Chubby, cute, and overly friendly to anyone that walks past, the Michigan State University squirrels have a whole new meaning to anyone with a phone. Students like Alexis Zarend stand off the beaten path, feeding the critters with whatever they have on hand, their cameras pointed and ready for a photo opportunity. Zarend is a freshman, recording a sociable squirrel eating from her hand, tiny teeth taking the cracker from her fingers on her way to class.
The video she takes is then sent to the Instagram account, Qualitysquirrelsofmsu, where thousands of MSU students have their squirrel encounters featured daily. This account is just one of many that have popped up in the year since in-person learning resumed.
“With the squirrels page specifically, it’s nice to take a little break and just have a place to look at cute little animals,” said Zarend, spending her first year on campus following the MSU-centric Instagram accounts, “I think these accounts are just a fun way for people to engage more in the MSU community, specifically in an open, online setting.”
Accounts like Qualitysquirrelsofmsu, Msufoodcritics, and Michiganstateaffirmations dominate the feeds of those who attend the school. The variety of content draws in masses of students to view, like, and comment on the posts, pushing the owners of each account to the top of many feeds.
“We have gotten some of the funniest videos and pictures ever over the years. I almost wish we made an album of them. People will even send us TikTok videos about squirrels, and it’s cool to know they thought of us enough to direct message us,” one admin of the Qualitysquirrels account since 2018 says, “Even though we remain anonymous on this account, it is still so nice to interact with everyone meaningfully!”
Students behind the accounts find experience behind the screen, the MSU YikYak Instagram account owner being a prime example. Hired by the company themselves, they added ‘Campus Herder,’ to their resume last January when they became the head of the page. These students publish the posts from the anonymous app daily and interact with the students who send them in.
“I message with a lot of students on Instagram when they send in post submissions and have encountered so many kind-hearted individuals. Even though I am anonymous, and these people have no idea who I am, they treat me with so much respect and spread positive energy,” they said, their Instagram full of fellow Spartans posts, “I have also learned a lot of skills as a social media intern that I have implemented into my other marketing job and public relations leadership position for an organization I’m a part of.”
Others use the pages as an escape, such as sophomore Abigail Koshosheka, showing off her followed users. The long list is mixed with her friends and the MSU-centric Instagram accounts she interacts with.
“I think that to me, these accounts are a good stress reliever,” she said as the names of pages flashed by, “MSU Affirmations would always post about finals or things that just collectively sucked at times, and it was a way to make light of some situations and joke, like with the first three weeks of school online.”
Some content creators like Msufoodcritics made their accounts for fun, finding joy in sharing experiences with the vast student population at MSU. Their followers reach well into the thousands. Some aim to inform their peers through their humorous posts, all while having a fun hobby away from their sometimes-taxing studies. Pages made for fun became so much more for the people who run them.
“The idea of making an Instagram account reviewing the dining halls started out as a joke, but then we realized it might actually be fun, so we gave it a shot!” an admin from Msufoodcritcs said, “We provide the comic relief needed to get through a bad day in the dining hall.”
As the semesters go on, and students like Jesse Menard traverse the extensive pathways on campus, the sense of community stays with the content of the pages. Affirming messages, funny squirrel photos, and reviews of what’s being served in the cafeterias on campus remain available to view over the summer. There are so many new ideas and new accounts waiting for the fall as the weather gets warmer.
“It’s such a great distraction after the world has been so weird for the past few years,” the then-freshman said, looking at creating a page to use for the coming school year, “It’s a step away from such serious topics. We can sit back and laugh at a post, not worrying about everything that’s happening around us.”