Since June 27, an Instagram account called “BlackAtPennState” has shared anonymous stories of racism from Black Penn State students, graduates and staff. WPSU intern Andrew Destin talked with the Instagram account creator, a Black student at Penn State who has chosen to keep his identity confidential out of concern for his safety.
Andrew Destin: What inspired you to start this Instagram page? Was it a specific event that happened to you personally? Or stories from friends? Or what, what was it?
BlackAtPennState: No, so it's actually really strange. I was just sitting down one day and I was like I want to go beyond my major and the school that I'm in, and I wanted to do more stuff school wide. So I was thinking like, what should I do and I was like ‘OK, Instagram page,’ and then I thought about it and I was like, ‘Oh, I don't know if that'll work’ so then I kind of like, let it go. And then my best friend, her school made a page similar to this and I was like ‘I was just thinking about doing something like that, do you think I should?’, and she was like absolutely do it just go do it. So then, within like a matter of like 10, 15 minutes I had it all set up, and I was like all right here we go, let's do it.
Andrew Destin: Do you think keeping posts to the page anonymous has helped empower people to share stories they previously may have kept to themselves?
BlackAtPennState: It helps us kind of like, get our experiences out there without it coming straight back to us because that can be really scary as not even just a black student but a student of color in general because just so the treatment, obviously, through these stories, the treatment that we've experienced and I've even gotten some messages people like "we want to know who this is." And like, that's a scary thing because if they find out who these stories are coming from who knows what could like actually happen. So yeah, I think the anonymous is very, very helpful and I don't see that changing anytime soon.
Andrew Destin: Have you received any negative backlash for the posts? Have there been any hate messages, threats, anything of that nature?
BlackAtPennState: So there hasn't been a lot, luckily. But there was one last week it was like the first one really. He's like "you're gonna meet your maker, I'm gonna do this that and the other to you, you better hope I don’t find out who you are, you need to expose yourself because I doubt you're even black." Just a lot of hate and I didn't respond to it because it's just foolishness and there's no need to respond to stuff like that.
Andrew Destin: What would be an example of a story someone has told you that really sticks with you?
BlackAtPennState: A lot of the work I do, at least recently, has been in support of black women specifically. And so, there have been a few stories about either white boys fetishizing black women that have really stuck with me or black women not feeling comfortable to be their natural selves. And a lot of that has like, that's really got to me because I'm like, that's so unfortunate, because I think black women have it the hardest because they're not only black but they're also women, and that's really hard, so I think like stories that involve that specifically have really stuck with me. Only because yes, they're black but there's even things that black women experience that I never will because they are women. And so those stories in specific have really stuck with me.
Andrew: Many universities across the country now have similar Instagram pages, but did you ever expect your page to reach this big of a platform with now over 6,000 followers?
BlackAtPennState: I didn't really know how big it was gonna reach. I've talked to some of my friends from home, they don't think it's big enough being how many students we have at the university, and I was like I totally agree. I know, going back to my best friend's school their school is smaller than ours and they have, I think, 13,000, I definitely think the number we have right now oh my god that's amazing and I pray and hope that it continues to grow. But I'm hoping maybe when we get back to school and people are around each other and they’re like, "Oh my god, have you seen this page?" that maybe it'll grow. I definitely think similar to my best friend's school we can get around that 13-15,000 for sure.
Andrew: Why do you think this Instagram page is important for Penn State students and the black community, in particular?
BlackAtPennState: Obviously there's not a lot of black students at Penn State, and I think a lot of the time we can feel like we're the only black person or person of color on campus in general, especially with our specific majors. I know with me, there's three of us in my major. Oftentimes I'm like, "Oh my god, am I the only black person on campus? Am I the only one experiencing this?" We know that a lot of other black students share the same things we do, but like seeing that and reading it, it just helps us feel like we're not alone and like we're not crazy and like we're not just making stuff up in our head. I think creating this commonality that it's like happening with almost every black student on campus.
Andrew Destin: What kind of changes would you like to see at Penn State with respect to black students and staff? Are there any specific actionable items that you have in mind?
BlackAtPennState: So the first one is an apology. And then second one is a reevaluation and reconsideration of the demographics and makeup of current and future faculty and staff members. It's important that you have people that look like you, teaching you, because then it's like, okay, they did it, I can do it. If you see a very whitewashed faculty and staff list in setup. It's kind of hard to feel like you have a place in that career or field. So, I think that's really important. If Penn State is really gonna be behind like what they say they stand by, then they should be willing to put that work in.
Andrew Destin: Thank you for talking with us.
BlackAtPennState: Of course, it’s been so amazing. I appreciate you setting this up, I really do.