Created by an unidentified group of Bowdoin students, the Bowdoin-Class Confess Facebook page has sparked online discussion in the past few weeks around issues such as class, race, gender, sexuality and mental health. With over 1,000 friends and numerous followers including students, alumni and staff members, the page allows students to anonymously post “confessions” and respond to posts. Many students have praised its attempt to establish a space for dialogue, but the productivity of these conversations remains an issue of debate for many students.
“If there’s something that you know you’re afraid to say or you don’t know how to communicate to the College as a whole and you want to vent that, then yes, [the page is effective]” said McKenna Thomas-Franz ’19. “[But] I’m one of those people who thinks you can’t have productive conversations online, especially when they’re anonymized.”
Students can either comment on posts publically as themselves or send in posts anonymously to share their opinions or to respond to previous ones. As a result, some conversations are entirely anonymous.
“There’s a lot of negativity on these posts, and it’s anonymous. I think that’s the biggest problem—people will just complain and vent and, honestly, aren’t selective about the words they use,” said Nate DeMoranville ’20. “There’s not a lot of productivity because people don’t have to put their name on it—they just put it out on the internet.”
However, this level of secrecy is vital for many students who may not otherwise feel comfortable sharing them with their name attached.
“I think people are afraid to speak their minds and speak up [about uncomfortable topics] if their name is attached to it[out] of fear of being stigmatized,” said Amanda Rickman ’20. “So I think that the anonymity of the page gives them a space where they can, without that fear of stigma.”
The makers of the page originally created it with the intention of giving voice to students who may not feel theirs is heard on campus.
“[We] have felt many times minority voices or views that aren’t what the majority are saying have been shunned off or, in a way, dulled down on campus,” wrote the creators in a Facebook message to the Orient, who wish to remain anonymous to allow students to voice their opinions without feeling like they are reporting to a particular person.
“This online forum serves as outlet for both ends of the spectrum…They need to be heard and acknowledged,” they added.
While the makers began with the goal of raising awareness about issues of socioeconomic class on campus, the page’s posts have since expanded to include a wider variety of student narratives. The majority of posts revolve around students’ stories and frustrations with isolation on campus, particularly surrounding experiences of race, class, gender, sexuality, among other identities. Other posts have acknowledged the difficulty in knowing how to have productive conversations about these issues. However, a handful of posts don’t fall into these categories, ranging from drinking habits to library carrels.
“There isn’t a fixed group of tags you can necessarily target and say: these are the struggles we are going to talk about,” the creators wrote. “Therefore, we had to shift from covering solely financial struggles to also accepting confessions about struggles regarding race, gender and sexuality as well … There is fear that this page might end up like Yik Yak did, but [we] think the tone and goal we are pushing for is going to prevent that from happening.”
Yik Yak, an app that allows users to share short posts anonymously with others nearby was criticized by students and administrators following its often derogatory use in the aftermath of the “gangster” and “tequila” parties in 2015 and 2016.
After receiving feedback from students that some posts were devolving, the creators of Bowdoin-Class Confess announced on its page last Sunday that it would begin filtering posts that are “extremely disrespectful.”
“If a confession is just downright disrespectful (contains name-calling, cursing, written forms of abuse), we will not post it,” wrote the creators to the Orient. “It can sometimes be difficult to draw the line between respectful criticism and written abuse, especially because we don’t know how intense someone might be feeling when they’re writing these confessions.”
Most of the students the Orient spoke with think that the page’s decision for increased moderation was positive, despite the fact that some opinions may not get posted as a result.
“The problem with filtering out is some of the thoughts that are being explored cannot get through. But also, you don’t want the page to become Yik Yak again,” said Salomé Lepez Da Silva Duarte ’19. “You don’t want it to become a thing where people use anonymity to hurt each other without having intelligent discussions. So, it’s a difficult balance to handle.”
The anonymity of the page has posed particular concern regarding posts that allude to severe mental distress or self-harm. Some students have expressed concern about the well-being of fellow classmates.
“The other day someone posted something about how they didn’t feel like they belonged here and they [felt] like it wasn’t worth it anymore. And that scared me because it was … obviously a call for help,” said Megan Retana ’19, who commented on the post providing support and directing the student to various on-campus resources. “I feel it’s pretty scary [that] someone at this school feels that way and is in danger of hurting themselves, and there’s really nothing anyone else can do to help them directly.”
The page creators emphasized that they are working with concerned students who have messaged the page to put together a list of campus resources and how to access them.
But the creators hope that this dialogue does not finish with a post, but instead translates into substantive action and face to face conversation on campus about issue regarding mental health, race and socioeconomic class.
“Since we represent unrecognized voices, our discussions can lead to improvements with how certain campus groups and administrations tackle changes,” said the creators. “Our greatest hope is that people take these discussions and attempt to make some more feasible and actual change on campus. We hope that student groups are inspired in some way by the discussions on this page.”
David Zhou contributed to this report.