In June, an anonymous account, @dearuaschools, appeared on Instagram posting stories of students facing discrimination in UA buildings.
BY JOSIE STEWART, ‘21. GRAPHICS BY MORGAN PLAGENZ, ‘21.
Following weeks of sustained protests in Columbus, Upper Arlington saw its first as students, activists and community members marched around neighborhoods in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.
As the movement continued to surge around the nation advocating for executive and educational reform, one student tried to spark this reform in UA schools through social media.
The account, @dearuaschools on Instagram, quickly grew in followers and submissions as students, teachers, parents and community members began anonymously sending in accounts of discrimination in UA schools.
“I’ve always heard small stories from my peers about acts of discrimination they have faced at school, but I wasn’t driven to action until recently when I saw the outpouring of support for the BLM movement,” the student running the account said. “It’s still common for me to still see posts and stories about the movement on my social media and news feeds, and the way that people have come together over this issue really resonated with me.”
The student, who requested anonymity to protect the integrity of the account as well as their safety, was inspired by @dearolsd, a similar account that shares stories anonymously to show Olentangy officials experiences of inequity and discrimination in their schools and @dearpwi which documents the experiences of people of color in predominately white institutions.
“Here I was, reading about stories happening hundreds of miles away when I didn’t even realize some of the things happening in a school district right here in Columbus. Pretty soon, I found more ‘dear school district’ accounts, and I started wondering about what things are happening in UA that I am not aware of,” the student running the account said. “When I first made the Google [Form] and everything, I wasn’t really expecting too much feedback but almost instantly, the account started gaining followers and people started submitting their stories.”
This form, linked in the account’s bio, has over 700 submissions and counting, but the student also receives stories via direct messages.
“Every one of the posts that have been made has to be read through for names, which are removed, and then formatted and cropped correctly to be posted. I do not discredit stories that I haven’t witnessed personally or bring my own biases into the mix, but obviously, not all submissions are posted,” the student said. “Those that aren’t posted include the ones that are too vague and short, so something like, ‘a student yelled a slur in the middle of class.’”
The account also avoids posting submissions that call out a specific teacher or student to avoid “cancel culture” and defamation.
“Ultimately, the Instagram page aims to generate empathy for those who have had these awful experiences, and also creates a sense of community and support from a lot of the comments under the posts,” the student said.
This has created an outpour of support for the account and for the students who are experiencing discrimination. The account has received multiple messages from teachers thanking it for bringing these stories to light and from alumni or current students for being given a space to share their experiences.
“I have gotten messages from teachers in the district telling me that they are reading through the posts or that it is important for teachers to see these stories which makes me hopeful that even if the administration doesn’t take any further action, maybe the teachers can make a difference,” the owner said. “I am very grateful to all of the people who have DMed the account telling me that they’re thankful that these stories are finally being shared. In the beginning when things were slow, and I was getting more pushback. Those messages really motivated me to come back and keep working on the page even when I was stressed out and feeling overwhelmed.”
This pushback has come in the form of direct messages but also with the creation of two Instagram accounts, @deeruaschools and @deardearuaschools. While the second account was taken down, the first posts satirical, fake stories to 23 followers who submit through a Google Form linked in their bio.
Similarly, the form created for @dearuaschools receives humorous or hateful submissions.
“There are the submissions that are mocking the account or mimicking the submissions that have been posted. These submissions completely trivialize horrible experiences that have changed people’s lives and impacted the way they think and act. There have even been submissions making references to movies that were accidentally posted because I wasn’t prepared for people to be so insensitive,” the owner said. “I was embarrassed about letting those slip through, but really, it is those people who should be ashamed of themselves. They spend all of this time writing submissions mocking people who feel deeply impacted by discrimination and through that entire process, they never stop and feel any empathy for them.”
As for messages, many are criticizing the goal and validity of the account.
“I have received many DMs from people who don’t like the account. One of the messages I got said, ‘you know this isn’t making [Upper Arlington] look very good,’” the student said. “I have also gotten messages and submissions accusing the page of ‘cherry-picking submissions to push a narrative.’ The question I want to ask them is what narrative are these posts pushing?”
Other submissions that are not posted are those recounting stories of groups of people who do not typically face discrimination based on their race, gender or beliefs.
“Many submissions and DMs are also from presumably caucasian people on being called ‘white’ or ‘cracker’ and why they believe that this account, by not recognizing that, is ‘silencing their voices.’ The reason why the page does not feature the stories involving ‘reverse-racism’ is that that type of ‘racism’ is not deeply rooted in centuries of slavery or institutionalized discrimination,” the student said. “Especially in a district where being white is seen as the default race, these acts cannot be rooted in power and also do not have the ability to oppress.”
Despite having over 2,500 followers and tagging the UA Schools Instagram account in each of their posts, @dearuaschools has elicited little response from the Board of Education. In an email to parents and students in the district, they did acknowledge the account’s existence and reminded students and parents of the Speak Up! hotline to report incidents within the school anonymously or signed.
On the UA Schools account, many supporters of the student’s account also urge the district to read the submissions. One post in particular, @dearuaschool’s most liked, led to many comments in support of a teacher who recently lost her job in the district.
“Some of the most powerful posts that I’ve read are from alums who have graduated from UA years ago but still remember and reflect on their experiences here. Some are from those who watched their peers struggle with discrimination but never stood up or spoke out and now wish that they had,” the owner said. “Others detail their own fight with discrimination in UA, and how they had to learn to rethink many ways of thinking that were drilled into them after they graduated and grew up.”
Although the frequency of submissions has slowed, the stories are still being reposted on students’ Instagram stories and being used as evidence by other student and alumni groups that are asking for the district to change.
“I want the account to reach both types of people right now so they don’t grow up to have regrets about their experience in UA Schools,” the student said. “And so newer generations don’t have to keep fighting the same battle.”