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Penn Hills grad lifts WVU’s status with Twitter campaign

Tribune-Review
| Wednesday, November 5, 2014 9:01 p.m
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Deonna Gandy

Penn Hills native Deonna Gandy never liked West Virginia University’s reputation as a “party school.”

So when the WVU junior saw Morgantown trending nationally on Twitter during and after the riots on campus last month, she used her marketing and social media know-how to turn a negative into a positive.

“We wanted to take that negative thing and use it to our advantage and turn it into something positive,” Gandy, 20, said. “Not everyone who goes here acts like that.”

Gandy and her friend and fellow business major Chris Hickey are the students behind the popular social media campaign, #RespectfulMountaineer.

WVU students on Twitter used the campaign to combat negative attention the school received after the destructive riots that began after the WVU football team beat nationally ranked Baylor University on Oct. 18.

Morgantown police said that a crowd of 5,000 celebrating fans damaged street lamps, police and fire vehicles and threw rocks and bottles at police.

Several people were arrested, three students were expelled from the university and the city of Morgantown reported that the post-game riots caused more than $45,000 in damage.

Gandy, who graduated from Penn Hills High School in 2012, watched the riots from her on-campus dorm, where she said she saw tear gas and heard loud screaming.

“It was very scary to be quite honest,” Gandy said. “You don’t know how those things are going to escalate.”

The next day Gandy’s friend Hickey, a fellow marketing student from Wilmington, Del., asked her to read a blog post he was thinking of publishing to speak out against the riots.

“I told him ‘You need something quick, something people can see and share immediately,’” Gandy said. She suggested a hashtag.

Together, they came up with #RespectfulMountaineer, which had been used more than 1,500 times by university students, staff and alumni as of this edition’s deadline.

Gandy and Hickey created a separate Twitter account that now has more than 900 followers.

On Oct. 19, Gandy tweeted “My name is Deonna Gandy and I am a #RespectfulMountaineer!” just one day after the riots.

“It just blew up,” she said. “I was completely shocked.”

Even WVU President E. Gordon Gee used his official account to tweet “I am a #RespectfulMountaineer, because I know this state, its people and our institution can and will rise to their highest potential.”

Deonna’s mother, Donna Gandy, of Penn Hills said she’s proud of her daughter but not surprised that she played an active role in trying to change WVU’s reputation.

“She always hated that negative stereotype,” Donna Gandy said. “She wants people to know that not all of the students are partying.

“She’s such a hard worker; I almost wish she would go to a party sometimes.”

Gandy is an honors student studying marketing at WVU.

She’s the president of the WVU chapter of the National Society of Collegiate Scholars and the president of the WVU Residence Hall Association.

She said that though she was involved at Penn Hills High School, she really became a student leader when she went to college.

She is planning to graduate a semester early from WVU with a marketing degree, but is unsure of what she’d like to do after graduation.

“I do know I want to help people,” she said.

Kelsey Shea is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7845 or kshea@tribweb.com.

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