Reflections of the “I, Too, Am” Campaign

As a doctoral student at Berkeley committed to addressing issues affecting minorities on our campus and in the broader community, I recently participated in the “I, Too, Am Berkeley” campaign. The campaign was a fragment of a nationwide “I, Too, Am” campaign, which has been widely discussed for its unique approach to acknowledging, challenging, and combating racial bias that occurs on predominately white campuses and for its innovative strategies for empowering minority students. The campaign attracted passionate students at schools including Harvard, NYU, Princeton, and UW-Madison.

In summary, the students who participated in the campaign shared the sentiment that as minorities, our voices often go unheard, our experiences are devalued, and our presence on predominately white campuses is questioned. In particular, students mentioned feeling isolated from their peers, being reduced to negative stereotypes, feeling criminalized by campus police, faculty, and administrators, and being seen as unworthy benefactors of affirmative action.

My personal story stems from my experiences as a former undergraduate African American Studies major and current doctoral student in an African American Studies Department. I find that I am frequently faced with characterization of the discipline as “illegitimate” and “lacking rigor,” – and asked far too often, “How are you going to get a job with an African American Studies degree?” I have and continue to face many challenges ranging from the absence of institutional commitment to inadequate and inconsistent funding of the discipline.

Though skepticism over the value of a college degree, especially one in the liberal arts, is common these days, the pressure to prove the utility of my African American Studies degree has felt particularly daunting. I thus joined the campaign to contest the assumption that my degree is worthless and to combat the notion that the discipline is ill-equipped to offer its students a rigorous education.

The extent to which the campaign has changed the Berkeley campus is not easily quantifiable, but I have noticed that it has drawn the attention of my peers and the Berkeley administration. It has also been cited to facilitate meaningful dialogue about race and the campus climate. On other campuses, students have used findings from their campaigns to take concrete steps towards improving conditions for minorities. At NYU, for example, students offered the administration recommendations in the form of a written proposal about how to foster a more diverse and inclusive educational institution.

What is your experience as a minority on a predominately white college or university? Do you think the “I, Too, Am” campaign photo campaign will lead to positive change?

2 thoughts on “Reflections of the “I, Too, Am” Campaign

  1. Peace Jared.

    Thanks for sharing your experiences at your current institution and within your course of study. I, too, have suffered from similar feelings that you detail throughout this blog post. I attended UNC-Chapel Hill where Black Americans constitute roughly 10% of the total student body population. I, too, know what it is like to be made to feel less than worthy of being where you are. Even more so, I know what it is like to have people constantly question the validity and value of your chosen field of study. I am currently battling those people (including Black professors) who doubt the feasibility of an AFAM Phd in a Eurocentric dominated academic arena as I consider my graduate degree(s).

    While I think the “I, Too, Am” campaigns can be effective in empowering marginalized students, it is unclear whether or not the photo campaign will impact the students whose actions result in such marginalization. Too often marginalized communities are faced with the task of proving or showing the oppressor that his/her actions are damaging. More importantly, we face the task of explaining why such oppression must stop. Nonetheless, this campaign and others are great places to begin the deconstruction of racist, sexist, and classist institutions.

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