by ALYSSA SPENCER
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the UMW Student Activities and Engagement (SAE) and James Farmer Multicultural Center (JFMC) have created a hashtag to bring the UMW community some much-needed inspiration, positivity and connection during these challenging times. The hashtag, #UMWTogether, is featured on the @saeumw and @umwjfmc Instagram accounts weekly.
The #UMWTogether hashtag was created at the end of the fall 2020 semester and was posted every day of finals week to offer resources and reflective questions for stressed-out students.
According to some, the posts were a cool way that the school was able to reach the students through a source other than email.
“I follow a lot of UMW accounts on Instagram, and I remember enjoying the posts and knowing that there were other students going through the same thing that I was going through,” said Andrew Thomas, a senior environmental science major. “Doing finals at home was weird and uncomfortable at times, so it was nice scrolling through my feed and being reminded to stay positive.”
Now the posts are uploaded weekly, continuing to remind the community that we are all in this together.
According to the director of SAE, Sandrine Sutphin, the hashtag was not only made to keep students close when they were all apart, but it was also a way to help students gain coping skills and focus on their mental well-being during such a challenging time.
The Director of the JFMC, Dr. Marion Sanford, was a pivotal person in creating and overseeing the implementation of the hashtag. According to her, the influx of student reports relating to mental health issues and navigating their education during the pandemic increased significantly before the start of the fall semester.
“For many students, these stressors included feeling overwhelmed with the mechanics of remote learning, challenges of internet access, food and housing insecurities, financial struggles and other uncertainties about one’s ability to remain in college,” said Sanford.
According to Sanford, JFMC teamed up with several other departments including the Talley Center, the Student Transition Program (STP), the Office of Disability Resources, the Office of Student Conduct and Responsibility, the Student Transition Program, the UMW Human Resources department and UMW Campus Recreation/President’s Council on Wellness.
The most recent post displayed a quote by Gandhi that stated “be the change,” and it was paired with an article titled “How You Can Help During the Coronavirus Outbreak” by The Washington Post. The article goes into detail about how one can support everything from non-profits to animal shelters in their community.
The post continued: “So, as we, in 2021, move deeper into the midst of a global pandemic and social unrest, it is hopeful that we all can agree that ‘working together’ to recover society should be an avid part of our communal and personal action-plans this year.”
The positivity of the posts is something that many students look forward to every week. Ainsley Rucker, a sophomore pre-law major, said “I love, love, love #UMWTogether, the kind and encouraging quotes are always a bright spot in my day. Seeing our small community come together under such hardships and still try to thrive makes my heart happy.”
Sanford believes that through participation and engagement, these posts have the ability to positively help the UMW community.
“We firmly believe that if students read and engage in these activities, it will help them build resiliency, have a better, more positive outlook, and feel encouraged that we will get through this as a community,” she said.
However, not all students know about the hashtag, despite SAE and JFMC’s large Instagram following of over two thousand followers combined.
Jamie Graham, a senior biology major, was one of many that confessed she didn’t know the hashtag even existed. “Honestly, I genuinely didn’t know it was a thing.”
When asked why the UMW community should care about the hashtag, Sanford communicated how important it could be to students in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We know that COVID-19 has affected everyone in some way, causing us to reframe, restructure, reimagine, and refocus on how we continue everyday life and the responsibilities that accompany them,” said Sanford. “The tools and resources we are sharing help individuals put these stressors and issues in perspective, providing a bit of hope and optimism that we can get through this crisis, and other negative situations we may encounter.”
SAE and JFMC are making efforts to uplift the UMW community during a time shadowed by a global pandemic. As the organizations further promote the posts to reach more students, the hope is that the constant positivity, resources and connectivity will be beneficial to students in the upcoming months.