Bringing Your Community Together Over Shared Experience

A class meets in a circle of blooming cherry trees.

All Reed alumni fondly remembers the cherry blossoms that bloom around campus come spring. There’s a feeling of release that accompanies their arrival—as sunshine returns and breaks through Portland’s grey winter, campus feels more alive. The cherry blossoms are a shared experience that unite Reedies of all ages.

For the first Switchboard, which we built at our alma mater, Reed College, we had to figure out how to convince of hundreds of students, faculty, and staff, and thousands of alumni to become Switchboarders. We started from scratch and without initial support from the administration.

We quickly realized that cultivating community is more than getting people to use a website. One part of community building is reminding people of their shared experience. We found that running an Instagram account to document both our outreach efforts and campus happenings in general was an effective way to bring together both busy students and far-flung alumni.

Our most popular photos, by far, were of the cherry blossoms.

This is a situation many who found their own Switchboards are likely to find themselves in—even if they do have institutional sponsorship, that institution, be it a college or university or other organization, will only have so many resources to spare.

Whether it falls to you to get a Switchboard off the ground, or you have to convince your community that a Switchboard is easy and worth it to support, time is a—perhaps the—limiting factor. Taking and sharing photos of your community—or paying a student an hour a week to do it for you—is a time-efficient way to reach a wide audience.

Especially when your campus is as beautiful as Reed’s.