Some Harvard students share what it's like to be black at the Ivy League school in a photo campaign called "I, Too, Am Harvard."
The photos, posted on a Tumblr blog, feature Harvard students holding signs with phrases others have spoken to them. "You don't sound black. You sound smart," one sign reads. Another states, "You're so lucky to be black ... so easy to get into college!"
"I, Too, Am Harvard" is black students' declaration that they do have a right to be on campus, says Kimiko Matsuda-Lawrence, a Harvard sophomore whose independent-study project sparked the photo campaign.
"Often we are questioned, dismissed, brushed off as oversensitive," Matsuda-Lawrence says.
Black students make up 11% of Harvard's freshman class, according to the college's admissions office. Matsuda-Lawrence says the photo campaign and a play this Friday based on her independent research will, she hopes, spark a conversation with the administration about race relations at the school.
Harvard College applauds the organizers of "I, Too, Am Harvard."
"This is an important conversation for all Harvard students, and for college students across the nation. All our students belong at Harvard," school spokesman Jeff Neal said in an e-mail to USA TODAY Network.
Neal points out that Harvard was one of the universities arguing for "race-conscious admissions policies" in a 2012 brief to the Supreme Court for Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, a case about affirmative action.
Matsuda-Lawrence says that "I, Too, Am Harvard" was inspired by the Being Black at University of Michigan campaign. Last year, the Black Student Union asked students to tweet their experience about being black using the hashtag #BBUM.
Black students at the University of Michigan also presented recommendations to school officials to increase black enrollment, including setting a goal of having black students make up10% of the student population and providing more affordable housing on campus. Currently, African-American students represent 4% of the undergraduate student body, according to the Office of the Registrar.
In response to the campaign, the University of Michigan administration announced it would create a leadership position dedicated to recruitment of minority students. The school would also expand a program in which students had discussions about "inclusive leadership, personal and social identity, and bystander intervention," according to a letter from the provost, Martha Pollack.
For her research, Matsuda-Lawrence interviewed dozens of black students. Although the black student community is diverse, many shared similar stories of discrimination and isolation, she says.
"To hear our stories echoed in each other's voices, you feel your feelings are valid and legitimate," she says.
Other universities now want to start their own "I, Too, Am" campaigns, Matsuda-Lawrence says.
The title, "I, Too, Am Harvard" is an homage to the Langston Hughes poem, "I Too," which ends with the line, "I, too, am America."
Matsuda-Lawrence says she hopes the campaign encourages a national dialogue about race.
"It's not just something black students experience in college," Matsuda-Lawrence says. "It's something black people experience in America."