My Black UT Matters is a campus-wide photo campaign and event hosted by Students for Equity and Diversity that aims to create an inclusive and reflective space for black students at the University of Texas at Austin. The event itself, under the same moniker, will take place on Nov. 3, from 6 to 8 p.m., beginning with a candlelight vigil at the Martin Luther King Statue. Following the vigil, dinner will be served in the Student Activity Center Ballroom accompanied by a keynote speech by Black Studies professor, Kevin Cokley. The night will conclude with an open discussion where students will be able to voice their concerns and find ways to be more involved with the Black Lives Matter movement.
Story by Imani Sebri
Photos by Jasmine Barnes
The event’s origin lay in the country’s current racial climate. “There was a week towards the end of September where there were two police killings,” SED President Jasmine Barnes says. I just remember feeling really overwhelmed, sad and frustrated as a student at the university. I didn’t necessarily feel like there was support in the spaces I was entering for the emotional care that I needed and wanted.” Barnes along with other members of SED are hosting the event, which is dedicated to providing the supportive space Barnes is talking about.
After posing her frustration to other officers in SED about the lack of support from the university, Barnes decided to create a safe space for African-American students. “We needed to have a space for students - especially black students- to vent, process, and emote what they’re feeling at a time like that.”
The importance of having a safe space for African-American students, who make up only 3.9 percent of the student population, is one reason My Black UT Matters came into existence— as a way to lessen the tension and palpable feelings of exclusion African-American students often face. As of now, the My Black UT Matters is a one-time event, but the sentiment behind it is one that SED members hope will carry on past the night. “The goal for the event is to heal and reflect,” Barnes says “That’s all we’re asking of the event and of the space, but I do believe it’ll be more than that because the power of students, together, in solidarity— there’s always revolutionary change that comes from that.”
Being the first of its kind, My Black UT Matters is hoping to bridge the gaps both within the African-American community and with allies outside the community. “To be honest, what I’m most excited for is to have the diversity of black population at UT in the same room,” Barnes says. “To have this diverse group of people who are having a conversation about their identities is what I’m most excited for.” Barnes also cites this as an opportunity for allies to come out and stand in solidarity of their African-American classmates. “Just being in that space will create change and if it will allow for even one person to be healed or changed in some way - it’s been effective,” Barnes goes on to say.
While the Black Lives Matter movement focuses on bringing justice to the victims of police brutality — it’s also about solidarity. “We’re looking at this issue and saying, ‘this is not just a political issue — this is an issue of humanity,’” SED officer Tehreem Shahab says. “For me, it’s also a matter of solidarity. I’m trying to get more South Asian people to recognize that there is a lot anti-black sentiment in our community. For now, we just look at this event for healing and standing together.” .
The photographic aspect of the campaign asks African-American students to finish the sentence “My Black UT Matters because...” biology sophomore Aize Igori chose the quote “we are here.”
“My quote is ‘we are here’ and I chose that quote because I heard something at the protest that was poignant and also kind of sad. [The protester] said ‘we are only 4 percent of the population - if you don’t want to see us, you could blink and it’s like we’re not there,’ we’re such a small percentage of the student body but we are very much present,” Igori says.
In addition to SED making strides to include African-American students on campus, UT’s Student Government is working on a drafting a resolution in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. “I think that’s so important because Student Government is the voice of student life here at UT and having that affirmation that they support the Black Lives Matter movement and support the presence of black students on campus — that’s just a very powerful statement,” Igori says.
The goal of My Black UT Matters is to create space for African-American students to reflect and engage. “I hope black students who might feel marginalized, who might not have a black community on campus or feel like they don’t fully fit in the black community — in its mainstream forms— I hope they feel that they are welcome here and are able to find a sense of community and affirmation for their identity and experience by being at the vigil and at the dinner thursday,” Barnes says.