Incoming freshmen use hashtag to make friends

Brigit Benestante

Making new friends when coming to college can be somewhat of a nerve-wracking and scary experience, but a new generation of UT students is making friends digitally. A group of incoming freshmen have started using the hashtag “#UT18” on social media sites like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to make connections and form larger friend groups.

In their acceptance packets this year, incoming class of 2018 students received a standard acceptance letter as well as a burnt orange banner that reads “#GoneToTexas.” Students were encouraged to take a picture with the banner and post it to social media using that same hashtag. Journalism freshman Jazmyn Griffin said it was this banner that introduced her to the #UT18 hashtag.

“I started using it when I got accepted,” Griffin said. “People using the hashtag have definitely been talking and planning to meet up for lunch and stuff when school starts.”

Griffin participated in the Summer Bridge program and has been on campus since July. She said the #UT18 hashtag on Twitter helped her meet people during the program because they recognized each other from social media.

“People would come up to me and say, ‘Hey, I follow you on Twitter,’” Griffin said. “So we already kind of know each other because of Twitter.” 

Biology freshman Syed Ahmed said the hashtag allowed him to form an entire group of friends before school starts. Ahmed and eight other Twitter users call themselves the “Longhorn Nation” and met up for the first time in person Saturday.

“A group of us using the hashtag on Twitter started a conversation one night and decided to make [a group message],” Ahmed said. “We plan on hanging out together next year. If it weren’t for the hashtag, we wouldn’t have all met.”

International relations freshman Divine Ntomchukwu is one of the members of “Longhorn Nation” and, like Griffin, started using the hashtag upon receiving his acceptance letter in January. He said the use of the hashtag has both increased his social presence online and in the real world. 

“[Using the hashtag] is probably the easiest way to make friends going to UT — all thanks to social media,” Ntomchukwu said. “Honestly, I’ve gotten probably more than a hundred followers just by using the #UT18 hashtag.”

According to Ntomchukwu, students put the #UT18 hashtag in their “bio” sections on such sites as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, allowing them to find each other more easily. He said the hashtag has made it possible for this group of students to connect on all platforms of social media.

“I don’t think I would have a lot of the friends I have now without the hashtag,” Ntomchukwu said. “It’s really brought us together.”

According to the Pew Research Center, social networking site use amongst people ages 18-29 has increased over 20 percent since 2008. Jay Bernhardt, founding director of the Center for Health Communication, said social media facilitates interactions among people with similar interests. 

“Hashtags like #UT18 are a great way for incoming freshmen to break the ice online with their new classmates,” Bernhardt said. “I would suspect that the #UT18 hashtag will also be used by media-savvy groups trying to reach these freshmen, like Greek organizations, bookstores and restaurants.”

Griffin said the class of 2018 is able to interact in a way previous classes couldn’t.

“I think our class has been able to use social networking to connect with each other,” Griffin said. “We’ve been able to connect in a way that I think other
classes haven’t.”