The University's most bejeweled student organization started with a Yik Yak message.
Fourth-year Batten student Olivia Beam posted a message on the anonymous sharing app asking whether other students would be interested in creating a Taylor Swift-focused club on Grounds. In a matter of seconds, she received a reply from second-year Engineering student Emily Spradley, a fellow Swift enthusiast who expressed interest in helping Beam create the group.
The pair began to brainstorm events to bring Swift fans together. They wanted to create a club for students with a shared love for Taylor Swift’s prolific, cross-genre discography.
After assembling their executive team, Beam and Spradley applied for Swifties at U.Va. to become a Contracted Independent Organization formalizing their club status. The application process required Beam and Spradley, now co-presidents, to document attendance at their early events, submit a list of their executive board members and draft a club constitution. The Student Council approved their application last semester.
Becoming a CIO granted Swifties at U.Va. access to University event spaces and financial support. Rather than pay out-of-pocket for food and decorations — as they did for their first few events — the executive board can now apply for Student Council funding to help cover their expenses.
In the era of the Eras Tour and “Taylor’s Version” re-recordings, Taylor Swift is more visible than ever, and “Swiftie” has become somewhat of a loaded term. For some, the term evokes images of obsessive fan behavior and complicated conspiracy theories. Swifties at U.Va. deemphasizes this kind of Swift-mania. Instead, the club focuses on building community around a common interest.
Beam says the group is not interested in worshiping Swift — instead, they offer a space for fans to share their love of Swift’s work and “bond with other people.”
Only one semester after its serendipitous beginning, Swifties at U.Va. has quickly grown bigger than the whole sky, with nearly 400 students now in the club chat on GroupMe and almost 600 followers on their Instagram account.
First-year College student Julia Shuttleworth joined Swifties at U.Va. last September by accident. Looking for the GroupMe chat for her dorm hall, she stumbled upon the Swifties’ chat and decided to go to their “Red (Taylor’s Version)” listening party.
“It’s really great to just be able to have fun with a lot of people that have a common interest,” Shuttleworth said. “It’s a space that's very focused on joy.”
With their new CIO status, the club’s co-presidents look forward to expanding this joy to even more students. Hosting events in spaces on Grounds will make future Swiftie gatherings more convenient for younger members to attend.
“One of the big things we were excited about with becoming a CIO is being able to book places that are more accessible for first years, because I know places like the Corner are a little bit of a trek,” Spradley said.
Achieving CIO status makes it easier for the organization to collaborate with other student groups on large-scale events. In October, second-year College student Quinn Connor — a Swiftie on the University Programs Council — invited Beam and her team to organize a “1989 (Taylor’s Version)” release party. Complete with friendship bracelet-making stations, a life-sized cardboard cutout of Taylor and a raffle for “1989” sweatshirts, the UPC and Swifties of U.Va. release party brought a crowd of excited fans to 1515 for the most highly attended Swiftie event of the entire semester.
Smaller club gatherings over the fall semester included a “Reputation Stadium Tour” watch party, a “Swiftsgiving” potluck and a winter semi-formal with plenty of Swift’s music on the playlist. At a cozy listening party held in Beam’s apartment, “Red (Taylor’s Version)” played in the background as Swifties carved pumpkins and baked chai-flavored cookies — a recipe Swift posted to her Tumblr account.
“We'll have a whole in-depth conversation about, like, ‘what's the most underrated song? What's over-hated? What's your favorite album?’” Beam said.
When asked about why Swift’s music brings people together, the Swifties at U.Va. pointed to nostalgia and the license to fully experience emotion.
“[Swift’s music] continues to be something that you feel like can grow with you,” Shuttleworth said. “It spans so many different genres… and yet you can still feel the common thread of allowing yourself to deeply feel things. It can be something really complex or it can be an emotion that's really simple, but [Swift’s music] allows you to sit with that for a moment.”
Beam calls Swift’s catalog “the soundtrack of my life.”
“A lot of people can resonate with the fact that we just listen to Taylor Swift all the time. And I think it's very unifying,” she said.
In the next few months, the Swifties of U.Va. look forward to expanding their outreach, and they invite anyone with an interest in Swift’s music to join upcoming events like Taylor Swift karaoke and a “Lover” album themed Valentine’s Day party. Long live the Swifties!