Student influencers promote social issues, businesses using digital media

Media Credit: Portrait of Ethan Somers by Camille Desanto| Photographer, Portrait of Jay Xu by Athena Masthoff | Photographer, Portrait of Natalie Geisel by Kate Carpenter | Photographer

Updated: Sept. 30, 2019 at 12 p.m.

While some students use social media to post about their night out, others use digital networks to influence others on social and political issues.

Social media networks and other digital platforms like personal blogs and websites have opened a platform for young voices to grow a large following of people who support issues like LGBTQ rights and gun control. Whether it is starting a new business venture or advocating for a social issue, seniors Ethan Somers and Natalie Geisel and junior Jay Xu have capitalized on the chance to develop a digital following and promote their passions.

Ethan Somers

After beginning college at 16 years old at Red Rock Community College in Lakewood, Colo., Somers transferred to GW as a 19-year-old senior studying history and philosophy. But in between his studies, Somers is assembling youth all over the country to end gun violence using Twitter and Instagram.

Somers said his passion for political activism began in 2018 shortly after a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida killed 14 students and three school staff members. He said the injustice of the act inspired him to advocate for gun control through social media platforms.

“Gun violence has existed in this nation forever, and it’s been a real issue forever, but it wasn’t apparent to me the devastation it could cause until I saw those students die in those classrooms and realized it could be me next time,” Somers said. “I think that was what drew me to that issue specifically.”

Camille Desanto| Photographer

Somers went on to organize a Colorado statewide march in August 2018 protesting the National Rifle Association. Somers said he was also drawn to the March For Our Lives movement – a student-led demonstration that supports legislation to prevent gun violence – and helped form the D.C. chapter. He led the organization’s communications team until March and advises Colorado’s March For Our Lives chapter, he said.

More than 10,000 users follow Somers’ Twitter account, and more than 7,200 users follow his Instagram account. On social media, he posts updates about his work with March For Our Lives, encourages his followers to attend rallies and events and asks for feedback about what the D.C. chapter should do next.

“If my work is able to encourage more young people to speak out and get involved in their specific issue, whether it’s gun violence or climate change, whatever issue they might care about, encouraging those people to step up can radically change the landscape in that particular fight,” Somers said.

Jay Xu

Xu, a junior majoring in international business, never considered himself a fashion influencer. But his Instagram-led business, @gwthrift, has gained more than 1,700 followers since it launched last fall.

Within his first week on Instagram, Xu said he sold 10 articles of clothing that he curated from different thrift stores in the DMV area. More than 180 posts later, Xu said he continues to provide an “alternative method of fashion shopping” through a “convenient” platform: social media.

Athena Masthoff | Photographer

When Xu saw an opportunity his sophomore year to bring vintage clothing pieces to students and the greater D.C. community, he created his resale platform. He said he has an “influence in fashion” on campus because he sees students wearing the clothing posted on his Instagram account.

Xu said he has also begun expanding his business to Facebook. He used the platform to promote a pop-up shop with the GW Fashion Club in University Yard late last month, he said.

“I am just really happy to see people are able to enjoy what I bring, what I share and the style I bring out to people, but to be influential in the fashion industry, it comes down to having an idea that is different,” Xu said.

Xu said that his platform’s popularity increased “exponentially” because his current customers often repost their purchases on their own Instagram pages, which introduces the business to other students.

“Anyone who mentioned me in their posts was able to bring something to the page,” he said.

Natalie Geisel

Geisel, a senior majoring in women’s studies, turned her passion for LGBTQ rights into action with a blog. She said she wanted to use her platform as a way to inform people about issues relating to women’s studies and queerness.

She said she found her footing in the blogging world during her junior year of high school when she launched “Fractured Aesthetic” to write about culture, music and fashion. In the past year, she said everything on the blog is “LGBTQ-oriented in some way,” like her pieces “Why Queer Girl Bands Were What My 15-Year-Old Self Needed” and “King Princess Reminded Me to Love My Gayness.”

Geisel’s blog garnered an average of about 3,000 views during its most active months between March 2016 and November 2018. But she said that after interning for The Thirlby – a health and wellness inclusive website – last semester, she began her own column on the website called “Camp Thirlby.”

Kate Carpenter | Photographer

Geisel, who is also a dancer, said that since launching her own column on the platform, her posts have received an average of about 60,000 views per month. Her content focuses on queer culture for college- and high school-aged audience, writing about topics like queer online dating and queer YouTube users.

Geisel said she aims to normalize queerness through her blog and make people feel comfortable in their own skin. She also promotes issues she is passionate about on Instagram, posting about new content uploaded to her blog and dancing and travel.

“I like to think that my writing influences people, especially for the platform I have now, which is mostly geared toward younger people,” Geisel said. “I think it’s really cool to have writing for queer audiences because it’s such a small field.”

She said she doesn’t want people to think they are “outsiders” if they identify as queer – a sentiment she expresses through her writing.

“I want people to just use my content to know that they are not alone, which is kind of cliche, but it’s generally definitely what I want,” Geisel said.

This post was updated to correct the following:
The Hatchet incorrectly reported that Ethan Somers is the communications director for GW’s chapter of March For Our Lives. He served in the position until March. We regret this error.

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