By Maya Shavit '21
Editor's Note: Members of Black Philly Students Speak and Germantown Academy Exposed remained anonymous for this interview.
This year has brought various new challenges to Americans, but one of the issues that have come into the limelight has been a thorn in the country’s side since its inception: hate. With the rise in prominence of the Black Lives Matter movement following the tragic murders of the likes of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, people of all ages have looked at glaring racist problems within their communities.
Activism surrounding the movement has inspired a new form of sharing experiences that proves just how relevant the issue of inequality is. Anonymous Instagram platforms, where minority students can share their upsetting experiences in school without outing themselves, like pages Black Philly Students Speak (@blackphillystudents) and Germantown Academy Exposed (@germantownacademy1759) have done tremendous good by taking this new format it shares with other influential pages in the Philadelphia area. The Rocky sat down with these anonymous activists that are bringing awareness and change to their communities to learn more about their missions.
The Rocky: Can you define your page?
Black Philly Students Speak: Our page is a safe space for students of color to share their frustrations and stories of racial inequities in Philadelphia schools. We also have to broaden our page to give other important voices a platform, such as alumni, parents, and educators.
Germantown Academy Exposed: Our page was created to hold Germantown Academy administration accountable [for] their promises made to heal our community. We are a safe space for marginalized student[s] and alumni to anonymously share stories of maltreatment during their time at [Germantown Academy]. We hope that in elevating these voices, we are able to both spur administrative changes and help survivors feel more comfortable speaking openly about their experiences.
The Rocky: Why is your anonymous format important?
Black Philly Students Speak: We want to give a safe space, for safety and privacy reasons. I would like to applaud everyone who’s courageously faced and shared their stories because sharing events that aren’t always prettiest can be very challenging.
Germantown Academy Exposed: The anonymous format acts as protection for survivors and moderators of the account. Private schools such as [Germantown Academy] hold a lot of power - both economic and social - and students/alumni deserve to share their stories without the threat of legal action by schools or pressure to conform to community norms. Given that our stories are shared [by] the most at-risk students at [Germantown Academy], they may face backlash and deserve to feel safe.
The Rocky: What is its purpose for students who are Black/POC?
Black Philly Students Speak: To reach out to all students, and have them be on board and a part of the deciding future that we are making.
Germantown Academy Exposed: We modeled our page in part on @blackmainlinespeaks, who describe their platform as “created to uplift the voices and stories of the Black community at schools on Philadelphia’s Mainline.” We hope to do the same, with an emphasis on Germantown Academy’s particular culture and student experience.
The Rocky: What should a white student take away from your page when visiting?
Black Philly Students Speak: Read the content, educating through other people’s experience shows the vast inequality that occurs. I believe that the most ignorant people and the most “woke” people can change by giving themselves a path of education.
Germantown Academy Exposed: That they need to spend more time listening to Black/POC students and educate themselves on antiracism. The curriculum and culture at Germantown Academy are far from perfect, and [should] be updated to reflect a true representation of both the past and present.
The Rocky: What should teachers and other adults in your community learn from your page?
Black Philly Students Speak: Well they can share if they have any stories they would like to, but they should also learn and incorporate equality and racial education within their teachings.
Germantown Academy Exposed: First and foremost, we hope that teachers and adults in the community believe student survivors, and protect their most vulnerable. We’d love to see teachers and adults come forward with ideas to reform the community and to better serve their students as allies.
The Rocky: Have you received any backlash in places like the DMs of Instagram?
Black Philly Students Speak: Of course that goes to show, we held a town hall for Penn Alexander School and the one white male, talked about reverse racism, and to not call white students racist. We’ve also received hate from KKK members within central high school.
Germantown Academy Exposed: We’ve received a bit of backlash, but that has only been about 5% of the messages/submissions we receive.
The Rocky: Have you seen any change come to your school as a result of this page?
Black Philly Students Speak: I can not say my school exactly, however, I have seen change to many schools, and even though their actions may be for show, which some schools may be doing and have done in the past at least now the students are the ones demanding action.
Germantown Academy Exposed: On July 28th, Germantown Academy posted another statement to Instagram addressing the concerns of our page, as well as other pages within the community. We’re pleased to note they’ve hired an external third party trauma specialist to provide a space for members to share experiences of sexual misconduct and to examine the culture of the school. We hope that her support and research helps reform the community for the better, and leads to the development of further support systems and better sex education.
The Rocky: What would you say to a student who feels like their voice is not important right now?
Black Philly Students Speak: If you don’t believe your voice is important, educate yourself, see what side you’re on. Do you want to make a bright exclusive change in America, if yes, then you can make change. We are giving you the platform, take that chance.
Germantown Academy Exposed: Even if you never choose to speak out publicly, know your story matters. We are proud of everyone that has chosen to fight for change in public and are proud of those fighting for change [in] private - in their interpersonal relationships and within themselves.