Better Late Than Never: Gen Z Social Media Habits Arrive to Swarthmore

The students of Swarthmore have largely departed from their boomerish love for Facebook. Instead, many have turned to another Zuckerberg-owned platform, Instagram, as a forum for inside jokes, socializing, and public engagement. It’s about time.

A quick look at the usual suspects for Swarthmore memes on Facebook have found their digital halls dilapidated and bare. A significant chunk of the content on the “Swarthmore Memes for Inwardly Lit Teens” is ads for on-campus happenings in the form of memes (or not even), and the number of posts failed to reach double-digits in the entirety of October. Inwardly lit indeed; Swat humor fails to make it out of our heads and into that section of cyberspace. 

Our principal meme-page, “Swarthmore Memes for Quaker Teens,” has been archived for nearly a year and no page has picked up its mantle, particularly given the graduation of many funny contributors. An editorial from late October lamented this loss, correctly noting that the “campus lexicon” was shaped somewhat by this and Facebook in general, which is almost no longer the case. But has, as the article posits in its title, Swarthmore “lost its culture” given this shift away from Facebook? Or is the culture simply changing, and maybe for the better? Enter Instagram— and two new class years — to a (somewhat) normal semester at Swarthmore. 

Of course, Instagram existed on this campus before this semester, but there is an undeniable shift in Swarthmore’s center of gravity towards the app. The ratio of Instagram follow requests to Facebook friend requests from new connections this fall is far more disparate than prior semesters, at least in my experience. Events are increasingly advertised via Instagram stories and less frequently on the campus-wide general Facebook page. Swarthmore humor and references are still routinely shared on Twitter, and on TikTok to a lesser degree, but in sheer number of followers, Instagram takes the content cake.

With this transition has come a burgeoning sector of campus socializing through different accounts, whose explosive growth has caught my attention. 

One of the first accounts on the scene, and at this point remaining the largest, is @swatoosmakappa, run by Maya Estrera ’25. (Oozma Kappa is the name of the fictional fraternity from Pixar’s “Monsters University.”) The account, which chronicles Estrera’s life through Instagram stories around Swarthmore, inside jokes with a regular group of friends, and pictures with other students at campus parties, has grown to more than 700 followers in the two months or so since it was created — undeniably impressive given our small size of about 1600 students and a bellwether for the trajectory of our social media culture.

Estrera had no idea her account would become such an overnight hit at Swarthmore. “My friends here and I have similar senses of humor, and Oosma Kappa was originally a way for me and my friends to have fun with it, I definitely did not intend for it to get so popular.” Oosma Kappa’s ascent highlights a shift on this campus to Estrera’s brand of humor becoming culturally dominant. 

“People across the community have come to understand my humor and contribute to it; now people send me pictures of chocolate milk and bananas (an inside joke of Estrera’s creation). Oosma has become a sort of movement but not a serious movement — a funny movement, which is exactly what it should be.” 

“I don’t even have a Facebook,” Estrera responded when asked about her understanding of prior Swarthmore meme culture on Facebook pages. She also recommended a multi-platform approach to events, given that many of the two new class years to Swarthmore do not use Facebook and are unaware of certain facts of Swarthmore life. Instagram stories and new accounts oriented to event advertisement could be the way to go for this purpose. 

An additional account, @swarthmorestreetstyle, shares pictures of Swarthmore students wearing cool clothes to a wider campus for recognition and inspiration as part of a new fashion club founded by Lauren Maguire ’23. 

“Instagram seems to be the way to go as we come out of lockdown and a lot of us have spent time on our phones and have inspiration to make cute little accounts,” Maguire said. Swarthmore Street Style, as one of those “cute little accounts” that is coming to dominate our feed, was founded with the goal of “appreciating the stylistic diversity on Swarthmore’s confidence and boost people’s confidence in the process.” Another facet of Maguire’s philosophy is a desire for the account to have a positive impact on the campus at large: “People build community when they have a chance to be comfortable with their individuality.” 

And that it has. In the less than a month since this account was created, it became somewhat of a force on this campus, or at least a topic of conversation. After I myself was featured on it, I received compliments from people I hardly knew, usually followed by the question, “How can I get featured on this account?” I don’t take the spread of vocalized positivity on our usually quiet campus for granted. Whether or not people vying for attention on social media is a good development, it remains relatively non toxic in Maguire’s opinion, and we should hope that the days of massive Facebook wars are behind us, succeeded by a community-oriented social media culture. 

On the gossipy side of Swarthmore Instagram is a new account, @swat_crushes, which allows students to fill out a Google Form with their crush or sexual tension they notice for the account to anonymously share to its followers, numbering now more than 500. The founder, a first year who wishes to remain anonymous, stressed (over Instagram DM) the importance of strengthening bonds as a guiding principle. 

“I think it would be really cool to see relationships blossom from this account. They don’t have to be of the romantic type either. Perhaps a student is able to bond with a classmate over a mutual crush, or maybe people who are already friends can strengthen their bonds by hyping their friends up. I think accounts like these amplify the importance of being close to one another.”

Swat Crushes was adamant about the need to mitigate problems that could arise as a result of an account of its nature, stating they had successfully dealt with a case of a student expressing discomfort with their name appearing in a post. It is yet to be seen whether or not the effect of this account will be 100% positive, though their commitment to responsibility is a good sign. 

In the creator’s view, the account is not a rupture in our campus culture but rather a continuity of a long Swarthmore dating tradition. “Who knows what could come out of this? After all, Swarthmore students have been known to end up marrying each other.” If marriage is facilitated by a crushes account on Instagram, it would make a love story for the ages.

Lovers of pets can be treated to pictures of the dogs that frequent our campus (@​​swarthmoredogspotting2). People can laugh at some of the grimier sights at our school (@swatmess). Class-year-specific confessions are being created (@swat_confessions25). There are even gossip accounts opening up (@swatgossip). Among others. Welcome to Gen Z, Swarthmore. Get used to it. 

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