Black Students at the Ivy League university are presenting a picture of their experiences/encounter in the school with a play and a photo campaign called “I, Too, Am Harvard,” a sought of affirmation to the famous Langston Hughes poem, “I, Too”.
“Our voices often go unheard on this campus, our experiences are devalued, our presence is questioned– this project is our way of speaking back, of claiming this campus, of standing up to say: We are here. This place is ours. We, TOO, are Harvard. The #itooamharvard photo campaign is inspired by I, Too, Am Harvard, a play based on interviews with members of the black community exploring and affirming our diverse experiences as black students at Harvard College.”
Sophomore student, Kimiko Matsuda-lawrence is the director of the self-written play based on interviews with over 40 Harvard students who identify themselves as black including the international and interracial scholars.
Matsuda-Lawrence, who is black and Japanese, explained that the idea originated from discussions among members of Kuumba, a historic black organization at Harvard. Students often spoke about feeling alienated and disregarded on Harvard’s campus or being the only black student in some of their classes, but they felt uncomfortable tackling some of the issues.
Photos of the campaign have been posted on a Tumblr blog, featuring Harvard students holding signs with phrases others have spoken to them directly. “You don’t sound black. You sound smart,” one sign reads. Another states, “You’re so lucky to be black … so easy to get into college!”
Black students at the University of Michigan also offered suggestions to the school officials to increase black enrollment, including setting a goal of having black students make up10% of the student population and providing more affordable campus houses.
In response to the campaign, the University of Michigan administration announced it would create a leadership position dedicated to recruitment of minority students. The school also promised to expand a program in which students had discussions about “inclusive leadership, personal and social identity, and bystander intervention,” according to a letter from the chancellor, Martha Pollack.
While at Oxford University, the multiracial students have also joined the ” I, Too” campaign as a motivation from the Harvard campaign.
“Our project was inspired by the recent ‘I, too, am Harvard’ initiative. The Harvard project resonated with a sense of communal disaffection that students of colour at Oxford have with the University. The sharing of the Buzzfeed article ‘I, too, am Harvard’ on the online Oxford based race forum, ‘Skin Deep’ led to students quickly self organising a photoshoot within the same week. A message that was consistently reaffirmed throughout the day was that students in their daily encounters at Oxford are made to feel different and Othered from the Oxford community.Hopefully this project will demonstrate that despite there being a greater number of students of colour studying at Oxford now than there has ever been before..”
Matsuda-Lawrence says she hopes the campaign encourages a national dialogue about race. “It’s not just something black students experience in college, It’s something black people experience in America.” Matsuda said.
The original play premieres on Friday March 7th, 2014.
See trailer below: