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‘Domers on a bench’ Instagram page shares student stories

| Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Aiming to better connect the Notre Dame community, an Instagram account called “Domers on a Bench,” launched with its first post last week.

“Domers” was modeled after popular photoblog “Humans of New York,” which features candid snapshots of New Yorkers and shares their stories.

ND Listens, which works alongside the University’s Development Office and keeps in contact with alumni and friends of the University, started the project. Camila Gonzalez, a senior student ambassador at ND Listens, said the department hopes “Domers on a Bench” has an impact on the Notre Dame community similar to “Humans of New York.”

“What I like about ‘Humans of New York’ is that it catches people’s attention and it lets people know about the diversity and the different types of people in New York,” Gonzalez said. “So ‘Domers’ is a really great way for members of the Notre Dame community to see the diversity that we have and hear from a bunch of different backgrounds.”

Since its first post, “Domers on a Bench” has amassed over 250 followers and provided seven snapshots and personal stories from Notre Dame students on a variety of topics.

Junior student ambassador Emily Figueroa said to many of the staff at ND Listens, “Domers on a Bench” seemed like a good way to engage both current students and alumni.

“We just want to use Instagram to spread candid stories about students on campus and student life here … not just students but faculty and campus visitors because you hear over and over again how interesting everyone is on this campus and everyone’s doing something unique,” Figueroa said. “The idea is, if you follow the Instagram [account], you’ll get those stories as a student, but you’ll also get those stories when you graduate because it’s going to be ongoing and a way for you to connect with the University after that.”

Senior manager Melvin Osanya said the name “Domers on a Bench” came from chemistry professor and dean emeritus Emil Hoffman, who died in 2015. Hoffman was known for being open to hearing anyone and everyone’s stories on campus, Osanya said.

“[Hoffman] was really beloved by students [and] would hold office hours so that anyone who wanted to talk to him could come in. And after he retired he still lived in South Bend, so then he would just hold unofficial office hours on benches around campus, so that students who still wanted to talk to him could come talk to him,” Osanya said. “So that was kind of inspiration for the idea of calling it ‘Domers on a Bench.’ … It was kind of like a living memory, and just to come around and have those conversations with people.”

Osanya leads a team of about 30 students who are student ambassadors for the page and for ND Listens. The account posts three times a week — Monday, Wednesday and Friday — and will publish throughout the summer as well. Osanya said one of the project’s goals is to make the student body more relatable.

“Every time you read a Notre Dame newsletter, it’s about a kid who came from ‘x’ situation and accomplished ‘x’ and you read it and think, ‘Wow.’ Even though everyone here [is] so smart and talented, you feel like you’re not as good because someone has this amazing story,” he said. “So sure, we’re going to tell some amazing stories on there, but at the same time, there could be a story about someone who is just like, ‘I’m missing my dog today.’ It’s something to make sure that we all stay grounded and remember that we’re also kids here at same time.”

Gonzalez said she views the page as a means for Notre Dame students to be open and vulnerable.

“I think you can learn a bunch from following [it],” she said. ”The students who are getting interviewed are usually very honest, and Notre Dame students often don’t admit they’re struggling, so I feel like ‘Domers’ is a very honest response to what students commonly struggle with, like mental health and school work. It’s really nice to hear someone openly say ‘I also struggle with this, you are not alone.’”

Lisa-Maria Legg, senior student ambassador, said the team is also focused on preserving the candid aspect of the page, making sure its stories stay authentic and honest. When interviewing people, ambassadors try to ask specific questions people might not have thought about before, she said.

“I think the stories themselves are very interesting, and you can get a more candid account of what people are going through,” Legg said. “Since we are students approaching other students, they usually feel a little more comfortable speaking and [then] we can get some really interesting, honest stories.”

For now, Figueroa said, “Domers on a Bench” hopes to increase its followers and help alumni stay involved at the University.

“I think we definitely want to improve our follower base and then we also want to reach out and make it known to alumni of the University — because I know that’s sometimes a hard platform to reach — and that’s our goal with ND Listens, essentially,” Figueroa said. “The emphasis of it is to focus on the people who make this place so great … the people who you wouldn’t hear about day to day each have their own special story.”

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About Mariah Rush

Mariah is a senior majoring in American Studies and minoring in Journalism, Ethics and Democracy. She is from the great city of South Bend, and serves as Managing Editor of The Observer. You can find her always on Twitter at @mariahfrush.

Contact Mariah