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03.24.21 – Four friends use Instagram to create a community hub for first-year undergrads

In a normal year, the life of a first-year undergraduate at the Daniels Faculty is a whirlwind of orientation events, new friendships, exhilarating forays into the city, and countless hours spent in the Daniels Building's studio spaces.

For this year's new undergrads, the class of 2024, none of those things were possible. These students, who had already experienced Zoom high-school graduations and Zoom 18th birthday parties, discovered that their first year at university was, likewise, going to be carried out in video boxes on computer screens.

Throughout the year, as Daniels Faculty first-year students have sought ways of socializing with classmates during the pandemic, an Instagram account has played a crucial role in helping them make those connections. Uoftdaniels24, which is administered by a team of four student volunteers, has become a hub of first-year community during a difficult time.

Madiha Syed, Nur Nasir, Selina Al Madanat, and Rayah Flash

Clockwise from top left: Madiha Syed, Selina Al Madanat, Nur Nasir, and Rayah Flash.

The account is run by Madiha Syed, Nur Nasir, Selina Al Madanat, and Rayah Flash, all of whom started their undergraduate studies at Daniels in the fall semester. They met each other during orientation, in the only way anyone meets anyone these days: in a group WhatsApp chat, at three in the morning. Despite the fact that all of them were confined to homes in different locations across the Greater Toronto Area, they managed to hit it off.

A few weeks later, Madiha noticed that the uoftdaniels24 Instagram account, which had been started by a different group of students, was no longer posting updates. "I had a couple ideas for posting resources," she says. She asked the account's owners if they would hand over control, and they agreed.

Realizing she couldn't manage the project on her own, Madiha enlisted Nur, Selina, and Rayah to help. The four of them set about transforming the account into a welcoming space for students coping with the strangeness of the online university experience. "It's different for us than it is for second and third-year students," Selina says. "Because we're all new to the university community, we don't know anyone at U of T. It can be hard to reach out and find the people who are experiencing the same thing as you."

"I've talked to a couple students who don't have the privilege to have their own seating area or desk at home," Madiha says. "Just having other people they know, who are also struggling, makes it easier for them to get through."

Zoom screenshot

A screen shot of a recent game night.

Since taking over uoftdaniels24 at the end of October, Madiha, Nur, Selina, and Rayah, who have still never met in person as a group (Nur and Madiha met briefly, once, because they happen to live near each other), have hosted social events. They use the account to announce game nights, where students gather on Zoom to play Codebreaker, Cards Against Humanity, and Skribble.io. They host Zoom study sessions, where students can keep each other company while they work.

Uoftdaniels24 also publishes coursework by first-year students. And Madiha has used the account to publish video interviews with professors who teach first-year courses and studios, including Tara Bissett, Jay Pooley, Brady Peters, and James Macgillivray.

Madiha, Nur, Selina, and Rayah say they hope to continue their work into the fall, as university life begins to return to normal. And, perhaps one day soon, they'll be able to take their friendships offline. "The moment I see them, I'm going to give them a big hug, and a big smooch on the forehead," Madiha says. "I'm going to embrace them like they're my long-lost sisters."

Madiha, Nur, Selina, and Rayah will be doing a one-day "takeover" of the Daniels Faculty's main Instagram account on Thursday. Follow UofTDaniels on Instagram to see what they post.


Visit the uoftdaniels24 Instagram page