Oftentimes, I use social networks to keep my loved ones up-to-date on the mediocre things going on in my life and to share articles I believe to be thought-provoking. But other times, I wouldn’t post the things I do unless I were searching for some type of consensus and community that I was not getting elsewhere. The more I think about this, the sadder it makes me, especially when I see other people on our campuses doing it too.
Then we “like” each other’s posts or maybe even write a little comment showing them we understand. “OMG same here,” or “You can do this!” and, generally, that’s the end of it. I’m often left thinking, “Would it be weird for me to reach out to this person right now simply because according to Facebook, we’re in the same emotional place?” The funny thing about social networks is that they allow you to do things you would never think of doing in real life.
Let us once again consider the Claremont Confession page, a copycat of the groups that other colleges have created. Trolls aside, our peers anonymously post information or beliefs they would never write on their own walls. People confess to being depressed, being displeased with their college experience, and even to enjoying masturbation. What kind of world have we come to if we feel so guilty about admitting to having negative feelings or enjoying sexuality that we must input that into SurveyMonkey, ensuring that our identity remains a secret and that mostly strangers will see it?
I’m equally uncomfortable with the fact that the very people we thought we couldn’t approach with our truths are the ones weighing in on our cries for help, offering up wise advice as if it were the be-all and end-all solution to the very real and deep things we feel. Every day, I see students reach out to the original poster saying they can be their friend, that they are there if the person needs to talk, hang out, hook up, or cuddle. It could just be me, but I have a feeling that these people may not be as open and receptive to their immediate friends—the people who do not hide behind the name Claremont Confession. The people on these campuses are understandably wrapped up in their own studies and personal troubles, so that many times it’s just easier to be superficial. When we walk by someone and ask, “Hey, how’s it going?” we don’t expect people to say how they are actually doing.
But why? Because if they started to talk about their awkward sexual excursions over the weekend, their drug dependency, or their homesickness, it would just add to the stress we already feel from going to a set of liberal arts schools where we learn about all the injustices in the world. Maybe we resort to the comfortable anonymity of Claremont Confession to avoid being told to suck it up and deal with it, because Claremont is supposed to have some of the happiest students on earth.
Despite all this, I religiously scroll through the confessions. We turn to spaces like Claremont Confession to read the things we think are taboo, worthy of harsh judgment, or just plain juicy. We like to be involved in other people’s lives if we have some type of medium relaying the information, but we do not confront our own issues. More importantly, we do not actively seek out substantial support for these issues. We gawk at what other people post, and maybe there’s a sense of nobility we attribute to the original poster, because damn, that’s how I feel, but I would never post that.
I suppose in one way, Claremont Confession does serve its purpose. It allows people to comfortably bring up their concerns on topics that were previously ignored. But I would argue that our next step is to think about the motivations of Claremont Confession posters: If so many people are actually feeling or experiencing these things, why do they feel that there is not real-life support for them? Despite the many resources we have on campus—Monsour Counseling, Resident Advisors, professors, and identity groups—many of us continue to reduce our feelings and our relationships to SurveyMonkey, a “like” button, and a comment box.
Perhaps the first step to establishing stronger support groups is to create spaces where we can discuss the fact that, even though society feeds us stigmas against talking about things like sexuality and mental illness, it is actually okay to talk about them out loud and in person, because they are things we all deal with. There is no need to feel guilty because you are indeed only human and, most likely, many people are feeling the way you do. I hope that someday, my peers and I will reach a point where tolerance, understanding, and empathy are not things to search for online.