‘Black Menaces’ Member Harassed While Filming TikTok Video at BYU

Sebastian Stewart-Johnson, a Black student at BYU, says a Brigham Young University executive secretary and a student verbally harassed him while he filmed a TikTok interview on campus.
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Updated on September 28, 2023
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  • Sebastian Stewart-Johnson is one of the founding members of Brigham Young University's "Black Menaces."
  • The group uses TikTok to highlight commonly held beliefs about gay marriage, feminism, sexism, and more on their Mormon campus.
  • Last week, while filming content for the Black Menaces TikTok account, Stewart-Johnson said a student and administrator verbally harassed him, even threatening to call authorities.
  • Stewart-Johnson now says he feels unsafe and uncomfortable on campus after the incident.

Sebastian Stewart-Johnson is no stranger to the mistreatment of students of color on his predominantly white college campus. But for the first time last week, he says he was the subject of an incident at Brigham Young University (BYU) that left him rattled.

Just over a year ago, Stewart-Johnson and four other Black BYU students rose to internet fame when their interviews with students and faculty on their campus went viral for their frank discussions of racism, sexuality, gender, and other thorny issues for students at the Mormon university in Provo, Utah. They called themselves The Black Menaces.

While most of the founding members of the group have already graduated, Stewart-Johnson, who is a fourth-year student, has continued his work on campus to expose the true sentiments that much of the BYU community holds about these topics.

As Stewart-Johnson began to film content for The Black Menaces' TikTok account last week, he and his cameraman were approached by a student and administrator who both attempted to stop him from filming.

The administrator, who Stewart-Johnson did not know at the time but has now been identified as Karen Strange, is the executive secretary of BYU's School of Education.

When she noticed him filming — an action that is not against BYU regulations as long as it is not for promotion, advocacy, or commercial purposes — she quickly rushed over and told him she would call the authorities if he did not stop.

Despite his attempts to assure her that he was a student of the school and was not breaking any campus rules, she continued to berate him and tell him he was not allowed to film.

@realsebastiansj plz help this be seen by who it needs to be seen by ❤️ #byu #utah #interview #harrassment #politics #viral ♬ original sound - sebastian sj (black menace)

It is unclear whether or not she was aware that he is an active student of the university or what rules she believed he was breaking. Strange did not respond to BestColleges' request for comment.

Just before she had rushed over, Stewart-Johnson was already thwarting interruption attempts from a fellow student who repeatedly tried to stop him from filming by putting himself directly in front of the camera while Stewart-Johnson interviewed other students.

The student, Jacob Christensen, returned to the location when Strange interrupted Stewart-Johnson and told her that what he was filming was not allowed.

Christensen then proceeded to follow Stewart-Johnson and his cameraman around campus for 15 minutes while they tried to film, repeatedly telling Stewart-Johnson that what he was doing was not allowed.

Eventually, the situation became too hostile and Stewart-Johnson decided it was time to end the day early, he told BestColleges.

"I don't really want to go back to campus," Stewart-Johnson told BestColleges just days after the incident. "I'm nervous to go back, simply for the fact that I know a lot of [people on] campus do not like me. I don't know how many people I'm around hold the same belief [that what I'm doing is wrong]."

@blackmenaces what are y’all thinking #fyp #byu #provo #orem #uvu #blackmenaces #blackmenacesvlog #AFairShotWithBlock #pwi #poc ♬ original sound - Blackmenaces

It hasn't always been easy to conduct frank interviews and ask questions while knowing that he is one of the few Black students on campus, Stewart-Johnson said. But the goal is to create an awareness both on and off campus for what nonwhite students tend to experience at BYU.

The group has expanded since its inception and now also highlights the experiences of historically excluded students at other predominantly white institutions.

But BYU, where it all started, remains a key problem as underrepresented students there continue to speak out about instances of harassment and discomfort, said Stewart-Johnson.

"I wish I didn't have to keep being at school," he said. "Being harassed on campus does not make me feel … safe. "

As he works to complete his last semester at BYU, he looks forward to leaving this chapter behind and hopes the future looks brighter for other historically excluded students at the university.

"I hope BYU gets better. I don't know how that would happen, but I do hope that it gets better," he said. "I hope that my outside pressure as a student and alum can push the envelope, even if it's just a little bit, to [BYU] being a more inclusive and better space."