that USC has a racism problem. From the constant assault of learning in buildings named (or previously named) after famed racists to the daily, more covert microaggressions, being a Black Trojan entails constantly experiencing and/or confronting racism and anti-Blackness within the community. USC has acknowledged its problem and vowed to listen to our voices so use this space to share your stories and experiences of being Black at the University of Southern California. Anonymity guaranteed, always.”
Within months the Instagram account had thousands of followers and hundreds of posts.
While this isn’t the first “Black At” social media account, the effects at USC have been powerful, helping to initiate the launch of campus-wide forums and discussions, as well as programs to support Black students and other students of color.
The power to create change takes powerful voices. Stories can be gathered and amplified using technology and social media. As media professionals, we must embrace the power of platforms to listen to and empower our communities and create change. We must learn from students and young people who are at the forefront of digital movements, courageously calling out truth to power and breaking down barriers to spark transformation.
Instagram isn’t the only platform young people are using to make their voices heard. They are mobilizing on TikTok too, in addition to other platforms and digital spaces. Hashtags like #BlackLivesMatter and #MyPride populate TikTok feeds that also feature dance challenges and the ever-popular lip sync videos gone viral. Teens on TikTok even claimed they were at least partially responsible for decreased attendance at a presidential rally earlier this year.
People are mobilizing. Now more than ever, young people in particular are uniting and using the power of technology and social media to raise awareness, amplify their voices, create community, and call for change when it comes to vital issues related to Black Lives Matter, systemic racism, climate change, gun control, and many other vital issues facing the nation and the world.
Media professionals can take a lesson from these students. Be authentic. Be personal. Be genuine. Be truthful. Be persistent. Be brave.
Amara Aguilar is an associate professor of professional practice in digital journalism at USC Annenberg. She teaches journalism for mobile and emerging platforms, and interactive media design for publishing, among other courses.