When Truman State University closed its campus last Spring, students were sent home and one of the only remaining ways students could communicate with their friends was on Facebook.
In a time of pandemic-induced stress and isolation, these forums for lighthearted online connection have transformed to be an outlet for more serious topics as well. Groups like “Overheard at Truman,” “Shit Truman Professors Say,” or “Memes for Typical Truman Teens”, some of which have existed for more than a decade, continue to evolve as the student body and University change.
Hayden Neely, moderator of “Overheard at Truman,” also created the “Memes for Typical Truman Teens” page. He said he created it when Truman’s campus closed down because of COVID-19. So many students were making memes in the Overheard at Truman group that he wanted to start a separate page.
“I think it’s a big connection for a lot of Truman students,” Neely said. “I think that we may see each other on the sidewalks, but we don’t know each other’s names, and we’re all depressed here, so we all just want to have a good laugh every now and then.”
Brandon Moore is the chief administrator of “Overheard at Truman.” The group is intended to be a page where Truman students can post funny quotes they overhear on campus or in the surrounding community. However, sometimes people post unrelated content. If they are funny posts, Moore will often keep them up, as long as no one has objected and it’s still mostly Truman-related. Moore will also keep up questions or urgent issues, such as a lost object, until they are resolved. Making decisions about what can stay up and what has to be taken down can be difficult as it’s impossible to be completely unbiased, Moore said.
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Over the summer, Moore said, some individuals in the group had intense conversations about the killing of George Floyd and, more specifically, a post by the Truman Department of Public Safety related to the incident. The moderators had to make decisions about what posts should be taken down by discussing it together. Instead, students were encouraged to bring up these issues of racial justice for discussion in a Truman Reddit group, since it is a forum for more general matters of interest. Moore said decisions about what to keep up and take down were difficult for him as he feels very strongly about these issues. While he said he wants to try and objectively monitor the group, at the end of the day it’s just a Facebook group and so it’s fairly harmless if he can’t remain completely objective.
“I definitely think that there is an unconscious bias, and I think that’s just inherently human,” Moore said. “If there’s a topic that I’m personally passionate about, I know I should be objective, but I may not necessarily be. That’s also why there are two other moderators, so we can discuss.”
Moore said he offered to take on the chief admin position when the previous admin graduated and asked for a replacement. He thought it would be quirky and fun, but he didn’t realize some of the challenges he would face as a moderator.
With social distancing and fewer in-person classes, it’s more difficult to overhear conversations, Moore said. However, since so many students are in the group, it’s helped to share information about COVID-19.
Walter Elkins created the group “Shit Truman Professors Say” as a freshman in 2011. The “Overheard at Truman” group had probably been around for a year or two, Elkins said, but most of the posts were quotes from professors. Elkins and other students thought quotes from professors should be a separate group, so “Shit Truman Professors Say” was created.
Elkins, who transferred to a different university after a year, said most of the responsibilities had been passed down to others. He remained in the group out of convenience, but he doesn’t know most of the professors mentioned. Now Elkins lives in Kansas City and owns a business, so he doesn’t pay much attention to the groups as they have two other moderators.
Elkins said if Kirksville is the same as it was when he lived in the town, there is not much happening in the city. He said this makes it important for students to find something to enjoy; otherwise, it’s difficult to live in the town. If talking about quirky professors is a way that people can get some enjoyment, then that’s great, Elkins said.
“Basically [the Facebook groups are] just a place to talk to other Truman students, to share some laughs, make memes and at the end of the day, it’s all about those connections and staying in touch with the people you meet in college because they’ll be your best friends later in life,” Neely said.