Correction: A previous version of this article had the owner of @wwu_brickart under a different name. The owner of @wwu_brickart is Valerie Lampman.
COVID-19 has caused the Western Washington University community to lose many aspects of their social lives. In turn, students at Western have taken to Instagram to build and strengthen the community.
“I think that Western pages run by the students — even though they shouldn't be taken too seriously — are some of the only bits of community that we have as a student population,” the owner of @wwuvirgins, Charlene Davatos said. “Since everything's gone virtual you can't go on campus, but you can follow these accounts and laugh along with other people.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused the majority of classes and clubs to meet exclusively online. This has led many students to seek community on the internet.
“I actually haven't been part of Western all that long and I never got a full year of in person classes,” the owner of @wwu_brickart, Valerie Lampman, said. “So the fact that I do have a little bubble community that I cultivated is really fun.”
Despite the fact that these accounts are all aimed to build community at Western, they are all distinct in style and content. The topics of these accounts range from virgins to artwork on bricks.
Davatos, a third-year Western student, created a joke account detailing the reasons for why students at Western should remain virgins.
“A lot of the people who followed me back were freshmen who have not experienced real face-to-face campus clubs, which was really great,” Davatos said. “If this was a real club, you would see it at the info fair, but because like we are in a virtual age I could have passed it off as a totally real club. It was really fun to kind of mess with people that way.”
Lampman, on the other hand, created her account to show students artwork that can be found around campus.
“I liked seeing the art around campus that people did and I knew I wasn't seeing all of it,” said Lampman. “I wanted to document and also see more of the art that people were doing.”
For many students, these pages are their introduction into what life is really like at Western.
“I followed the meme page before I went to school here,” third-year student Hailey Bell said. “I feel like it definitely made me feel better about college. It seemed really fun to go to Western.”
It takes a certain amount of skill to run a popular page on the internet. Stephanie Basilio, the sales account and community manager at Joyco Digital, said it’s important to be consistent and authentic.
“If you don't succeed at first don't give up,” Basilio said. “It's not going to be easy. Be consistent and find your own balance of what authentic is. Build a relationship with your audience.”
One thing about these pages is unique — they're run by Western students. This strengthens the feeling of community on these pages because everyone who visits has at least one thing in common.
The owner of the account @wwuvikingmemes, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that very community is one of the highlights of running the account.
“I feel and see my followers as friends,” the owner of @wwuvikingmemes said. “I always enjoy seeing their posts when I’m scrolling on the feed on that account and sometimes I DM them or they DM me to ask how I’m doing or what it’s like to be at Western.”
Some accounts are run for the creator to further their artistic ability and showcase it to a larger audience. The owner of the account @wwuaffirmations, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity, is a graphic design major who uses her design skills to better her account.
“I have always been an artist,” the creator of @wwuaffirmations said. “I’ve been making art in my free time for the past five to seven years and I've never had an audience for any creative work this big. I feel like if I wasn't majoring in [graphic design] I wouldn't have made this because I wouldn't know how to make the posts.”
With classes going back to in-person for fall quarter there will be less of a need for these online communities, but these pages will still continue to thrive off of relatable content.
“Even though the posts are jokes, they're also still encouraging positive self-talk,” the owner of @wwuaffirmations said. “Somebody can read something about themselves that makes them laugh, but they're still thinking to themselves ‘I'm swag.’”
Cameron Martinez (she/her) is the editor-in-chief for The Front this quarter. She is majoring in visual journalism with a double minor in queer studies and anthropology. She has written stories ranging from making sushi on a budget to murder hornets on campus. When not reporting, she enjoys listening to podcasts and playing arcade games.
You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. Her Instagram handle is @doctorcameron.