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I'm a Bear – Joelle Jenkins

Joelle Jenkins

Joelle Jenkins ’20, Environmental and Sustainability Studies with minors in Africana Studies and Biology. Photo by Woody Myers

December 22, 2020

Over the summer, Joelle Jenkins, McNair Scholar and senior majoring in Environmental and Sustainability Studies with minors in Africana Studies and Biology, founded the BlacademicUS Twitter account that shares resources and stories of Black people in academia; it has already gained over 1,400 followers.

Jenkins is also the president of UNC’s Student Leadership for Environmental Action Fund (Student LEAF), a student-led organization aiming to bring more sustainable practices to the campus community through empowerment and education. She reflects on why she created the Twitter account and her passion about environmental justice issues.

On Twitter, users can share posts with specific hashtags to join a trending topic. An example is Black Birders Week, where Black bird watchers shared photos and other content regarding birds using the hashtag #BlackBirdersWeek on Twitter.

In high school, I didn’t have the resources I needed to see what other Black students went through based on their college experiences, something like a reference guide. Then, with Black Birders Week happening, I wanted to know all the other co-organizers’ experiences, so I thought it would be perfect to create that resource.

Being part of the BlackAFInSTEM group on Twitter, I was influenced by this and other Twitter content, which led me to create the Twitter page to be kind of a guide mainly for Black students.

The account is managed by four students, each bringing their own academic backgrounds to the platform. I share content regarding ecology and environmental justice. Terra Ware, a UNC student studying Biology with a Pre-Health emphasis, shares content on gender and sexuality advocacy; Liad Sherer, a 2020 UNC graduate who studied History with an emphasis in Secondary Education, shares historical content; and Veronica Mixon, a student at the University of Alabama studying Psychology with an emphasis in Clinical Mental Health and African American Studies, shares health and wellness content.

I wanted to create something where all Black academics could come together and share their experiences because there’s not one page everyone can come to and just learn. Like, who knows what a high schooler may want to go into? It could be psychology, it could be biology, and so, I just wanted to create that platform.

I have plans to utilize ongoing and trending hashtags on Twitter to include more diverse voices and perspectives in the mix. The long-term goal of BlacademicUS is to grow its followers, raise awareness and create different chapters at universities across the U.S. This would be a very helpful tool for Black students and institutions trying to create a more inclusive environment.

The BlacademicUS team is also planning to share student spotlights and personal experiences, such as what they wish was different at their universities.

My UNC experiences have influenced my passion for starting this project and bringing awareness about the issues and experiences of people of color on campus.

Recently, National Geographic and Amy Poehler’s “Smart Girls” highlighted students and professionals of color (including myself) on their social media accounts for Black Mammalogist’s Week (Sept. 13-19). They also highlighted our current research and related interests. Although I served as one of the graphic designers/artists, I felt honored to have my research highlighted on their page(s). My research study involves looking at the intersection of identities Black individuals hold and how that may impact their consideration of natural environments.

One of the main reasons I chose UNC’s Environmental and Sustainability Studies program was because faculty members strive to connect both objective and subjective matters to issues happening in the U.S. and beyond, including racial injustices and environmental concerns. People typically separate the two, and when you do that, you fail to acknowledge issues that inhibit progress towards equity for all in this country, reinforcing them. I also chose the Environmental and Sustainability Studies program because faculty members teach you the skills you need to succeed in this field as well as caring about people and their values.

I chose UNC because I wanted to stick close to home and knew other Black students at UNC. The smaller size (compared to other universities in the state) helped me feel more confident in making decisions for my academic career.

—Joelle Jenkins as told to Katie-Leigh Corder

BlacademicUS Twitter