Every Freshers’ advice article makes exactly the point: to settle into university and have a ‘well-rounded’ university experience, it is important that you ‘get out there’ and ‘get involved’ – don’t spend the entirety of your university life dwelling in the library. Sounds great. Where, when, how and with whom? Well if, like me, and you’re not on Facebook, then you’re stumped.
Social media, Facebook in particular, is the means by which so many societies communicate with their members about upcoming events and meet-ups. Halls of residence have group chats. Academic departments use Facebook to announce upcoming guest lectures. I have lost count of the number of people I have met who did not use Facebook before coming to university, and then created an account because “it’s the only way to be in the know”.
When you consider just how many student-orientated groups and notifications there are on Facebook, it is easy to understand why. To that end, one wonders why anyone would not to use Facebook and social media upon arriving at university. For me, not using Facebook et al is largely to satiate my starry-eyed desire to harken back to a quasi-Golden Age ideal of an existence less heavily plagued by new technology; and to rebel against today’s mentality of feeling the need to embellish and share every aspect of our lives – a type of ‘virtual vanity’ few people would dispute is linked to social media.
Now, one could argue that in my case social isolation is self-inflicted, especially because my 19-year-old luddite lifestyle choice is not grounded in any practical reasoning. But what if other social media abstainers do so for more viable reasons? Perhaps those individuals deleted their accounts because they found themselves unhappily addicted to scrolling through their feeds. Perhaps others had been victims of cyber-bullying, or want to elude a stalker. Maybe regret over an embarrassing photo or post might have compelled someone to start afresh by removing themselves from the platform. Others might simply value a low profile online. There are a plethora of plausible reasons as to why people would choose not to have a Facebook or social media account – and it’s not done to be anti-social.
Reasoning aside, these students should not feel obliged to set up an online profile to be able to tap into student life, and it’s not fair that they should miss out as a result of not having an account. Facebook is a fantastic communication tool, yes; but should it be the golden ticket to inclusion at university? St Andrews prides itself on being a friendly and inclusive university, which it is. But to be truly inclusive, the University must make sure that all students are able to access the non-academic side of the student experience, regardless of whether or not they use social media.
Honestly, I was reluctant to play the ‘inclusivity card’ on this one, because it could easily be misconstrued for the type of OTT, senseless a n d frankly terrifying political correctness that has taken hold of other excellent institutions. If I were proposing that all societies should stop using Facebook so the minority of students who do not use Facebook don’t feel discriminated against, then that would be insanity. However, the real question whether it is possible for social media abstaining students to find things to do, and to connect with all that their chosen clubs and societies have to offer. Or maybe it is time to accept that social media is so inextricably intertwined in the non-academic student experience that creating a Facebook account should be made part of the matriculation process, alongside the Latin oath about not committing academic malpractice.
It would be unrealistic and impractical to hope for a reversal of this university’s over-reliance on Facebook as a means of inter-student communication. Ultimately, the vast majority of students use social media. So, societies and departments use social media to reach the largest audience possible – that’s just logical. It would be totally unfair to take away or discourage the use of a platform that is highly convenient to so many people. But to include that small social media abstaining minority?
Well, there is hope. The Union makes good use of posters to flag up the themes for upcoming Bops, if that’s what you’re into. Some societies still make the effort to produce incredibly informative (and highly entertaining) emails. For example, although I decided cricket was not my calling, when I was temporarily on the Women’s Cricket mailing list, not only did their wonderful Secretary send over a calendar link for the planned social activities for the semester, but even wrote up a ‘Week in History’ section just because!
The Orientation Week guide on the St Andrews app was an absolute lifesaver when it came to finding out about the variety of different events going on around campus. If only the Facebook events and announcements made by university societies and departments during term time would magically pop up too. The point is that St Andrews, this brilliant but heavily social media-orientated university, has almost ironically proved that it is, in fact, possible to circulate information about extracurricular events without Facebook.
Even if we don’t change our central means of inter-student communication, I’d urge you all simply to be conscious of the students who do not use Facebook or social media. Sending a one-off email calendar of planned society events, or spreading news via word-of-mouth, or text, or email might make a real difference to someone’s student experience