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Tik Tok is my unlikely hero

April 24, 2020

A little over a month ago, I left school for spring break. Little did I know that not even a week later I would be asked to pack my dorm room, say goodbye to my friends during a short visit and complete my first year of college from home.

This felt like the end of the world to me. I had finally found a steady rhythm at school, and for the first time since moving in, I felt completely comfortable. But my worries over losing six weeks of my precious four years of college, never solidifying new relationships and leaving my projects unfinished proved insignificant.

Every day, I am reminded of my privilege as I watch as the COVID-19 infection and death rates rise, small businesses close one after the other and families across the world are torn apart by disease. My only job is social distancing. To isolate within my house and help flatten the curve.

But does this mean that my feelings due to displacement are invalid?

College students across the country are grappling with the same question. We sit inside our homes, helpless to the pandemic spiraling outside and isolated from the lives we were all beginning to lead. We have missed out on studying abroad, and we are almost all guaranteed to miss out on graduation ceremonies and work opportunities. But these are not complaints that we are empowered to voice. And, frankly, they shouldn’t be at the top of anyone’s laundry list of concerns. But that does not mean that our feelings aren’t legitimate.

We may not be those most at risk, and we will likely not be most affected by the virus. But we are all experiencing a unified wave of panic, as we are pulled out of our communities and asked to readjust to lives that many of us never expected to return to.

Having been sent back home to every corner of the world, college students are using Tik Tok to connect during the time of the greatest global disconnect that many of us have experienced. It has also given us a creative outlet during otherwise complete constriction. The app is filled with ways individuals are occupying their time during quarantine. From dances and music tutorials to art projects and challenges, users are helping one another cope with restrictions. On Tik Tok, we find solace in the jokes about Zoom classes, cleaning out dorm rooms on a week’s notice and living in the clothing left by the wayside in our childhood bedrooms.

Unlike Instagram, Twitter or Facebook, where a user’s profile is confined to their persona—funny, candid, posed, happy, polished—Tik Tok is a space where users can try anything. A friend of mine whose Instagram is a carefully curated space for selfies in proper lighting and deliberate angles recently posted a short film about rubber ducks on her Tik Tok. Admittedly, I laughed harder than I should have. I appreciated this moment of lighthearted creativity that my life has recently felt void of.

COVID-19 is devastating our globe in ways that we cannot yet fully comprehend. Thousands of people are falling ill and passing away every day. Healthcare workers are asked to work around the clock in high-risk environments. Among other immediate concerns, our economy cannot sustain these restrictions.

However, there is another problem that is not discussed nearly as much: mental health. Confined to the indoors, we are asked to live without physical touch, in-person social interaction and other sources of happiness on which we otherwise rely.

Tik Tok has helped alleviate some of these feelings of loneliness. It is a platform which permits typically discouraged behavior such as ranting. We are excited to spend an afternoon learning a 30-second dance. We are challenged to lead our families in themed dinners and try out new hacks and recipes that would otherwise seem futile. We are inspired to revel in the small ways that we can enjoy life from home.

My parents are not thrilled with the amount of time that my sisters and I have spent on Tik Tok. Nor are they always on board with the short videos that we periodically send of families doing ridiculous activities. But I take comfort in the fact that I can turn to it for a laugh, for new ideas or simply to feel a little less alone.

Halina Bennet is a member of the Class of 2023.

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