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Student project “We, too, are RU” initiates conversation about race at Rutgers University

January 20, 2016
Screen shot of We, too, are RU

The students behind "We, too, are RU" collected photos of Rutgers students with written statements of their experiences.

Inspired by the history and legacy of Paul Robeson and other activists at Rutgers, five first and second year students taking Introduction to Gender, Race, and Sexuality during the fall semester created “We, too, are RU”, a multimedia project incorporating videos, photos, and text. The five students are: Amy Badia (sophomore), Sequoyah Bennett (sophomore), Ronnie Brumant (sophomore), Elyse Nganwuchu (sophomore), and Adelle Tagoe (first year).

Working together as collegiate collaborators, Amber Cantrell and Paloma Caravantes-Gonzalez, instructors and doctoral students in the Women’s and Gender Studies Department at Rutgers University–New Brunswick, asked their classes to think about the Revolutionary Rutgers campaign as the theme of their courses this semester. The classes have come together several times during the semester for guest lectures and safe space training from the Center for Social Justice. They were also asked to work across classes to generate projects connecting histories and experiences at Rutgers to feminist theories about race, gender, class, and sexuality.

In Amber Cantrell’s class, students were asked to produce--and complete--a final activism project of their own design. “They’ve spent a whole semester thinking about Rutgers as an institution that they are laying claim to and how they want to see change,” explained Cantrell. “They’re all really incredibly bright, passionate students. I’m quite proud of them.”

Describing their project on Tumblr, the students write, “As a group we intend on raising awareness across Rutgers University about the discrimination and oppression experienced by the black community. We will be orchestrating a social campaign in which the victims of this discrimination make statements combatting the hardships they face here. By voicing their concerns through concise, powerful language, we hope to revolutionize the status of minorities in a setting like Rutgers University.”

The students decided to model their project after the popular “I, too am Harvard” photo campaign, photographing Rutgers students holding hand-written cards with powerful statements, comments, questions, and slurs they have encountered. Making use of social media platforms, the students created an Instagram page and Tumblr site, as well as a moving video for YouTube.

This project is an example of the creative synergy that can occur when the Libraries are part of the process. In preparation of “We, too, are RU,” the class relied on the resources of the Douglass Library and the expertise of Kayo Denda, head of the Margery Somers Foster Center and Women’s Studies Librarian. Denda pointed Cantrell and Caravantes-Gonzalez in the direction of a classic text, The Black Student Protest Movement at Rutgers by Richard P. McCormick (Rutgers University Press, 1990) which was read and discussed in class.

“I met with Amber and Paloma early summer and introduced them the exciting activism of black students at Rutgers in the late 1960s that changed the institution forever and the McCormick book about these protests,” said Denda. “I am glad that they were able to incorporate the book into the course and link it to the 250th anniversary theme ‘revolutionary.’ Obviously the students responded very well.”


We invite you to explore this project: