@umassaffirmations is not staying silent

The popular Instagram account has embraced activism in the wake of campus protests

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Hannah Cohen / Daily Collegian

By Catherine Hurley, Assistant Arts Editor

One month into their time at the University of Massachusetts, three freshmen have found themselves balancing humor, activism and newfound popularity on campus.

Katie Robertson, a physics and astronomy major, Sohaila Ammar, a political science major and Nicola Wood, an accounting and economics major, are the administrators of the Instagram page @umassaffirmations. Last week, allegations of sexual assault and protests outside of the Theta Chi fraternity sparked a shift in their content and attention from students.

“We felt like since we had a platform that it would be wrong not to speak up on it,” Ammar said.

The friends met this summer before arriving at UMass. During a thrifting trip, they started sharing affirmations with one another, hoping to find good, funny shirts that day. Affirmations are short statements of positive reinforcement, a way to verbalize what you want to happen. They decided to start an Instagram account for UMass-related affirmations and had no expectation of success. Early posts are lighthearted, affirming “I WILL find a fork in the dining halls,” and “the Du Bois 23rd floor does not make me nauseous.”

“We’re just trying to make something that’s relatable to the whole school,” Robertson said.

@umassaffirmations has gained more than 5,600 followers and has reached more than 100,000 Instagram accounts since their first post on Aug. 31.

“It’s kinda funny being freshmen and having all of that attention and having other people enjoy the stuff that you make,” said Robertson.

The tone of their content changed last week in response to the allegations of sexual assault at Theta Chi. @umassaffirmations posted information about the first protest on Sept. 19 at the request of another UMass student and began receiving direct messages from students and alumni sharing their experiences of sexual assault at fraternities.

Robertson and Ammar said it was a “no-brainer” to post about the protests, even though they never intended to be an activist page.

On Sept. 19, Robertson posted an affirmation stating, “Theta Chi will be shut down,” without consulting her fellow administrators.

“I remember texting them, ‘guys, is that ok that I posted that?’” she said, knowing some UMass-focused Instagram pages prefer to remain neutral on campus issues and activism.

Ammar and Wood agreed, and the account has since posted protest information and videos, expressed support for the Student Government Association’s proposed Survivor’s Bill of Rights and called for Theta Chi to be disbanded.

“Even your silence is saying something, so if you don’t say anything at all you’re kind of saying ‘oh, it’s not that important’ or ‘I don’t have an opinion on it,’” Robertson said.

“If we have this platform and we don’t say anything, I feel like we don’t deserve it,” Ammar said. “Just as much as the affirmations are for the students, so are the events that are happening.”

Robertson and Ammar were present at protests this week, including outside of Theta Chi on Mondayand in the Whitmore Administration Building on Friday. They were empowered to participate on behalf of friends who have had negative experiences with fraternity culture.

“We would be passionate about this even if it didn’t have to do with people we knew,” Ammar said. “Knowing that your own friends went through stuff like that … it definitely makes you more angry, more empowered to go against what’s happening.”

@umassaffirmations is unsure of what the future holds, but its administrators plan to strike a balance between silly affirmations and advocating for issues as they arise.

“The power of social media is way bigger than I ever thought,” Robertson said. “It’s really, really crazy to think about how many people it’s reached.”

Catherine Hurley can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @cath_hurley.