Dec 12, 2016

Black Texas State Students Adopt Hashtag Activism

Reporting Texas

Black students in Texas have responded over the years to a long history of discrimination with sit-ins, marches and impassioned speeches. While those methods still persist, a newer medium is allowing students to fight what they perceive as injustices: social media.

One of the main ways in which black students are raising their political voice is through the use of Twitter hashtags. The hashtags, which unite tweets among large numbers of users, help users organize protests, air grievances and provide a sense of community for minority students who may be uncomfortable about  speaking out in classroom discussions or social interactions.

Texas State University in San Marcos, where 10 percent of the 37,979 students are African-American, has become a hotbed for that form of activism.

Demarcus Lee, an exercise science junior, said he believes the widespread use of social media by students of color at Texas State is a result of their feelings about their treatment by the school administration and an explosion in social media accounts throughout the United States.

Social media provides black Texas State students with the ability to interact with people who may relate better to their daily experiences as minority students, Lee said.

“With all that’s going on America, sometimes you have to commune with people who actually understand your stand on things,” he said.

In addition to the community it fosters, Lee said, social media is an effective as a tool for activism and spreading the message of black students across campus.

“In the 1950s, pre-social media era, the way to get the word out to people was to go where you feel the majority of people would spend time and spread awareness,” he said. “The same goes for the social media tool, because this is now where majority of Americans spend their time.”

At Texas State, two popular hashtags, #BLACKTXST and #TXSTSitIn, have emerged.

#BlackTXST is a multi-purpose hashtag, with tweets ranging from organizing protests, calling out racist users on Twitter and lighthearted tweets with references to pop cultural icons.

Russell Boyd II, a public administration junior at Texas State, said the hashtag was created in response to the exclusion black students felt from other students. “We have been inclusive to our campus. However that effort was not reciprocated, so we took matters into our own hands and accommodated ourselves,” Boyd said.

When the hashtag started, users were criticized for what other students saw as an attempt to segregate themselves from the rest of campus, Boyd said.

Twitter user @jedgar_54 posted on Sept. 28, “#BLACKTXST isn’t very inclusive for a school that brags about their diversity. Also if I used #WHITETXST I would be racist. Double standard.” The tweet received over 32 retweets and 66 favorite ratings, mostly from users who identified themselves as Texas State students in their Twitter bios.

Boyd said that contrary to what some people may believe, the hashtag is simply a way for black students to promote unite and events for their community.

One event that started as a result of the #BlackTXST community occurred at Texas State’s Sept. 6 home football game against the University of Houston. Along with the original hashtag, students created another one, #TXSTSitIn, to promote an event inspired by Colin Kaepernick. The San Francisco 49ers quarterback famously chose to sit down during the national anthem at his team’s NFL games to protest police killings of black adults.

The event was a success. After sharing flyers and advertising the event via the hashtag, more than 100 people showed up wearing black shirts and sat down during the national anthem. Numerous media outlets, including the Houston Chronicle and Austin-American Statesman, covered the protest.

The use of social media to promote activism is happening across the United States.

A 2010 poll conducted by Edison Research and Arbitron showed that even though black citizens comprise only about 12 percent of the population, they make up almost 24 percent of Twitter users.

Sherri Williams, a postdoctoral fellow who teaches in the communication department at Wake Forest University, said the dialogue created through Twitter hashtags is important, and that it’s not limited to the people who the hashtag.

“Social media allows different groups to come together and share rhetoric, dialogue and discourse from their different communities or even from those against a particular hashtag,” she said.

The effects are not always positive.

Tafari Robertson, a mass communication and media studies major and president of the Pan African Action Committee at Texas State, said although he sees social media as a way for students become active and organize, he is aware of the pitfalls.

Some people get a false sense that they are inspiring change simply because they get a lot of retweets and shares.

“This is distracting, because it takes away from what you are actually accomplishing and whether actual concrete goals get met,” he said.

With the election of Donald Trump as president and the unease among minority communities that has followed, Boyd said, the increasingly hostile interactions on Twitter will now be more important than ever.

“Since the election, closeted racists have come to the forefront and have been bold with their decisive ideologies,” he said, and activists must use social media now more than ever to stand in solidarity and to combat racism.