Student-Run Instagram accounts spark much-needed dialogue as they demand institutional change


Isabel Engel

Instagram accounts use their platform to inspire institutional progress.

With a combined total of more than 2,000 followers, students posting to the Instagram accounts @blackatpotomac, @lgbtqatpotomac, @womenatpotomac, and @pocatpotomac have engaged in activism in hopes of creating institutional change. Each led by anonymous owners, the accounts have catalyzed conversation within and outside the Potomac community over the past two months. 

The first account, created on June 28, to speak out against racism at Potomac was @blackatpotomac. According to the anonymous Instagram account owner of @blackatpotomac, “Our mission is to enlighten the Potomac community with the unnoticed hardships that their fellow Black students face daily through testimony. … We hope that through this account, we can better improve our community and create a plan of action to start the process of becoming a more anti-racist, inclusive school where all Black students feel valued.”  

This account was quickly followed by other accounts representing minority groups. @womenatpotomac, @lgbtqatpotomac, and @pocatpotomac were created to represent and amplify the voices of marginalized groups within the Potomac community. 

“The purpose of this account is to give voices to the people of color who have been silenced for so long. Whether it be current students or alumni, I wanted this account to educate those in places of privilege who don’t understand what it’s like to be a POC at a primarily white school,” said the creator of the @pocatpotomac Instagram account. 

While all accounts expressed a similar intent to validate the voices of those who feel unheard, they also demonstrated interest in educating their peers to be better agents of change. 

The creators of the @lgbtqatpotomac account said, “I want this account to serve as one form of education for people who want to be allies but don’t know how. I also wanted to show people like me that they aren’t completely alone. We all experience the hostile environment and we have shared experiences. There is another sense of community in that and I wanted to give people more hope.”

The account owners expressed that the account’s anonymous nature was key to making creators and contributors comfortable sharing their stories.  

“I can stay in the closet while still providing comfort for others and I am able to be honest and upfront with less fear of direct pushback,” wrote the @lgbtqatpotomac account.

Because of their mass following, the four Instagram accounts have the power and backing to create real change. Their followers have used the social media platforms as a means to convey their frustrations with the Potomac administration. 

“Most of the feedback is quite simple: hold teachers and students accountable for their actions,” wrote @womenatpotomac. 

@blackatpotomac outlined the general steps their followers thought Potomac should take to foster a more diverse, anti-racist community. 

“A more diverse faculty. A better curriculum that expands beyond the white narrative. More training for teachers to help address microaggressions. There was a petition recently sent to admin with a list of demands,” the creators of @blackatpotomac wrote. The accounts each stressed the idea that institutional change, much like societal change at large, is not a moment but a movement.

We hope that this account continues to be a space for women to share their stories after the break. Our generation has the habit of being interested in something for only a short period of time and this account, along with all of the other identity accounts, requires focus and attention longer than just a few weeks”, said the creators of the @womenatpotomac Instagram account. 

The Instagram accounts have also drawn attention beyond the Potomac community. Potomac has been at the center of conversations about the marginalization of minorities at private high schools in the DC area. On July 1, Theresa Vargas, published an article in The Washington Post exploring the Black student experience at private schools in the DMV area. Notably, she focused on Potomac, highlighting the perspectives of Black alumni and former faculty through emotional stories and quotes. 

The article’s publication sparked conversation on a much broader scale, prompting Potomac’s administration and board to release a statement to all Potomac families. 

“On behalf of The Potomac School, we offer a heartfelt apology for the ways in which we have failed our Black students, and we pledge to do better,” said Chair of Board of Trustees Sameer Bhargava and Head of School John Kowalik in an email statement to the Potomac community on July 3.

In response to Potomac’s email, @blackatpotomac said,

“We feel like it could be a step in the right direction by bringing racial issues more to the forefront of discussions, but then again with no action following it can also be seen as disingenuous and performative. Time will tell.” 

Other accounts were less optimistic.

“[The administration] only responded after an account was put in the Washington Post. If something has to be nationally broadcasted to millions in order for Potomac to care, we are less than hopeful for change,” said the @womenatpotomacac account.  

Despite account creators’ doubts, recent forums, continued dialogue via email, and administrative changes, including the hiring of new Director of Equity and Community Initiatives Tamisha Williams announced on July 10, may indicate the school’s serious commitment to institutional progress. 

“We know that there is more that we can, and must, do,” wrote Mr. Bhargava and Mr. Kowalik. 

“Know that your contributions are informing the Upper School’s institutional priorities, namely equity and mental health. We hear you and are committed to doing the work that matters,” wrote dean of student life Jake Westermann and head of upper school Doug McLane in an email about the student forum on July 29.