Opinion: I, too, am who?

Several students pose with a poster for the “I, Too, Am CU” campaign. (Photo Courtesy of Nurta Sufi/I, Too, Am CU)

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Almost two weeks ago, CU’s Women’s Resource Center launched a Tumblr blog called “I, Too, Am CU.” The blog, a campaign to raise awareness for small-scale but pervasive discriminatory behavior – microagressions – on campus, features photos of students from various minority groups relating their experience with prejudice at CU.

Students hold up whiteboards with examples of microaggressions written on them: “No, I do not speak African or click,” writes one student. The boards may also contain more personal messages: “My skin color does not negate my right to be here,” writes another student.

The effect is powerful and humbling. Readers may be reminded of times when they’ve had similar experiences – either on the giving or receiving end. Microaggressions are so named because they’re small, brief incidents reflective of racism, sexism and all other kinds of discrimination. But when numerous examples are compiled in one area, it becomes obvious just how problematic little phrases like this can be.

Though the idea behind “I, Too, Am CU” is a good one, it is not a new one. As the blog states, the project was inspired by the “I, Too, Am Harvard” campaign, recently made popular on Buzzfeed. The photo campaign and accompanying short film created by a black Harvard student are meant to “highlight the faces and voices of black students at Harvard College.”

This project quickly inspired several others, including “I, Too, Am Oxford,” making the concept an international phenomenon. Oxford expanded its project to cover all racially charged issues, not just those of black students. Several universities afterwards piled on, creating and expanding their own campaigns. “I, Too, Am CU” deals with issues of race, sex, sexual orientation and gender identity and will likely include many more as the photos keep coming in.

But while the social atmosphere on campus should be discussed and improved, “I, Too, Am CU” may not have been the best way to go about it. The header names three separate universities from which CU’s campaign drew inspiration, calling attention to the obvious fact that the “I, Too, Am ____” projects are extremely trendy right now. Instead of a thought-out initiative led by the CU community, informed by our particular needs and goals, “I, Too, Am CU” seems to be grasping onto the tail-end of an Internet fad.

Minority students here do not face the exact same challenges or share the exact same goals as those of Harvard, Oxford or Iowa. By mimicking all three campaigns, though, the project’s impact is diluted, its intentions thrown into question. If the only success Harvard’s campaign has had so far is Internet popularity, what is CU’s real motive for following suit?

Yes, CU absolutely needs to address its social climate. Most students here would agree that the application essay we all had to write was a joke: “What does diversity mean to you?” The answers most people give bear little resemblance to our whitewashed Boulder campus. While CU is not unique in this issue, it is the only university attended by Buffs, each with unique abilities and goals, each able to contribute something original to better our campus without echoing the ideas of someone else.

The “I, Too, Am CU” blog header reads: “CU says, Be Boulder. We say: Be Bold.” But we will only be able to address the deep-seeded social inequalities of our own campus community if we strive to be both.

Contact CU Independent Opinion Editor Lauren Thurman at Lauren.thurman@colorado.edu.

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