Photo: Todd Gill, Fayetteville Flyer
A hashtag that went viral on social media this week prompted a personal and official response from University of Arkansas Chancellor Joseph Steinmetz.
The #BlackAtUARK hashtag began trending on Twitter when hundreds of current and former black students took to social media to recount the racism they experienced during their time on the Fayetteville campus.
One person told the story of a UA sorority that allegedly sent an email to black organizations on campus asking to cast people of color as slaves in an upcoming play. Another recounts hearing about a fraternity party on Martin Luther King Jr. Day that featured fried chicken, watermelon, and 40-ounce drinks. Other students recounted times when they were the direct victims of racism or when faculty and staff were silent amid glaring racial injustices.
#BlackatUark is having a sorority on campus email black orgs on campus to cast them as SLAVES in a play.
— ? (@iamdcole) June 15, 2020
UA Chancellor Joe Steinmetz responded with a letter to the campus community encouraging people to read the Tweets.
He also sent a message from his personal Twitter account.
Being #BlackatUark is having PIKE throw a fried chicken, watermelon, and 40 oz themed party to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. day.
— ari ? (@notordinari) June 16, 2020
“A lot of hurt, disappointment and frustration is being expressed here, and this is an important opportunity for change,” said Steinmetz. “Knowing about and acknowledging these experiences is a critical first step in developing foundations to prevent the continuation of racist activities and behaviors on our campus.”
Steinmetz outlined several efforts he’ll take, including a weekly meeting with black students to discuss changes that are needed and other ways the university can confront racial inequities, systemic racism and other forms of discrimination.
I have been reading #blackatUARK and I hear you. Your experiences as black students are powerful, painful testaments to the vital work we need to do to make our campus equitable and inclusive. These hard, real discussions are an important step to affect change together. #UARK
— Joseph Steinmetz (@JoeSteinmetz) June 16, 2020
He said a series of strategy sessions called “Transforming U of A: Combatting Racism to Build a More Inclusive Campus” began last week which included nearly 400 people interested in a more inclusive campus culture and climate.
“Black lives matter,” wrote Steinmetz. “Your voices matter and are being heard.”
University data shows there were 1,202 black students enrolled in fall 2019. That’s about 4% of the 27,559 students listed in the enrollment report for that semester.