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'Felt a lot more loved': Instagram account documents student life and spreads positivity

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Emilyn Steele, first year, takes photos of Hawa Tejansie, Anoshay Shah and Aamina Chaudhry in front of Wilson Library on Feb. 14, 2024.

In January, UNC first-year Emilyn Steele began posting pictures of other students she met on campus on the Instagram account @unclovesyou.

The account highlights random students that Steele feels drawn to, and each post is captioned with a message of appreciation toward the featured students. 

Steele said she felt compelled to create the account after seeing multiple posts on Yik Yak about students feeling lonely and finding it difficult to connect with others. 

“That’s something that I feel like I’ve experienced, too,” she said. “I have social anxiety, which is really hard sometimes to push past that, and so even though I’ve been doing this for just a couple weeks, I’ve really opened up and it’s become a lot easier to just approach random people and be able to talk to them.” 

Steele said she gained a new perspective after experiencing a seizure last year, and realized that life is not as awkward or deep as people often make it out to be. 

One of the goals of the account is to promote kindness and discussion surrounding mental health, she wrote in her first post. Steele said she hopes that through her account, students on campus will be able to recognize that the way they view themselves may not reflect how others view them. 

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Emilyn Steele, first year, takes photos of Hawa Tejansie, Anoshay Shah and Aamina Chaudhry in front of Wilson Library on Feb. 14, 2024.

“They shouldn’t be too critical of themselves or worry too much about everything because there is somebody who is going to find beauty inside and outside of you, no matter what you’re doing,” she said. "Because I approach people in the most random situations." 

UNC first-year Anja Kristoffersen was featured on the account in a post with her friends. She was watching "Teen Wolf" in the lounge of their dorm when Steele asked to join. 

Steele took a photo of the friends and wrote a caption which Kristoffersen described as the "nicest thing someone's ever said."

“It was nice to know that someone thought it was sweet that we hung out and we invite people to watch movies with us and stuff," Kristoffersen said.  

In the caption, Steele wrote that Kristoffersen and her friends reminded her of nostalgic summer days at the pool when she played mermaids and laughed until her stomach hurt under the warmth of the sun. 

Ava West, a first-year also featured in that post, said she appreciated that Steele had been so kind and the personalized caption took her and her friends by surprise.

“When she came and talked to us, she ended the discussion with, ‘I just want to let you know that you guys are all beautiful.' And so she made us feel all really loved," West said. "Especially seeing the caption afterwards, we all felt a lot more loved."

Steele said that she feels more confident approaching and talking to people after starting her account. Having the camera with her also gives her an excuse to be vocal about mental health, she said.

Asking for help, she said, is a noble thing and all struggles are valid.

UNC Loves You had a collaboration with the UNC Crochet Frogger — who brightens students' days with crochet frogs hidden around campus — on Valentine’s Day, a holiday that Steele recognized as a big moment for loneliness.

Steele said she was nervous about the collaboration, where she took photos of participating students during the crochet frogger's giveaway in Polk Place. She typically only approaches one or two people at a time, but she said she appreciated the opportunity to get out of her comfort zone during the event. 

“I hope everybody else recognizes too that I am anxious in those moments, so it’s fine for them to be anxious in those moments as I’m taking the picture,” she said. "We’re all anxious in this together."

@dthlifestyle | lifestyle@dailytarheel.com

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