About Campus: The University according to MBloggers

Illustration by Jessica Lax
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Published December 8, 2009

Back when the University hired student bloggers to attract prospective students, entries were limited to overly enthusiastic testimonials from model Wolverines. But the University’s MBlog, a blogging service for current students and University faculty and staff, offers another, more telling side of the University experience. With no guidelines dictating who can write or what they can write about, the website www.mblog.lib.umich.edu is a smorgasbord of everything from wacky campus anecdotes to constructive lessons on communication skills.

Some students use MBlog to reflect on class subjects in entries that are too personal for CTtools responses but too academic for personal journaling. One student in the School of Art and Design uses her blog, eye pea, as an online workshop to plan and chronicle her art projects — such as the construction of nine 7-to-12-foot moth costumes. But the blogger also portrays campus through the eyes of an artist, writing about the time she and a stranger drew on the sidewalk with chalk and the time she played Bob Dylan on her ukulele with a street musician on State Street. “I think the minute I saw him playing I understood realized (sic) that I was not trying to get somewhere,” she wrote. “I was not racing the clock, I didn't have a goal or desire other than to be where I was at that exact place and time.”

Other students use MBlog more as a personal journal instead of using a paper diary or a better-known blog host. On a host site as obscure as MBlog, one must wonder how public the bloggers really intend their writing to be. Take the blogger behind “My Little Space on the Web,” who writes about working as a secret shopper and discovering her grandfather has had a hair replacement operation, but hardly receives a comment to confirm any sort of readership.

The blog does express the unpredictable nature of student life at the University — even if this blogger’s life is stranger than most. Recounting a free palm-reading session, the blogger said the psychic told her she needed to see a doctor. Spurred by her friend’s superstition, the blogger followed the psychic’s advice and found out she was experiencing an ectopic pregnancy that could have killed her.

If you’re a fantasy sports fanatic and spend all your time checking up on the latest statistics, there is an MBlog for you, too. Or, if you like to deck out your dog in the latest fashions for strolls around Ann Arbor, an MBlog about stylish dog carriers can tell you what’s in for your pet. For budding foodies, there is an MBlog with recipes for dishes like oriental coleslaw and stir-fry. And if you’re into insects, there’s also a blogger who posts close and personal pictures of creepy crawlers.

MBlog hosts many single-entry blogs, too. Perhaps these authors have a burning desire to express just one particular profound thought that’s been itching at their psyches for quite some time. Or maybe they tried out the whole blog thing casually and forgot to do it again — who knows? But some of these one-hit wonders definitely add entertainment value to MBlog. The “Golden Fisticuffs” blog, for instance, contains as its sole entry an explanation of the blog’s name. The blogger reasons: “Why Golden Fisticuffs? ‘Fisticuffs’ is my favorite word. Golden sounded OK with it. That’s about it.” Another single-post blog that resonates with poeticism contains a single word: “bleh.” That one little word does seem to say a lot.

Some blogs are more informative than others. For instance, MBlog hosts blogs focused on drug importation laws, internship opportunities, event listings for students interested in statistics, articles on ways to quit smoking and financial aid advising. Schools at the University like the Nursing School, the School of Social Work and the School of Information, as well as student groups like Michigan Engineering Entrepreneurs and Alternative Spring Break, use MBlog as a resource to spread news and knowledge. You can even watch podcasts from University alums on the “True Blue Podsquad” blog.

Certain classes require students to use MBlog as part of their assignments. On one such blog, a freshman blogger complains and rants about her homework while she blogs as a requirement for that same class. Oh, the freedom of liberal arts classes! A high school student surfing the University’s Office of Undergraduate Admissions blogs would definitely not find that.

Some use MBlog as an online travel journal, posting pictures and itineraries, and blogging about the things that happened to them while they were abroad. One blogger who desperately tried to diet in India writes about how she ended up doing the exact opposite, when her “little pudge at the end of finals … morphed into a decidedly less cute bloated disaster.” Apparently, nothing is too personal for MBlog.

No matter what you are interested in reading, MBlog offers a colorful range of perspectives on the University experience. Between personal anecdotes of freak pregnancies, recipes for home-cooked meals, information on University schools and clubs and tips for how to quit smoking, MBlog seems to cover it all. With the freedom on the Internet to publish anything you see fit, it’s easy to see why so many decided to take a chance and get their voices out there. You can write whatever comes to mind, and the best part is that you can do it anonymously.