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The Scarlet & Black

Kids these days!

Grinnell’s class of 2024 use Discord to connect and communicate. By Tess Kerkhof.

Although they’ve never lived on Grinnell’s campus, first-year students have found a way to virtually gather and form a supportive community using Discord, an online platform where users can easily share messages, images and voice recordings on a server housing a range of channels curated to specific topics.

The Discord server for the class of ’24 was started in early 2020, when COVID-19 outbreaks had not yet led to the closure of campus and the need for socially distant classes. At this point, prospective first years used the platform to seek out other students eager to begin their first year on campus in the Fall of 2020. Many in this initial group of students used the Discord server to set up Dungeons & Dragons campaigns, forming small groups of dedicated players who met regularly to play the popular role-playing game online.

When the news arrived that classes would not be held on campus in the Fall, the Discord server became a refuge for first years seeking a way to connect and form the community now unavailable to them in person. “We kind of stumbled into creating this community online,” Alicia Levine ’24 said, a member of one of the original D&D campaigns.

Alicia Levine ’24 says that as a group moderator, she relies on established rules to keep the chats friendly. Photo contributed by Alicia Levine.

Quickly, channels began to pop up on the server reflecting a myriad of topics and interests. Some channels are academic based; one is dedicated to students sending their essays for editing tips and another for students studying French. There’s a channel for international students and another for members of the LGBT+ community. Other channels are focused on cooking, astrology, anime or sports. One channel doesn’t have a specific topic, but instead is a place for people to just chat about whatever is on their minds.

While some channels exist to foster discussion or share memes, others host virtual events. In one channel dedicated to D-list horror movies, students discuss and then stream these awkwardly bad films as a group.

“It’s most fun to watch those kinds of movies with other people so you can react to them,” said Sarah Bryan ’24.

This desire for a feeling of closeness, even the virtual proximity manufactured over the internet, is shared by many students active on Discord. Levine shared that she needed a way to communicate with fellow first years to feel less lonely.

“I had several other first years and myself kind of say … ‘I don’t know where I would be without this Discord,’” she said.

For Levine, Discord not only brought her closer to fellow Grinnellians socially but actually led to her renting a house with friends she met through her D&D campaign. Levine moved into a house in Oglesby, Illinois with fellow first years Lup Johnston, Finn Dierks-Brown and Phil Tyne. Though none of them are originally from Oglesby, hailing instead from Chicago, Maine and Iowa, respectively, together they found a piece of Grinnell in Northern Illinois.

Another important aspect of the class of ’24 Discord group is that students can help each other navigate the unfamiliar college experience. When someone has a question about registering for classes, they can quickly send a message to a general information chat and receive a relatable response. “They might be nervous to talk to the advisor,” Bryan said, but with Discord, “they can ask questions of their peers first.”

I had several other first years and myself kind of say … ‘I don’t know where I would be without this Discord.’ – Alicia Levine ’24

Even though the server is only accessible to first years, except for a few members of the class of ’25 currently on a gap year, an emphasis is placed on creating and maintaining a safe and secure online environment. Several students act as moderators and watch the channels to mediate discussions before they become arguments and insure anything that needs a trigger warning has one.

“We don’t want anyone to feel excluded or to feel like they are in an environment that’s not going to be welcoming to them,” said Levine, one of the server’s moderators. One channel, titled “ground-rules”, highlights the purpose of the server as creating community. One post reminds users that everyone on the server is a student of Grinnell and even links to the 2020-21 student handbook, encouraging everyone to read and abide by its guidelines.

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Nadia Langley, Editor in Chief
Nadia Langley is a fourth year majoring in history and French. Her favorite historical French quote is: "Literally I didn't say that, that's so cray," -- Marie Antoinette, 1793.
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