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photo of emma willard tiktok page in the student hall featuring coffee mug

Student-created content leads the way in capturing the authentic Emma experience.

In late February 2022, the Communications Department quietly launched a TikTok account with the help of two students: Beatrice Geissinger Cutchins ’22 and Tess Johnstadt ’22. For a few weeks previous to the first post (a moody, dark academia-themed look at what it’s like to wander a snowy campus to practice oboe in Lyon-Remington) the students met to discuss the plan, including the logistics on how it would work, best practices, and the desired tone for the account. Above all it was important that the videos retain an authentic, student- centered voice.

After a few weeks, word got around that the official account existed, and a 10-student cohort was assembled to create content for the account. From various grade levels, the idea was that they would make videos that reflected their experience at school. They wanted the account to be the embodiment of the beloved jester: sometimes serious, a little bit nostalgic, often informative but also irreverent, funny, and strange.

Over the last year students have posted approximately 121 videos, amassed over 900 followers (the account will likely reach 1k followers by year’s end), more than 105k likes, and a viral May Day tiktok surpassing one million views, all giving an up-close and personal look at life at Emma Willard School. For prospective students, the account gives insight into the school as a whole while helping them get to know some individual students. Those with account access are encouraged to interact with comments, answering questions, giving advice on where to find information on the website to apply, and generally offering helpful information or encouragement.

photo of someone scrolling through tiktok

“It’s a great way for prospective students to see what the school culture is actually like,” says Grace M. ’24, one of the students who creates videos for the account. When she was applying to Emma, she looked for current students on social media to get a real sense of the school but had a hard time finding people. Besides meeting prospective students where they already are, TikTok allows them to find each other without having to hunt through personal accounts.

“It’s a nice way to make the community laugh, and bond over silly things that happen on campus. You get the student’s perspective and personality, our humor,” adds another student in the cohort.

“It talks about realities,” adds Suki Z. ’24 (Suki doesn’t post to the TikTok, but follows it). “Like how day students don’t like climbing the stairs!” (That’s a reference to a TikTok from earlier this year, showing day student Charlotte L. ’24 climbing some stairs up to the dorms dramatically to Miley Cyrus’s “The Climb.”) Comments from current students on the video verify the pains of living on the third floor, or trekking up the flights to visit friends.

The TikTok account is an attempt to articulate something about Emma life that everyone who steps on campus feels: it’s not just a beautiful gothic campus, it’s not just a #darkacademia mood that permeates the school aesthetic, or the intangible sense of community and feeling that all-girls schools share: it’s the Emma of it all. There is an individuality to every person on campus, an undercurrent of quirk, and a celebration of personality that belies the buttoned-up appearances of a school on a hill.

“Part of the appeal of TikTok is that it feels more casual. It is curated, but it feels improvised, like you’re actually talking to the person,” Grace adds. That appeal is double- edged, and often a topic of conversation among those worried about the platform’s influence on its users.

“The controversy surrounding TikTok, and the stereotypes that a lot of adults and people who aren’t familiar with it have, are hard,” one of the students in the cohort says. “They most likely won’t listen to the positive stuff.” Using it, like all social media platforms, is a calculated risk. Do the benefits of genuine connection outweigh the quicksand-like algorithmic draw? Students have mixed feelings and thoughts about it, but overwhelmingly it’s where they are finding community.

“Making videos for the account helped me look at the school in a new way,” says Beatrice Geissinger Cutchins ’22, whose content ranged from life as a senior, campus pets, peeks at Sunday mornings on campus, to the tiny lizards carved in stone outside Slocum Hall. “It made me think, how can I share this place that I love? Also, it helped push me outside of my usual social circle.”

Do the students think schools should be on TikTok? Most of them say yes, especially colleges. The Duolingo account is a favorite, adding a bolt of joy to the day. “The Harvard and Yale TikToks ‘hating’ on each other is hilarious,” says Grace, and most of the other students agree. More than just being funny, it’s a reminder of the people who make up these institutions.

“These places are intimidating, but this shows they’re just students like us.”

This piece was written by Kaitlin Resler for the Spring 2023 issue of Signature Magazine.


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