“In your opinion, what does your local community need to do to reduce the escalation of the Black Lives Matter movement?” was the survey question that sparked an uproar of complaints from students on Twitter and on the BSU mobile app feed.
Part of an Introductory Psychology class-developed research project on “Education in Modern Society,” the question sought to gain a more explicit understanding of racial discrimination and bias. The survey’s hypothetical vignette was originally intended to “elicit predictable responses to better understand how differences in the framing of an issue shape opinions, beliefs, and reactions,” explained President Frederick W. Clark and Provost Ismaili in an email sent to the entire campus community.
Prior to knowing of its intentionally problematic phrasing, the original tweet from BSU student Jenna Higgins expressed confusion towards the survey question saying “@BridgeStateU So you guys just let your psychology students make surveys like this?” and attached a photo of the survey forum. The screenshot also displayed the paragraph that prefaced the question with one sentence deeming the Black Lives Matter movement “a wild beast preying on your local community” and other claims on the movement being dangerous.
A day later, the same user replied with another tweet including a screenshot that included the student researchers names—Jeremy Hermanson and Noah Wasserman. Other users began replying with comments pertaining to their character with one user stating, “Mf looks like he hates POC.” (POC is a general or “umbrella” term that refers to people of color. Here is an article that explains the difference between the acronyms BIPOC and POC.)
As promised in the first email regarding the survey controversy, the university responded with a list of actions that were completed since the complaints. This task list included conducting small group meetings with students of color to outline areas for immediate action and process the anguish caused by this situation, analyzing policies, creating training modules, and identifying national practices designed to infuse racial justice strategies into university research protocols, and more.
Sandra Neargarder, a professor and chairperson of psychology at Bridgewater State University, shared her insight, “I think when the students were taking the survey and when they saw the negative version of it, I think they came to the conclusion that this was someone’s political opinion, that the faculty member was stating this rather than it being a part of an actual research study.” Neargarder also stated, according to Enterprise News, that “The intent of the study wasn’t to say anything negative about the Black Lives Matter movement. The university is in full support of Black Lives Matter.”
Essentially, the survey was intentionally worded in a way to collect information on students responses to racist prompts and questions. This caused students to react with outrage by posting on social media to draw attention to what seemed to be a person conducting a survey against the Black Lives Matter movement. Since the tweets provided no research context or survey introduction, students were confused and upset.
The university responded by apologizing, assuming responsibility for its offensive actions, promised to review take action and then followed up a week later with a list of eight ways they began their work to review and resolve the issue.
In my opinion, the purpose of this survey question could be to evoke a reaction that agrees with the question to see if there are any racist biases or discrimination that still lingers in the community. I understand the reactions from the BSU students because someone might question if the ones who constructed the survey feel the same way.