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“Black at Brockport” Instagram Account Chronicles Student Experience

Patti Singer

A group of alumni have started Black at Brockport Instagram account to give students and faculty another way to express concerns about equity.
File photo

One student posted that the professor remained silent when a classmate made a racist comment. Another student reported feeling intimidated about speaking up in those situations.

Others wrote that professors dismissed their abilities and advisers wouldn’t help set up appropriate course loads. There were examples of University Police applying double standards, and of students feeling threatened by seeing hateful graffiti in residence halls.

The hurt and fear were chronicled on Black at Brockport, an Instagram account launched in July by a group of alumni. The account is part of a trend at colleges and even some high schools.

“It’s to shed light on the culture at the college,” said Mia Martelli, a dance major who graduated in 2018.

Mia Martelli, who graduated from the College of Brockport in 2018, helped start the Black at Brockport Instagram account. Provided photo

“It’s Black students and white allies working to implement anti-racist protocols and programming in the Department of Dance,” she said. “But we’re also starting to grow and see how we can do the same for the Brockport community, for the college and the town itself.”

Black at Brockport, started and run by graduates of the Department of Dance who are part of Brockport Dancers Against Racism (BDAR), went live July 1. Some current students have contributed to the account.

Martelli said that members of BDAR saw “Black at” Instagram posts from other colleges and created the Brockport version after videoconferences with faculty in several departments .

“We realized that BDAR had been doing a lot of work to try to implement certain programs into the Department of Dance … adding to the department to try to make it s safer space,” she said, citing a Black dance history course as an example. “But we didn’t see that work reciprocated by the faculty. We feel that these Instagram accounts are a good way to increase the accountability.”

She said Black at Brockport is open to students and faculty of all departments. “Faculty can see the culture at the college and step it up little bit in terms of that they’re doing.”

The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit newsroom focused on education, reported in early July that there were about 40 “Black at” accounts. Most started appearing in June and were at predominantly white institutions.

A search of Instagram showed “Black at” accounts at State University of New York schools such as Oswego and Geneseo, and the University of Rochester and Nazareth College. The wording on the accounts is similar, saying they are safe space for Black, Indigenous and people of color.

As of July 22, Black at Brockport had 21 posts and 526 followers. Most of the posts are anonymous, although some name the department, the course or the residence hall in which the incident occurred. Martelli said names of faculty members are not included because the person making the allegation and people running account could be sued for defamation.

Lorraine Acker, interim chief diversity officer at the College at Brockport. Provided photo

Lorraine Acker, interim chief diversity officer at the College at Brockport, learned about Black at Brockport through an email that drew her attention to the account.

“Obviously, the goal of the group is to mobilize students to share their stories,” Acker said. “I think there is a profound impact in terms of getting students to mobilize around a particular issue. In a sense it wants students … to share with not only the public but the institution about ‘here are some of the things I’m experiencing.”’

Acker encouraged students also to use the college’s channels for reporting issues.

“In looking at some of the posts, I can tell you for sure a couple of those were handled internally and were resolved,” she said.

Martelli said Black at Brockport addresses what some students see as problems with trust and accountability on the part of the institution.

“Even though it’s about things that happen at Brockport, it’s functioning entirely separate from the college … because trying to work within the college’s rules won’t get anything done,” she said. “We’re emphasizing a student- or alumni-centered approach, not how can we use the college’s textbook to make the college less racist. We feel the rules are inherently racist and don’t protect people who are discriminated against.”

Acker said the administration knows that not all students, faculty and staff trust the college on issues of race. Black at Brockport launched after the campus shut down because of COVID-19 but Acker said the bias reporting system continues to field complaints.

Former SUNY Chancellor Kristina Johnson met with Brockport students in early March 2020. File photo

Bias, diversity and equity at Brockport became a flashpoint in January after the firing of chief diversity officer Cephas Archie. Students protested and then-SUNY Chancellor Kristina Johnson came to the campus.

In April, Brockport President Heidi Macpherson sent to the campus community a five-point plan for equity, diversity and inclusion. The plan included revamping the bias reporting system; training to recognize bias, racism and inequality; diversity goals for departments; and openness to more conversations. The plan includes support from SUNY, and the assignment of Oswego’s chief diversity Rodmon King to Brockport has been extended.

Acker said the college is planning outreach to students and student groups, and the hope is that can be not only online but in person when students return to campus. She said students should be holding their organizations responsible for making sure their concerns are heard as well as making sure the institution communicates in a way that reaches students.

“There has to be some changes both to how we engage our student organizations in these conversations as well as balancing it with what’s happening in departments and divisions and how are they engaging their students,” she said, citing departments that had been named on Black at Brockport posts.

Acker said she would invite the Black at Brockport account owners to a conversation about how the administration can work with them.

Martelli said she stays connected to other Department of Dance alumni in New York City, where she was working before COVID-19. She called the department “a pocket of progressive ideas” in an otherwise conservative culture.

She said Black at Brockport account will keep the issue in the spotlight. “It’s shedding light on the culture, but as these stories build and increase in numbers, we want to apply some heat on the college and the faculty.”

She is finding from her conversations that people aren’t willing to break down hierarchies, which she said is essential in anti-racism work.

“You have to listen to the students,” she said. “I care about (Brockport) being a safe place, even though I don’t go there anymore.”