By Nicole Lafond
The #onuchapel hashtag is a needed aspect of life at Olivet, according to Chapel Worship Coordinator, Joey Ramirez.
“[Onuchapel] gives students a voice and it’s something that started in a grassroots way … it is a good thing and a bad thing because people can say whatever they want,” Ramirez said.
And tweeting whatever they want is exactly what students do.
The hashtag first emerged in January of 2010, according to the Twitter analytics website, Topsy.com. The first recorded tweet posted to the #onuchapel hashtag was written by, then senior, Benjamin Coots.
“I would use it to point out funny things that happened in chapel. At the time not many people used it so I would vent about stuff,” Coots said. “I remember #onuchapel turning much more positive the next year when it wasn’t just a small group of us using it, so that’s when I stopped.”
Coots said he has read the hashtag a bit since he left and called the nature of the tweets “much more positive” than when it first started.
Over the past four years the hashtag has grown in popularity. Although the university does not officially endorse it, any student sitting in chapel knows about the hashtag, University Chaplain, Mark Holcomb said.
“The onuchapel hashtag is a part of who we are, it’s not going away. I think that’s representative of the world we live in. Social media is a part or our world, and it is up to us whether we use it responsibly or not.” Holcomb said.
While less than 4 percent of the student body tweets to the #onuchapel hashtag on a regular basis, on average, between 400 and 500 tweets are posted to the thread during a chapel service, according to Twitter analytics website, keyhole.com.
Ramirez, who reads #onuchapel tweets every other week, thinks the hashtag gives students the opportunity to be honest and begin discussions, but it also allows students the opportunity to critique without consequences, he said. Ramirez often comes across positive and negative critiques about chapel worship via twitter when he reads posts to the hashtag.
“I know that not everyone will be happy [with chapel worship] all the time and twitter is the outlet to say whatever you want without people really knowing who you are,” Ramirez said. “I don’t ever combat [critiques] with tweeting back at [students], I don’t think that ever fixes the problem.”
When Ramirez comes across negative tweets about chapel music or himself personally, he makes an active effort to meet with students and discuss questions or concerns they may have.
While Ramirez does not participate in #onuchapel tweets, he believes hashtags, overall, provide good opportunities to start conversations that need to be had, but most people do not use hashtags in a constructive way, he said.
“A tweet has no heart unless you know the person who tweeted. Until we know the heart of the person, a tweet isn’t going to change anything,” Ramirez said.
Junior Sierra Navarro, who has also been personally impacted by tweets posted to the #onuchapel hashtag, thinks students need to learn to be responsible for the things they post online.
“[We should] use it to impact the world in a positive way,” she said.
Navarro, who has been unofficially coined the Laughing Chapel Girl, said she knows she has a unique laugh and often laughs more when she feels like she can relate with a message.
Her laugh is often heard above all other laughs, or sounds, in chapel and many students have taken to Twitter to express their disdain or appreciation for the Laughing Chapel Girl. A hashtag was even made, #laughingchapelgirl, in September.
Navarro said she never noticed the tweets made about her to the #onuchapel hashtag until a friend told her about them. She ignored them until curiosity pushed her to sit down and read them all.
“I was laughing hysterically at them all, both positive and negative, and I made sure to favorite them,” she said. “It [didn’t] affect me negatively until it became personal.”
Although she appreciates the discussion the hashtag establishes, Navarro thinks twitter is the wrong place to express critiques.
“I like the positive and negative tweets because they help me see things the way other people view them … Frankly, a tweet is probably too short to help others to understand why you feel negatively about something. It doesn’t give you enough characters to explain yourself,” she said.
Holcomb shares a similar sentiment saying he decided early last Fall to stop reading #onuchapel tweets.
“I try not to read them at all, but will admit I do once or twice a semester out of curiosity. I don’t read them when I speak. Speaking is exhausting for me, so I don’t need to hear the critique in real time, neither do I want to go there to feel good about what I’ve said,” he said.
“Quite honestly, neither are good for me. They both lean toward co-dependency. I don’t think it’s a good practice to base whether what takes place in chapel is good or not based on 140 character sound bites,” Holcomb said.
While the #onuchapel hashtag may not have originally been developed for any particular purpose, Holcomb thinks the hashtag affects culture on campus by providing students a place for open discussion. This idea falls closely in line with the original intent of the hashtag.
Chris Messina, a social technology expert, was the first person to ever use a hashtag when he tweeted “how do you feel about using # (pound) for groups. As in #barcamp?” in August of 2007. He came up with the idea because he wanted to develop a virtual place for discussion via Twitter, according to hashtag.org.
“A hashtag is created by online users to discuss specific events and relevant issues. These are categorically arranged so that other online users can easily search for the topic and participate in the conversation, no matter where they are in the world,” Vanessa Doctor, a writer for hashtag.org wrote in a recent article on their website.
While the #onuchapel hashtag has evolved since it was first started by Coots and his friends, the purpose still falls in line with the universal role of the hashtag- to give social media users a safe place for commentary and discussion, Holcomb said.