Inspired by the Langston Hughes poem “I, too”, the social media campaign, aptly named “I, Too, Am, Harvard” started by African-American students at Harvard University was a rallying cry of against prejudice and discrimination.
“I go to Harvard… but I don’t feel like a typical Harvard student,” says one black student in an accompanying YouTube video.
The project, started on a Tumblr page in tandem with a play written by undergraduate Kimiko Matsuda-Lawrence (herself of mixed black American and Japanese heritage), soon spread to other campuses across the Atlantic, with other students from a mix of ethnic backgrounds at both Cambridge and Oxford starting their own campaigns in solidarity. Finally, “I, Too, Am Sydney” appeared on our very own campus last month, led by the efforts of the Autonomous Collective Against Racism (ACAR).
“My name is not too ‘ethnic’ for your tongue. Stop normalising white names!” reads one message. Another reads: “My culture is not a commodity. Nor is it the theme of your next [insert university establishment] party.”
While the context of these projects have been transposed from their beginnings at Harvard, their spirit has remained the same – that racial prejudice, even in the subtlest of ways, remains an unspoken blight on the campuses of elite universities. That through solidarity and storytelling, autonomous projects like Matsuda-Lawrence’s and USyd’s own can bring to light the lived experiences of minority ethnicities.
According to the Student Representative Council (SRC)’s International Student Officer Emma Liu, the project aims to “represent the ethno-cultural community on campus, both local and international students”.
Bridget Harilaou, an Office Bearer of ACAR, emphasizes the importance of the project to strengthen non-white voices on campus.
“It serves as a platform for students who identify as marginalised by white supremacy in Australia, to articulate and communicate… discrimination they experience on a daily basis”, she says.
According to the project and its founders, this problem also exists at an institutional level, where the systemic prevalence of ‘whiteness’ on campus comes at the expense of people of colour. “White students who do not acknowledge the privilege they carry and are ignorant of other cultures often make offensive jokes, and generally create a space that is uncomfortable for non-white students,” says Harilaou.
“Marginalisation comes from [the] assumption of our linguistic capacity and probably immigration policy restrictions,” explains Liu. Another example of this, according to Liu, are the annual SRC elections. “There is a regulation that prohibits the use [of] languages other than English in any sort of election campaign. This does not help engage international students on campus because most of them will not even understand what is going on.”