By Yasmeen Aslam
Before the school year began, Samir Macklai was worried the pandemic would hinder his chances to connect with new people and make friends like he normally would in person. This all changed for the first-year graphic communications management student when he was messaged by My RyeU on Instagram—an account that showcases student talent—for permission to be featured on their page.
As soon as his work was published on the account, he received three direct messages from fellow students wanting to connect and talk. “I actually developed a few friends, which was probably one of the best things ever because it grew my network of people,” he said.
Student relationships have become increasingly important during the pandemic, with everyone stuck inside, unable to experience the normal university life filled with people buzzing around campus. Despite the lack of in-person communication, Ryerson students are still finding ways to befriend each other and form meaningful connections virtually.
My RyeU creates a space for students to learn about and follow each other, forming a small community online.
“I’m pleasantly surprised with how many friendships I’ve made and the kind of bonds that can still be developed, even though we are still all at home,” said Macklai.
With just over 500 followers on Instagram and close to 1, 000 newsletter subscribers, My RyeU is a directory where students can connect through different social media platforms, such as Instagram and TikTok. They also share Ryerson students’ talent and artwork with their subscribers and social media followers. My RyeU features photography, paintings, digital art, short films and more in its newsletter and social media
“I felt there is a real need for a platform that helps Ryerson students find and connect with each other, no matter where they are during this pandemic”
The site was created by Gavin Ouyang, who studied applied chemistry and biology at Ryerson in 2003 before transferring to the University of Toronto. Ouyang launched My RyeU in early February to provide opportunities for students to meet and form friendships, just as they would if they were on campus.
Ouyang said he saw how COVID-19 and online learning was “sucking the life out of the university experience—all from home with little interaction with professors and classmates.” He decided to create My RyeU to help recreate aspects of the university experience. “I felt there is a real need for a platform that helps Ryerson students find and connect with each other, no matter where they are during this pandemic,” he said.
Last month, Kaitlyn Mitchell was scrolling through her Instagram feed when she came across a video posted on My RyeU of a fellow Ryerson student’s artwork. The student had created a collage dedicated to her favourite artist, J-Hope from BTS. The collage, made by third-year media production student Brenessa Roach, was featured in one of the posts highlighting students’ creativity.
Being a huge fan of BTS herself, Mitchell immediately reached out to Roach by messaging her on Instagram, complimenting her artwork. From their initial exchange, the two became fast friends, bonding over their love of the South Korean band.
Mitchell finds that the art on the My RyeU page has been a main contributor in facilitating community for her because of the vulnerability it can showcase. “When you put [art] out there and people like it, you connect with them so well and it’s so nice. I think it’s really good that way.”
“It’s just that hope of eventually we’ll be able to see each other in person”
Trinity Wong, a third-year film studies student, does modelling and embroiders her own tote bags, crewnecks and hoodies for her small business. She uses My RyeU to share her artwork and meet new people.
Wong said she loves seeing students’ small businesses, films and other creative projects being shared on the site. “Knowing the similarities that you share through creativity or art makes you feel more at home,” she said.
“I’ve met so many people through one little platform that you never would have gotten a chance to meet in person,” Wong added.
Students are also finding new ways to connect within their programs outside of the virtual classroom. First-year performance production student Alycia Wheeldon has gotten to know a lot of people in her small program of only about 50 students through Discord, where the cohort holds study sessions and works together online. In this setting, they’re able to help each other with work and provide feedback, just as if they would in person.
“It’s been really good because if anyone needs help, someone chimes in…it’s just very opening and welcoming,” she said.
Ouyang stressed the importance of making student connections now more than ever. “Staying connected not only is good for one’s mental health and social life, but also fuels personal growth,” he said. “People we interact and connect with constantly give us new ideas, inspirations and constructive feedback.”
With all of these new bonds and relationships made during the pandemic, students are looking forward to meeting in person once everything gets back to normal. Wheeldon said one of the main things she’s excited for is meeting all her new friends and peers in the fall, if classes resume in person.
“It’s just that hope of eventually we’ll be able to see each other in person, even if we can’t give each other hugs, but we’ll be able to be in person,” she said.
“We’ll be able to work together, laugh, joke. Just see each other in person instead of just on a video call. That definitely gives me hope.”