Category Archives: Features

Year After Floyd, Police Reform Advocates Seek Shared Ground

By Angie Tangarife
West New York, N.J.

Over the last year, protests and movements regarding police reforms have spiked. The outrage over the deaths of Black people at the hands of law enforcement was expressed through protests, writings, and petitions. Victims like George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, and Daunte Wright sparked a revolt against police bru-tality. 

Views of law enforcement vary greatly. Some believe police are necessary, others advocate for the complete abolition of law enforcement. However, there is common ground where some can agree: that law enforcement is not what it should be. On one hand, saying the police sys-tem is not what it should be can mean we need a system like this to exist, but the current organization is not ideal. On the other hand, this statement can also argue for police abolition.

These are the sides in which Kevin Lawrence, executive director of TMPA (Texas Municipal Police As-sociation), and Gina Feliz, rising senior at Princeton University and president of SPEAR (Students for Police Education Abolition and Reform), fall. Each brings their unique  opinions to the topic of police violence.  

Kevin Lawrence has served as a law enforcement officer for 22 years. Throughout his career he served as the Treasurer and President of  TMPA, and was also the Deputy  Executive Director from 2000 to  2010, now Executive Director of the  TMPA. He also worked with many  police departments. Lawrence has  been an involved officer, and uses his experiences to share his opinion.  Gina Feliz is Co-President of SPEAR which concentrates on anti-carceral  activism, police abolition, and law  enforcement reforms. SPEAR’s take  on police abolition is as Feliz states,  “what it sounds like: getting rid of  the police.” Adding that “as [they] exist now, there is no way to dis-entangle policing as an institution  from systemic historical racism.”  Feliz has been part of SPEAR for 3 years. She states that before college,  she never engaged in criminal justice, although she was heavily politically involved and aware. Currently  at Princeton, she is studying public  policy and has learned about the a harms of prison and policing, driving her to become the radical police abolitionist she is. 

Even with these two extreme beliefs, and how deeply involved each individual is with the cause they support, there is common ground. 

When asked about Black Lives Matter, Lawrence has an astonish-ing recall on his reaction to the murder of George Floyd. It was a normal evening sitting down in his bedroom. In the tranquility of his home, he was interrupted by his wife. Sounding dis-turbed, she told him to “watch this video,” Lawrence recalled. The video showed several officers kneeling on George Floyd. Lawrence’s wife, a former probation officer, stated that “it’s not like she has never seen this type of stuff before.” The video captures the mo-ment Floyd’s life is taken by Officer Chauvin, who kneeled on his neck for 9 minutes and 29 sec-onds. The start of the video seemed common to Lawrence; the kneel-ing technique is taught to officers to deal with individuals resisting arrest. But Lawrence became worried at the kneeling on Floyd’s body. As if there, he began talking to the phone. “OK, it’s time to get up. It’s time to move to the next phase,” Lawrence said, then words became yells of desperation as a fellow officer. He could not comprehend the lack of care the officers had for Floyd. Lawrence stated “look at what you’re doing to that man on the ground, but think what you are doing to nine hundred thousand other law en-forcement officers across this country… they’re all gonna be judged based off what you’re doing right now.”

The video was disturbing to thousands and went viral on social media. Similarly, Feliz was overwhelmed by the news. She made the de-cision to not watch the video nor share its con-tent. Lounging at her house, post-finals, in the middle of the pandemic, she found out about the incident through social media. The feeling of hopelessness drove her to contact a former SPEAR member and friend to organize events as well. 

Two individuals with opposite views on law enforcement, yet have similar reactions. The sudden news was like a blow to the stomach, as each realized law enforcement was not acting as it should. Over this, both advocates shared common ground.

DREAMers Band Together To Build Awareness, Find Allies

United We Dream

By Yarlin Morales
Brooklyn, N.Y.

Everyone wants the American Dream, whether they want to admit it or not. “DREAMers,” undocu-mented Americans who came to the United States before turning 17 and have legal protections under  the Deferred Action for Child-hood Arrivals (DACA) program, have found ways to support each other to achieve their own version of the American Dream through non-for-profit organizations like America’s Voice, United We Dream and Define American.

America’s Voice is an organization whose mission is to put America’s eleven million undocumented immigrants on a full path to citizenship by changing the political climate. Zachary Mueller, a digital communications manager at America’s Voice, says that it aims “to be a front door to the immigrants rights movement for folks that may or may not have any personal connections to immigrants.” To do this, he says America’s Voice tries “to drown a lot of the policy stuff and a lot of the confusing language that  can tend to get into the weeds.” Their main goal is to help stop xenophobic language before it starts, making it easier for immi-grants to tell their stories. With over 800,000 members, United We Dream is the largest immigrant  youth-led network in the country, according to José Muñoz, the organization’s national communications manager. The organization aims to ensure that the voices of their members, who are directly impacted by immigration policy, are heard across the media by pitching stories to reporters, training members, and  tracking the news. 

Some DREAMers have created chapters of orga-nizations in universities to help students covered by DACA. Marco Gonza-lez Blancas and Salvador Chavero Arellano, both recent Duke University graduates, served on the board of their campus’s Define America chapter. They were freshmen when then-President Trump dismantled DACA on September 5, 2017—a date Arellano says he will never forget. “That was when a lot of us—you know, freshman, sophomore, junior, seniors—got together, and we said something needs to be done. We need to fight.”

Define American’s “mission is to change the narra-tive of immigration in the United States, both legal and undocumented,” says Gonzalez. Through informing the Duke student body, they were able to create better allies. The group created an Undocumented Awareness Week with edu-cational and social events. They asked students to give up their student ID, “which literally gives them access to every building on cam-pus and allows them to buy food and all those things, [so] they could kind of ex-perience what it meant to be undocumented,” Gonzalez.  DREAMers have gone above and beyond to build awareness and allies. In doing so, they hope to find a pathway to their own American Dream: the dream of citizenship.

Students Aim To ‘Rewrite The Narrative’ About DREAMers

By Joyce Kim
La Cañada, Calif.

On September 5, 2017, a rainy Tuesday in Durham, North Carolina, Marco Gonzalez Blancas and Salvador Chavero Arellano, then freshman at Duke University, heard the news: DACA would be dismantled.

The Trump Administration’s announcement that it would end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program left nearly 800,000 “DREAMers”— young people who had entered the country un-lawfully as children—at risk of losing the legal protection granted to them by the program, which allowed them to defer deportation in renewable two-year periods, as well as apply for a driver’s license, social security number, and work permit.

“I remember the date exactly,” Arellano re-called. “That was when a lot of us—you know, freshman, sophomore, junior, seniors—got together, and we said something needs to be done. We need to fight.”

The students started Duke University’s chapter of Define American, an organization that “uses the power of narrative to humanize conversations about immigrants.” The newly-founded chapter included undocumented and DACA students, TPS (temporary protected status) students, and citizens who were allies. That year, the group lobbied the U.S. Congress to urge their representatives to keep the program.

“I really wanted to have more allies coming into the chapter,” said Gonzalez, who served as co-president of Duke’s chapter. “I think a lot of people, even at Duke, hadn’t met an undocumented person or DACA person. Or maybe they had, but those people that they had encountered throughout life hadn’t told them because they were afraid that they were going to be treated differently. So we took it as our mission to also inform and educate people more on topics re-lated to immigration.” The chapter’s initia-tives included educational and social events, such as dedicating a week to un-documented awareness, or tabling at the plaza on campus and asking students to give up their student ID for a period of time in order to simulate the experience of being undocumented. Gonzalez and Arellano say they received support from Duke’s administration. Days after Trump’s DACA decision, the president of Duke “told us that the institution would be behind us,” said Arellano. The administration funded the chapter’s trips to D.C., gave students access to Duke’s law clinic for individual assistance with renewing their DACA status and alerted students if Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was in the area, among other services. They also allowed students who didn’t qualify for work-study to receive grants and financial aid.

Despite Duke’s institutional support of the undocumented, Arellano says not all of the staff at Duke were well versed in the problems facing students like him. When he sought counseling at Duke’s Counseling & Psychological Services (CAPS) after his parents had to go back to Mexico, Arrelano recalls, “I remember talking about my experiences and my status, and the person [at CAPS] did not know how to help me. They were like, ‘Oh, why didn’t you just apply for citizenship?’ I think there was a huge limitation during the first half of my experience there.”

Since then, however, Define American’s chapter has done trainings for Duke administrators on how to support undocu-mented students, and Gonzalez and Arellano say that there has been an exponential change for the better. 

Even after all they’ve done, Gonzalez and Arellano don’t plan to stop working to improve conditions for America’s undocumented, whether or not they qualify for DACA.

“I think we need to fight for as many people as we can and rewrite the narrative that you need to be a perfect immigrant in order to belong here,” said Gonzalez. “We don’t stop the fight just because we get our papers.”

Teens Adapt To Rise In Online Activism

By Regina Roberts and Tryphena Awuah
Alexandria, Va. and Columbus, Ohio

Before social media, an activist was of-ten thought of as a protester or as an active participant in an organization. But social media has given all of its users a platform in which to voice their opinions, changing our perception of what an activist is. Instagram infographics have grown increasingly popular as a way to speak out against issues and bring awareness to peers. 

“Within my community, it has become more of a norm to post about issues you feel passionate about,” said Joyce Kim, 17, of La Cañada, Calif. “Personally, I used to be intimidated by activism but the pandemic and Instagram made me realize that you can participate in small ways.” This accessibility is part of the appeal of online activism, which al-lows everyone to readily communicate with their audience. Alexsis Tapia, 16, from River-dale, Md., said that social media activism “combats the stigma of adolescents not knowing enough to get involved and has al-lowed them to speak out.”

Because many users may only hear one perspective, they can easily be exposed to misinformation, as we have seen with claims of election fraud in 2020. This makes fact-checking essential. But the practice can be exhausting, with the flow of endless information making some, like Baby Cornish, 17, of Frederick, Md., want to “forego social media altogether.”

On Instagram, it’s all about the aesthetic: colors, fonts, and even the song playing in the background of a post. “Insta-gram has molded activism in an aesthetically pleasing type of way,” said Les-lie Nevarez, 18. Nevarez, who is from Brownsville, Texas, says that the actual information is often sec-ondary to eye-catching, bite-sized infographics, which contribute to the rise of performative activ-ism and make the harsh realities of the world seem like trends. “Before I post something on social media I make sure of two things: that it’s kind and informative,” she said. 

What really happens after we post? How can we know if we impacted someone at all? While on-line activism can be an easy starting point, Nevarez feels the real change comes from offline activism. Her city, Brownsville, has been hesitant in accepting the LGBTQ+ community, but it does have an organization that created a pride flag in June 2020 to place on its welcome sign. The flag only lasted a day before someone took it down and replaced it with “no LGBTQ” in spray paint.  This June, those who created the flag protested and organized events to reinstate it. Their efforts were successful and the flag remains on the welcome sign.

“If it hadn’t been for social media and those in-dividuals per-sisting,” Neva-rez said, “we wouldn’t have reached mem-bers of the community to create change.” Social media can also bol-ster local and nat ionw ide movement s , such as Black Lives Matter and Stop Asian Hate. These social justic initiatives have been amplified by social media and have brought about awareness across the country. Online activism has been a valu-able medium for activist organizations, although Nevarez believes that it alone can only accomplish so much.

News reaches members of the younger generation through their Instagram feeds faster than their television screens. With this overflow of information on global, national, and local issues, some social media users feel pressured not only to keep up, but to repost and spread awareness to appear in-formed. 

For teenagers like Kim, the pressure to post on social media is about keeping her audience informed on issues that do not receive extensive news coverage. In March, following the Atlanta spa shootings, Kim said that she was disheartened by the lack of awareness among her followers on social media. Many, she noticed,  glossed over the issue or ignored it alto-gether. During this time, she felt pressure to post. “If I don’t voice my opinion on this,” she recalled thinking, “then who will?” Posting about it online, she said, “has helped me find my voice as an advocate.”

In Pandemic, Drag Goes Online to Virtual Stage

Vivica C. Coxx

By Jada Jackson
Queens, N.Y.

“It was a lip-syncing competition, and everyone dared me to go as Macy Gray … basically with my natural hair, I like tied it back, I shaved, and I went out there and I performed the song called ‘I Try.’ And I got second place out of ten acts as a solo performer, lip-synching a boring song, and I really made it work.” 

This was the first time Vivica C. Coxx was able to dip her toes into the glorious and liberating world of drag. The drag queen and drag house matriarch had her first show at just 17 years old in her high school, North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics. This was the moment that Coxx was launched into a community full of love. Coxx was granted an opportunity of a lifetime. “[O]ne day I was sitting in an establishment, a bar. On my way to go… the owner of the establishment asked me if I knew any local queens who could open from Manila Luzon from RuPaul’s drag race. I’m over here with 10 years of amateur experience, I’m bold, why not say I can do it. They asked to see some pictures of me, I showed them a photo from Halloween … They said let’s do it … It was like this perfect storm for someone to step up. And I did.” The crowd loved her. She exceeded everyone’s expectations, including her own. “There’s this moment from that night, where you see that I realized this is what I was supposed to do.” That’s what the Drag community is about—freedom and self-expression.

Gay Bars like Roscoe’s Tavern, which opened on April 1, 1987. It was one of the first in Boystown, Chicago which helped create an LGBTQ neighborhood on the Northside of Chicago. At the time, it was rare to find a place where LG-BTQ people could be them-selves in public. Roscoe’s was bold to keep windows open to the streets. Today this isn’t important but at the time, “every other business was known for having their windows bro-ken out on the regular,” said Shawn Hazen, the Marketing & Special Events Manager for Roscoe’s Tavern. “When we started 30 plus years ago … we wanted people to be encouraged to you know … feel comfortable being an out queer person.” Roscoe’s was a place where people would feel safe to enjoy themselves.

Bars like Roscoe’s have been a refuge for Queer people for generations. It was a spiritual rejuvenation session. “[D]rag is church. A lot of people, they go to church  …  You go on Sunday, and you get your soul filled,” Coxx says to explain what drag is. Drag queens are the beacons of light for many in the darkness that this harsh world has created for those in the LGBTQ community.

That’s how it was before COVID-19 shut everything down. Without places to host drag shows, queens got creative. They weren’t discouraged by the pandemic, Coxx said, “for most drag performers everything didn’t fully shut down … I actually per-formed a lot during the pandemic, all from the comfort of my home.” Coxx enjoyed being able to put on a show without the physical constraints of a corset, heels, and foam padding. She embraced the change of scenery with her natural flair and extravagance. 

“However, there were times where I would be performing in my room and it was completely silent. I didn’t know if they were enjoying it … Could you imagine that?” Coxx asked. It changed what drag was about. The sense of family was left in the chat, no longer was she on a big stage with bright lights, where she felt, “this is home.” Now she was actually alone.

“COVID-19 was a very isolating experience … I spent a year and a half basically alone.” Despite it all, she survived and is still flourishing. Coxx recently performed her first in-person drag show performing as if everything was never shut down. Coxx, like many drag queens, and bars like Roscoe’s Tavern, adapted to the situation and were able to make it through. The community built before COVID was one of family, togetherness, and love for each other. That community has shown that it will remain whether virtually or in-person for years to come.

Pandemic Boosts Pet Adoptions

By Alyana Santillana
Brentwood, Calif.

Jake, a Jindo-terrier adopted by Laura Wager during the COVID-19 pandemic. | Credit: Laura Wagner

The COVID-19 pandemic hit fast and hard. In a matter of days, the entire world left their ordinary routines for a mandated stay-at-home order. Months of confinement inevitably took their toll on the masses. As a result, people found emotional support and companionship in man’s best friends: pets.

Laura Wagner, of Prospect Lefferts Gardens in Brooklyn, was fortunate enough to adopt a Jindo-terrier mix named Jake at the start of the pandemic. “It took until May until we actually got our dog. It was five weeks of applying for a dog and not getting one, and getting our hopes up,” Wagner said.

While the process of adopting her furry friend was long, the wait was well worth it. “Spending a lot of time with Jake probably helped us bond,” she said. “It provided a real structure for my physical life and that has really helped my mental health, as well as a structure  of things to do, because he’s so cute and so fun to be around, so that was nice as well.”

As life slowly begins its return to normalcy, Wagner and her family are in the process of helping Jake adjust to a post-pandemic routine. One of the steps is getting Jake used to be-ing alone in her apartment. “We’re working with a trainer on this thing called guaranteed departures, where you leave for like 10 minutes and come back, in-creasing the amount of time each day so that the dog gets used to knowing that when you leave, you’ll be back,” she said.

While Jake has become a valued member of Wagner’s family, the same cannot be said for many pets who were returned to stores or shelters as people began returning to their normal lives. “We saw a big spike in animal sales, but not any of the animal products. … Animals were being surrendered because people just didn’t know how to care for them any-more. A lot of the animals were being abused,” said Cynthia Salazar, a guest experience specialist at a PetCo location in Texas. “When everything opened up, we started seeing a lot of surrenders as a lot of people were coming back to their jobs,” she added.

While the lockdown undeniably changed the course of our lives and habits, the same goes for the ones we turned to for support.

For College Athletes, Payment for Name and Likeness Long Overdue

Imani Hill, playing Lacrosse for Delaware State University | Credit: Imani Hill

By Yasmin Mustefa

Federal Way, Wash.

Imani Hill never thought that she would play lacrosse. But her freshman year of high school, Hill’s basketball coach told her that she needed to participate in a spring sport to stay in shape for next season. An hour later, she pulled her out of class to speak with the lacrosse coach. 

“I’m just like, ‘I have no idea what lacrosse is,’” Hill said. But the coach con-vinced Hill to try. “I went out, and it was so interesting to me because of how unfamiliar it was. It was a really challenging task.”

By her junior year, several colleges were observing Hill. She decided to join Delaware State University’s Division I program in the fall of 2015, which she said was the only historically Black college or university (HBCU) at the time with a women’s lacrosse team. In 2019, while attending grad school at Auburn University in Alabama, where she is a current PhD candidate, she switched from player to head coach. 

Although she is no longer a coach for collegiate lacrosse, that breadth of ex-perience gave Hill a distinct perspective on the name, image, and likeness (NIL) laws that multiple states recently passed. The new laws allow college  athletes to use their name, image, or likeness for compensa-tion and prevents colleges and universities from pro-hibiting athletes to do so. 

While Hill acknowledged the “cool opportunities” the NCAA gives athletes, she’s glad players now have money-making opportunities she didn’t. “I think that it’s something that’s necessary  and something that really should have happened a long time ago,” she said.

“As a whole, sometimes we forget that the NCAA is a governing body, and ultimately they are a business. I think that some-times we kind of get that confused with an organization that supports athletes or wants what’s best for athletes.”

As a player, Hill practiced up to 20 hours a week, with additional hours of physical therapy, conditioning, and traveling. Players were given about a $500 stipend every season, she said, but that wasn’t enough to cover off-campus expenses.

Hill’s family lived close to Delaware State, and she remembers them filling up her dorm room with snacks and going home on weekends. “There are a lot of athletes who don’t have those luxuries. So literally their entire dependability is, like, on the university and what the university gives them,” she said. By contrast, the new laws could allow student-athletes to save money, help their families, or buy food, clothes, or school supplies.

At the same time, Hill also believes that the laws will continue to blur the line between college and professional athletes. She’s not sure how she feels about that. “How do we define those lines that let the world know that this person is still a college student before anything else?”

Lights, Camera, Zoom

By: Layla Hussein

Bronx, NY

BLOOD RUSHING. HEAD POUNDING. The rehearsals, sleepless nights, and vibrant stages consumed Meg Talay, a 29-year-old musician and singer-songwriter, before the premiere of Broadway musical “Hadestown.” 

Talay’s first show was March 11th, 2020. News regarding the pandemic filled the air, giving performers one question: Will Broadway shut down? Despite this, performers were confident the show would go on. Wash your hands, wear a mask, repeat. 

In the same week, 22-year-old Harvard graduate Allison Scharmann was the chair of the arts section in The Harvard Crimson. Life was a consistent routine for Scharmann reporting on arts and culture in Boston, covering local arts-related events on campus, and publishing all online content. “It felt like a space where I could be myself ,” shared Scharmann, a space that could not be reimagined. 

Then, the pandemic happened. 

The arts went virtual. The transition was rocky, with growing concern for one’s health and career. No one knew how long quarantine would be, but artists had to prepare for anything. 

“I was concerned about my health … and my family. It was frightening … when things started to cancel,” Talay said.

Scharmann added, “It was challenging to keep the same ef-ficiency. … On top of that, I don’t get to see my friends every week and share snacks around the table while we edit.” 

Hannah Lemmons, a singer-songwriter based in Los Angeles, was fortunate for the free time she had for songwriting, as well as commissions for original songs and covers during the pandemic. 

“I just have more of a balanced lifestyle overall compared to pre-pandemic. … Now, I have become more productive,” said Lemmons.

Artists around the world, especially artists of color, used their art to express their frustrations by inter-ecting with social justice, sparked by the murder of George Floyd. 

For musicians like Talay, there was an awareness surrounding their identity. As a queer artist, Talay mentioned, “Being visibly queer and politically queer in support of the trans movement and the Black Lives Matter movement has impacted me and how much it means to be who I am publicly.”

The world is slowly transitioning to a state of normalcy in 2021. The future of the arts industry is unknown, but with the lessons learned and new mediums explored from the pandemic, artists are ready for anything headed their way.

How Creating Random Videos on TikTok Led to A Viral Sensation

By: Alexsis Tapia Vazquez

Riverdale, MD

Alexa Walkowitz didn’t plan to go viral when they hopped on a TikTok trend.

Known as @sluglexa on the platform, Walkowitz joined TikTok in 2019, enjoying the large vari-ety of content available. They began to post as a creator in the midst of the first pandemic lock-downs that happened in March 2020. Their first videos garnered few views and were largely centered around their treehouse hangouts with their friend.

However, last summer, Walkowitz’s experience with the platform changed when she uploaded a video inspired by a viral Randonautica TikTok trend. In the trend, TikTokers use the Randonautica app as a challenge to generate random coordinates and discover where it takes them. 

In their video, Walkowitz and their friend document their journey into the Californian desert, using the app in the hopes of finding their mom’s lost dog. They come across, instead, a random dog standing alone in the middle of the scary and ominous desert. Shocked at their discovery, Walkowitz and their friend upload-ed the video on TikTok, wanting to share their strange experience with their followers.

Surprisingly to Walkowitz, the video skyrocketed shortly after, earning millions of views per day. Today, the video continues to generate thousands of views and has offered Walkowitz many opportunities to speak about her experience, including on A&E’s show “The Proof is Out There.”

Walkowitz remains confused about the video’s success, saying,“I just kept waking up … seeing [the video] and check-ing the analytics,” said Walkowitz.

However, Walkowitz noticed that their experience with the platform changed when they became a creator. They  spent more hours deliberately coming up with videos to upload rather than actually watching  videos created by others.

“It’s a really different experience when you make them versus when you watch them … more time is spent saving sounds and re-cording things than it is watching things,” said Walkowitz.

Walkowitz also found other obstacles with their newfound role. Followers had high standards and strangers often left nasty and hateful comments that affected Walkowitz’s mental health. They have responded and deleted hateful comments on many occasions. For now, they have temporarily left the platform for the sake of their mental health. 

“Truly people, especially on TikTok, expect the next level of attention,” added Walkowitz, “Accumulating more attention is always really scary, with the good attention comes the bad attention.”

Their return to Tik-Tok or other social media platforms remains dependent on different factors. Just this May, Walkowitz graduated from Williams College and began  their journey looking for employment. They remain unsure about how to navigate their professional life with their online presence.

They admit, “I also don’t want to live in a world where my silly random videos on the internet have anything to do with my professional life.”

Walkowitz has experienced and learned so much as a TikToker. Throughout their experience as an influencer on the platform, the app has influenced them both in positive and negative ways.

“I got a lot of interesting creative inspiration fro Tik Tok,” said Walkowitz, “Despite the fact that it’s kind of a horrible place, it’s kind of the greatest place.” 

Mother’s Lost Dog Makes ‘Sluglexa’ A Viral Sensation

@sluglexa on Tik Tok

By Ebony Riley

Voorhes, NJ

Most young people obessively scroll through TikTok and send their friends an endless number of videos. For Alexa Walkowitz, though, that mundane hobby morphed into something much less common: creating content people loved to share, and a life as a TikTok influencer known as @sluglexa. 

It was 2019 when Alexa Walkowitz stumbled upon TikTok. Like any other teen, they would find themselves stuck in a continuous loop of sending and scrolling for hours at a time. It wasn’t until the summer of 2020, though, when they started to find fame of their own on the addictive app.

With bright green hair and a mind reeling with stress, Walkowitz planned a night full of thrill to take their mind off Covid and the rest of the world around them. They decided to log onto Randonautica, an app that sends users on a random adventure by generating geographic coordinates. 

Driving at night through the vast rural Lucerne Valley, part of the Mojave Desert in California, Walkowitz and a friend set off on a Randonautica quest. The app had become a popular trend on Tik-Tok, leading many users to unknown places by asking them to list objects or ideas they’d like to see and then point-ing them to a place on the map.

That night, Walkowitz was on the hunt to find their mother’s lost dog. “We chose an anomaly, and set our intention as my mom’s lost dog,” Walkowitz says in their video recap of the out-ing, which quickly went viral. 

The two continued their search, walking far into the desert, deeper into the wilder-ness where there were no other signs of human life. Scared and unsure of where the app would  lead them, they stumbled upon a dog walk- ing aimlessly through the desert. Curious but frightened about the app’s capabilities, they  approached the dog and realized that, although the dog was not the one they were seeking, it had friendly intentions. 

“We’ve never been out here before, and we’ve never seen this dog in our life, but he was so friendly to us and he kept leading us in the right direction towards our actual point,” Walkowitz says in their TikTok.

Following the dog further into the desert, the found three trees in a strange configuration. Before they knew it, the sky was almost pitch black and a low growl-ing sound came closer towards them. Capturing the whole experience on their phone, they ran quickly to their car—leaving the dog behind—and began driving home. 

What would’ve happened if they had stayed any longer? What was growling? Walkowitz  kept asking these questions, and it turned out TikTok viewers shared them. The video went viral. Soon enough, it had just over 4 million views. Today, Walkowitz’s TikTok account has nearly 61,000 followers. 

“It was kind of like, it was mostly shocking, because, I don’t know, you  never really expect that to happen,” Walkowitz says now. 

After the video went viral, Walkowitz spent most of their time posting videos about their obsession with rats and random videos with their friends. They describe their content as a “postmodern fever dream.” 

Walkowitz is currently on the hunt for jobs, and has seen their fame slowly dwindle without another huge viral hit. But regardless of how many people watch their videos, they say, “it’s just as fun to put the content out there as it is to watch.”

And just like that, the postmodern fever dream continues.