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Tuesday, April 23, 2024 — Houston, TX

Trevor Boffone creates a classroom community

Thresher Screenshot of Boffone's Instagram, @Dr_Boffone

By Amy Li     1/9/24 11:12pm

You may recognize Trevor Boffone from TikTok fame or national media platforms. Away from the screen, though, he supports a classroom culture defined by joy, authenticity and community.

“When you create an atmosphere where the students come in and there’s music playing and I’ve got foods for you to try, it totally just takes the vibe to a place where the students feel comfortable in that space,” Boffone, who teaches FWIS 100 at Rice, said. “Sometimes people assume we don’t do classwork or we’re not doing all of the academic things that you do in class. But especially at Rice, [students] come excited about class. They want to be in my class because they know that the fun things are going to happen, which makes them do the reading [and] makes them put more effort into the actual course.

“They know that if they do that part, then they can introduce me to a TikTok dance and I’ll learn it with them. And so they come to class early,” Boffone continued.

According to FWIS 100 student Gabi Varga, Boffone’s emphasis on creating a tight-knit classroom community is a welcome change for his students.

“It’s … a nice break from the 100, 200 people lectures that I sit in all day,” Varga, a Duncan College freshman, said. “It’s just nice to … be able to connect with him and the 14 other students that I’m in class with.”

Joseph Mutombo, another of Boffone’s students, said that Boffone’s class is an enjoyable respite from a busy day.

“He’s made my first semester at Rice really fun, and I’ve always enjoyed going to his classes. He kind of gives me a break from all my other classes, and he’s the best. I wish I could be in his class all four years, but sadly I can’t,” Mutombo, a Baker College freshman, said.

Part of what makes Boffone’s class so enjoyable is his ability to balance fun and academics, according to FWIS 100 student Alhena Kerawala.

“When we enter class, he always has some new TikTok trend that he encourages some of us to do with him,” Kerawala, a Lovett College freshman, said. “And if you don’t want to do it, then you’re kind of the hype crew. And then, he goes into the academics … if class finishes early, sometimes he lets us do other trends, or we just talk to him.”

Boffone first started creating TikToks in 2018 while teaching at Bellaire High School in Houston. He saw his students making videos and, curious, began to participate — he soon went viral.

“In February 2019, my high school students encouraged me to make my own accounts, and then I immediately went viral on Instagram,” Boffone said. “It was a lot of fun, and it became part of the classroom culture.”

Boffone has taught at the university level on and off since 2009, and previously taught FWIS 100 at Rice in 2017. After retiring from teaching high school in May 2023 to become a full-time content creator, Boffone began teaching at Rice again because it offered more flexibility for him to pursue his interests in social media.

“I was sort of having so much fun with that part of the job that I didn’t want to stop doing it,” Boffone said. “People kept saying, ‘Rice students aren’t going to be silly. They’re not going to make TikToks. They’re not going to do the fun stuff in class.’ I’ve proven them wrong.”

Alongside teaching his social media-themed FWIS 100 class at Rice, Boffone currently does a variety of other social media-related work, including being a manager for Houston-based marketing agency Fun Love Media. He also has interests in Latine theater and literature, having earned a doctorate in the topic from the University of Houston. In 2016, Boffone created the 50 Playwrights Project, which is described on the project’s website as “a digital resource for Latin@ theater and a virtual home for the voices of Latin@ playwrights.”

“I’m a theater kid at heart,” Boffone said. “I was interested in Spanish language, theater and social justice work. So I started working with communities in the U.S. that were doing theater for social change … A throughline of my life is using my white privilege, my male white privilege, to try to push against the system, and do work that I’m able to do because of those privileges.”

Though Boffone’s TikToks do sometimes go viral, Boffone emphasized that fame was never his goal.

“It’s not about, ‘Oh, let’s do a video and go viral,’ or that sort of thing,” Boffone said. “The conversation is really like, ‘Let’s do this thing that enables us to have fun.’ And what happens is, on social media, content that does well is authentic content … It’s not cringe because you can see that there’s actually joy that’s happening there. It’s not me trying to be someone I’m not. I’m just being myself.”

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