• Sophia Apteker

@umassaffirmations on Instagram is Doing the Most for UMass Amherst Students

There’s a comment on the @umassaffirmations Instagram from Sept. 21 that reads: “this page is doing unbelievable work - we are so lucky as umass students/survivors to have this page as an advocate and leader.”

And we are.

The UMass Affirmations Instagram account was created by three freshman students. There’s Admin 1, studying physics and astronomy, who finds great humor in adding "Space Song" by Beach House over random images. Their roommate is Admin 3, a political science student who stans Hampshire Dining Commons despite their proximity to Worcester. And way out in Orchard Hill resides Admin 2, an accounting and economics double major whose music taste has been explicitly described as “white dad BBQ music.” (Thanks Admins 1 and 3.)

The three met through the UMass freshman page on Instagram, and the idea for an affirmations page came to them while they were shopping for secondhand clothing.

“We were just spitting out affirmations as we were thrifting,” Admin 3 recalled. “Like, ‘I will find a good shirt today,’ or something like that. And then we were like wait: we should just make this an account.”

So they did.

The account’s first post was on Aug. 31, at the start of the fall semester. As the account gained traction, the admins included a Google Forms link in their bio where followers or fans could submit their own affirmations to potentially be featured on the page. It’s estimated that roughly 20-30% of the account’s 134 posts were created with this material, but the majority of the affirmations still stem directly from the minds of the three humorous admins.

Admin 1’s favorite affirmation reads “the condoms in northeast will soon come in handy”

Admin 3’s favorite affirmation reads “Google Maps will STOP praying on my downfall.”

Recently, however, the account’s consistently lighthearted tone shifted to one of urgency.

On Sept. 18, @umassaffirmations created a post that read: “i genuinely enjoy and cherish the presence of the bees outside of the dining hall.” The following day, there was a post that read, “THETA CHI WILL BE SHUT DOWN.”

The admins were informed of an alleged sexual assault at Theta Chi through an Instagram DM on Sunday morning, Sept. 19. (Recall that the alleged assault occurred on Saturday night.) Then, messages about protests, and requests to bring awareness to them, started to steadily trickle in.

“We couldn’t have this platform and then not say anything about it,” said Admin 1. “I was kind of surprised that other big UMass accounts weren’t saying anything about it. The only places that were really saying anything were like Yik Yak and personal people posting on their stories.”

Thus, the affirmations page separated themselves by taking an outright stance. In doing so, they gained overwhelming support from the student body. Before posting about Theta Chi, @umassaffirmations had about 3,000 followers. Since then, the account has nearly doubled at 5,624 followers.

It would’ve been tone-deaf for the account to continue to post their witty content in a time of student suffrage. The admins recognized how the dialogue on campus had altered, and they adapted their content to reflect those conversations. In the upcoming days, @umassaffirmations supported students by anonymously sharing stories from sexual assault survivors (sent to their DMs) and of upcoming protests.

On some days, the affirmations account received roughly 100 DMs. Some were related to Theta Chi and accounts of similar occurrences. Others expressed support. Handfuls just initiated friendly conversation.

“We’ve had so many people that DM us and just ask, ‘Can we be your friends?’” Admin 1 said.

But all in all, the greater number of messages were from people sharing their experiences of sexual assault at the university or were groups and organizations looking to expand their outreach regarding protests.

There’s something to be said about the loyalty and trust that has been established between the admins of the account and their followers. Initially, humor served as a way to unite UMass students, particularly regarding niche (but nonetheless recurrent) commonalities, like trying to find a fork in the dining hall. As the admins responded to DMs and had conversations in the comments, students felt seen and heard. This was a place where they could be understood and have their experiences related to.

So when other UMass accounts were silent about Theta Chi, and students wanted to speak up but didn’t quite have the largest platform, it was almost a no brainer for them to gravitate towards the page that they had connected with in the past: @umassaffirmations.

“We want this to be a place where we post about events or protests that are happening with the student body that aren’t getting enough outreach,” Admin 3 said when speculating the direction of the account. “But it's also not just going to be an activist page. We want this to be affirmations with a side of what’s going on on campus.”

Looking ahead, the admins aren’t quite sure where they’ll be. But they are hopeful.

“I think in the future it could be a bigger activist page depending on what goes on on campus,” Admin 1 said. “But it really has the potential to be anything that we want it to be.”

Editor’s note: Admin 2 was not present for the interview.

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