Cal Poly parents from San Diego gathered at the inaugural San Diego Coffee Social in March. Facebook parents page influencer Traci Libby was among the attendants. Louise Boisvert Pickering | Courtesy Photo

Does the name Traci Holmes Libby ring a bell? ­­If you have ever been on the Cal Poly SLO Mustang Parents Facebook page, you would almost certainly recognize Libby as a frequent commenter and poster of need-to-know information – a notable accomplishment given it is a closed Facebook page with 10,871 members as of April 8.

So, who exactly is she?

She is not an administrator on the page or a Cal Poly employee. Libby is just one of the many parents who frequent the page.

Libby joined the Facebook page in 2014 when her daughter was accepted to Cal Poly. She gradually became more involved with it as she started to learn more about the school.

“I became more active on the page around my daughter’s junior year [at Cal Poly] as a way to pay it forward for all the help I received as a parent of an incoming student,” Libby said. “I appreciated its sense of community – with as many people as are on the page, parents could gain an understanding that they weren’t alone in going through the chaos and that their worries weren’t unique just to them.”

According to Libby, Cal Poly’s communication with parents and students can be spotty at times and the Facebook page helps fill in the gaps by providing the necessary resources, such as information on local storage options students can use in the summer or how to utilize unused meal plan money.

Libby makes sure to spend at least three hours each day on the page, posting and commenting.

The Cal Poly SLO Mustang Parents Facebook page

Of the more than 10,000 members of the page, approximately 75 percent are women and 40.1 percent are within the 45-54 age group, according to an analytics report from the Parents Advisory Council (PAC).

The PAC is made up of 24 parents and supporters who advise the university administration on matters involving student development and success, with members serving three-year terms, as detailed on the Cal Poly Parent and Family Programs website.

The Cal Poly SLO Mustang Parents Facebook page is managed and monitored by nine PAC members, but the Cal Poly administration has no direct involvement with the page.

From Jan. 15 to March 16, there were almost 1,800 posts on the page, ranging from a parent inquiring about the College of Liberal Arts’ reputation to reminders to empty on-campus fridges before spring break.

Sandy Holve O’Meara, PAC member and administrator on the Facebook page, said a significant portion of administrator duties revolve around handling the heavy flow of member requests to the closed page. According to O’Meara, as college acceptances are rolling out at the moment, there can be as many as 50 member requests per day from incoming Cal Poly parents and students waiting for approval from administrators.

All Cal Poly parents, supporters and students are encouraged to join the page by sending a request to the group and filling out the accompanying short questionnaire. Each member request goes through a fairly lengthy approval process as administrators double-check that potential members have a verifiable connection to Cal Poly. O’Meara and other administrators achieve this by looking up the possible members on the Cal Poly directory and examining their Facebook profiles.

“While it is a closed [Facebook] group, there are a lot of people on the page with plenty of information being shared. So, we make it a priority to make sure that all the people who are accepted to the page actually belong there,” O’Meara said.

Administrators tend to stay in the background,  not interfering with the Facebook page, except in cases of problematic posts where the page’s guidelines are clearly not being followed, such as cases where members show a lack of respect to other members. For example, in February, comments on a post about the proposed Cal Poly Opportunity Grant became somewhat emotional.

In this case, O’Meara and other administrators chose to start removing comments and eventually settled on disabling further commenting on the post, citing that it was getting to be more about personal opinions rather than the original subject.

“We want people to be able to express their opinions, but we also want to make sure that the page is focused on support for Cal Poly parents and students. We try our best to limit the discussion if it gets way out of the bounds of what’s happening at Cal Poly and how it’s affecting our students,” O’Meara said.

Helping in times of need

The page has a history of charitable and philanthropic efforts, where the community comes together to help each other through its extensive support network.

During times like winter break, Cal Poly parents from all over the country offer accommodations and transportation services to stranded Cal Poly students.

“I’ve been that frantic parent who [has] been worried about her daughter stranded at an airport in an unfamiliar city, so I try my best to make sure that other parents don’t have to feel that panic,” Libby said. “It never stops to amaze me how willing Cal Poly parents are to open their homes to stranded Mustangs without hesitation.”

More recently, Libby helped coordinate a group donation of gift cards and supplies to help support the families of Cal Poly students who lost their homes in the Santa Rosa fires in Northern California.

“These are some of the many ways that parents really support each other through the page,” O’Meara said. “Traci really spearheaded the whole [Santa Rosa] effort and made sure we were able to collectively help when it was really needed.”

For Libby, however, one of the most rewarding experiences she has had through the Facebook page was helping fellow Cal Poly parent Julie Farotte Irwin when her daughter had a medical emergency.

It all began with Irwin’s post on the page on May 23, 2017, asking for help in properly notifying Cal Poly about her daughter’s critical condition in the ICU with double pneumonia and sepsis. Within a couple of hours, the post had 602 comments, full of resources and well wishes. Libby’s was one of them.

Irwin credits Libby with being there for her family every step along the way, from informing the Disability Resource Center about Vega’s condition to organizing groups of parents to bring the family care packages.

Libby also set up a GoFundMe account to help the family pay for the medical bills that ended up raising more than $11,000.

“She was my lifeline; it felt like, in a few weeks, I had made a new best friend. I can’t thank her enough for how much she did for us and how she got us through those couple of weeks. And all of the friends we made through her,” Irwin said. “I’d do anything for that woman.”

Libby plans to actively contribute to the Facebook page for the foreseeable future, even after her daughter’s graduation from Cal Poly this June.

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