The Collegian
Friday, October 23, 2020

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Instagram accounts give platform to students of color

<p>Screenshot of the account, @dearrichmond, on Instagram.</p>

Screenshot of the account, @dearrichmond, on Instagram.

Amidst recent Black Lives Matter protests across the country, three Instagram accounts run by University of Richmond students have been sharing the stories of students who have encountered racism and segregation on UR’s campus.

The Dear Richmond Instagram account was created on June 18 by a group of Black students, two of whom spoke to The Collegian on the condition of anonymity. 

One of the administrators said the group had come up with the idea after seeing similar accounts made for other schools and reached out to friends to help run the account.

“I personally hoped that it would just provide POC students with an opportunity to share their stories and their experiences of being at Richmond,” one of the administrators said. “So that ... there could be a sort of community space where different POC stories can be shared, so that students would sort of feel a sense of solidarity and that they're not alone in the types of experiences that they faced.

"But then also so that we could have sort of a white audience — so that white students would be able to develop an understanding of what POC students experience at the school.”

Dear Richmond has a Google form where people can submit their stories, which can be found using the link tree in their Instagram bio. Dear Richmond also has guidelines that a submission must meet to be posted on the account.

A submission must be submitted by a BIPOC student at UR, be written as an “I” statement, be genuine, reference a specific instance that happened on campus and provide context regarding cultural terms or norms if needed, according to the guidelines that are shown in the highlights of the Dear Richmond Instagram. 

The only exception was made for stories written by Jewish students, whose races were unknown, about instances of anti-Semitism because the administrators acknowledged the history of Jewish oppression on UR’s campus, two of the account administrators said. 

The commitment to posting only specific stories and not general statements has led to a backlash from people who claim their submissions have not been posted because the administrators are censoring posts that they do not agree with, an administrator said. 

Another administrator said the only submissions the account did not post were ones where writers explicitly identified themselves as white, or short and vague submissions that the administrators believed could be misunderstood.

Most of this criticism has come through the Google form, making the comments impossible to respond to because the form is anonymous, an administrator said. Posts on Dear Richmond have asked people who have feedback or criticism about certain submissions to direct message the account instead of submitting via the form so the administrators can respond.

Dear Richmond has taken down posts after people direct messaged the account and gave context to the situation that the original submission may not have mentioned, an administrator said.

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“I think it would be nice if people would ... try to empathize with us [in] that we're trying to moderate what has become a pretty large platform,” an administrator said. “With that comes a certain level of responsibility, and I think we all take that responsibility very seriously.”

The same group of students who run Dear Richmond also created Black at Richmond, another Instagram account, an administrator said. The same two aforementioned administrators also spoke to The Collegian about the Black at Richmond account on the condition of anonymity. 

Dear Richmond received a direct message from a student suggesting the creation of a platform solely for Black students to share their experiences at UR, an administrator said. 

The Dear Richmond administrators realized that there were not many submissions from Black students to Dear Richmond, which they believed proved a need for a platform dedicated to Black stories at UR, an administrator said.

The Black at Richmond account does not have submission guidelines like Dear Richmond does. Instead, it is a dedicated space for Black students to anonymously express their opinions on race at UR or share specific instances of racism they have experienced at UR through a Google form, according to the Black at Richmond Instagram account. 

"Welcome to this space, created just to amplify the voices of Black spiders," the first post of Black at Richmond reads. "Please submit your uniquely Black experiences at the link in our bio!"

The lack of guidelines for Black at Richmond is because two of the account administrators said they had noticed that a lot of the criticism about Dear Richmond came from people believing the posts had been biased against certain groups. 

For example, the Dear Richmond administrators have been accused of being anti-Asian and anti-Muslim, an administrator said. But, as Black at Richmond is an exclusively Black space, the accusation of bias has not extended to that account, an administrator said.

Before the creation of Dear Richmond and Black at Richmond, the Instagram account Richmond Missed Connections was created on March 23 as a fun way for students to compliment one another or anonymously admit to having a crush on someone during quarantine, said the administrator of the account, who spoke to The Collegian on the condition of anonymity. 

One student operates the Richmond Missed Connections account, the administrator said. The bio of Richmond Missed Connections reads, "Our time here is short and just got shorter, so shoot your shot with that special someone."

The posts are anonymously submitted through a Google Form link in the bio of the account’s page or by direct messaging the account. Most posts consist of praise for other students or regrets about not becoming acquainted with someone on campus before the start of social distancing

However, after the killing of George Floyd on May 25 and subsequent increase of Black Lives Matter protests nationwide, the Richmond Missed Connections administrator said the account had received a direct message from a student who stated that UR capitalizes off Black students but does not take steps to reform racism on campus, according to a May 30 post on the account.

“I kind of wanted to be an unbiased-person to post everything and get stuff out there because we had those kinds of conversations about race in the spring a little bit," the Richmond Missed Connections administrator said. "And I figured we’re not going to be back at school for another three months, so people can hold off on complimenting people for a little bit because I feel like those discussions were more important to have."

Posts about racism on campus and how Greek Life organizations contribute to segregation at UR were posted on the account from May 30 to June 6. 

"[W]e should all consider that even when sororities and fraternities post [Black Lives Matter] statements on their stories, it doesn't actually matter much if you don't actually practice it on a daily basis," a submission that was posted on Richmond Missed Connections on May 31 reads. "It's rather hypocritical if you post about those statements but then continue to self-segregate on a daily basis. Caring for other people's lives and racist experiences shouldn't be a one time thing."

The Richmond Missed Connections administrator worried that the account was not the right platform on Instagram to be having these conversations because of its original purpose, the administrator said.

This sentiment was echoed in a screenshot of a direct message posted by Richmond Missed Connections on May 31.

"This page has strayed way too far from its original purpose," the post reads. "What was originally fun and funny is now people anonymously yelling at each other."

The Richmond Missed Connections administrator reached out to Interpoint, a nonprofit started by two UR students with the goal to "cultivate healthy, respectful, and honest dialogue around race," according to its website

The Richmond Missed Connections administrator had asked Interpoint to continue the conversation on racism at UR so that it did not end with the Richmond Missed Connections account, the administrator said. 

The Richmond Missed Connections administrator sent Interpoint the remainder of unposted submissions regarding racism and discrimination on campus, although they have not been posted on Interpoint's social media, the Richmond Missed Connections administrator said. 

“Then a few days later, Dear Richmond was created, and then, recently, Black at Richmond,” the Richmond Missed Connections administrator said. “I’m really happy about those platforms because, as great as mine was, I don’t think it had the power to do something with the conversation.”

At the time of this article's publication, there have been a combined 244 posts between Richmond Missed Connections, Dear Richmond and Black at Richmond regarding racism and segregation on campus. 

“I think it's also really powerful to have all these stories collected in one place," an administrator of Dear Richmond and Black at Richmond said. "It's on Instagram, and it's digital. In the past, for example, last semester, we saw the events — like the open mic forum, people speaking out at the president's meeting that was had — but those experiences, you know, were in person, there wasn't really any record of them. 

"So I think also having that record is really powerful as well, and it's something that anyone can go to and see all these stories collected together.”

The posted stories can be found on Instagram under the users @richmondmissedconnections, @dearrichmond and @blackatrichmond.

Managing editor Emma Davis contributed to reporting. 

Contact news writer Maeve McCormick at maeve.mccormick@richmond.edu.

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