When Duke declared a campus-wide stay-in-place policy to counter rising coronavirus cases, the Class of 2024 GroupMe chat erupted in chaos.
In the past, class-specific GroupMe chats have been relatively quiet and uneventful. Not this year. The Class of 2024 GroupMe has buzzed with everything from Duke Student Government promotions to insulting comments about fraternities.
“There was name-calling, insulting and offensive comments, especially directed toward fraternities and their members,” first-year Drew Greene said.
For the past four years, the mobile group messaging app has been the popular choice of social media connection for incoming classes at Duke. GroupMe provides a forum where newly admitted students can share their excitement and concerns as college approaches.
The function of the first-year GroupMe chat has followed something of a pattern. Typically, there are high rates of activity in the months preceding orientation week as many students attempt to network. Once students actually arrive on campus though, the chat soon becomes inactive.
But the Class of 2024 chat has been different from those in previous years: Many first-year students are still quite active in the group of more than 1,300 members despite the end of the academic year approaching.
As to whether the prolonged activity in the GroupMe is a positive or negative development, opinions in the Class of 2024 tend to differ quite drastically.
First-years Sophie Smith and Brandon Qin are both moderately active in the GroupM chat. As members of Duke Student Government, Smith and Qin see the chat’s persistence as a helpful medium for engagement.
“I spend most of my time on the group message answering questions, mainly about dining, housing or other topics related to campus life,” Smith said. “I think the GroupMe is a really good informational resource. If you have a question about something, you can always post it in the chat, and someone will likely answer it and address whatever concern you have.”
Smith said the GroupMe has functioned as an effective way to promote DSG projects. Though some have the chat set to “Do Not Disturb,” a significant number of people still see the messages.
“Sometimes we even get two or three hundred views, which is really helpful in terms of promotion,” Smith said. “For example, I’ve been pushing for extended dining hours across campus, and the GroupMe was very helpful in communicating that project to other students. DSG managed to extend West Union’s dining hours to 9 p.m. for next semester, and that was facilitated in large part by the mass promotions in the group message.”
As a DSG senator for campus life, Qin also uses the 2024 GroupMe to clarify messaging between administration and students while further increasing transparency. Qin remains active in the forum to quell any confusion or panic among students.
“In particular, things like housing and dining have been up in the air due to the pandemic. There is a lot of fluctuation,” Qin said. “Take for instance the current suspension of dining on East Campus, after the COVID outbreak was discovered among the staff workers. There was a lot of confusion surrounding that, so the GroupMe served as a tool for first-years living on East Campus to put their questions out there and get some answers.”
Although a segment of the first-year population remains active in sending and checking messages in the GroupMe, a large portion of students are much less involved, opting to simply mute the continuous stream of texts. Greene is one such student.
“The GroupMe can definitely be a helpful resource, but at the same time it can also house a lot of useless information too—a lot of socialization and fluff,” Greene said. He added that the GroupMe can become controversial at times, like it did in the aftermath of Duke’s decision to impose a stay-in-place policy.
“In no way do I believe students should be gathering in violation of the Duke compact, but I also do not believe that ‘exposing’ or attempting to shame other students in the Duke community by way of social media is beneficial either,” Greene said.
Still, Greene maintained that although there are some negative aspects to the group message, he has found the GroupMe to be helpful in light of the pandemic.
“The chat has definitely been beneficial, especially with mental health resources. I know that over the past year a lot of people have been going through things. Thankfully, many first-years in the chat have been constant in their efforts to improve mental health across campus, sending out frequent resources to combat stress, anxiety and loneliness,” he said.
There are also several hundred students in the Class of 2024 who are not members of the GroupMe. First-year Aida Anderson decided against joining the GroupMe, and she does not regret that choice.
“I was never added in the first place since I didn’t have the GroupMe app downloaded on my phone at the beginning of the school year,” Anderson said. “I mostly use word-of-mouth for important news and updates.”
The 2024 GroupMe chat is hardly essential for a successful social life at Duke, Anderson said. She does not feel that she has missed out on any part of the culture at Duke.
“It seems like most of the time the GroupMe conversation is not about important stuff, and occasionally it even looks pretty divisive with an unhealthy ‘cancel culture,’” she said.
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