One user wrote, “I guess I was so afraid of hurting you that I didn’t realize that you could be the one to hurt me,” on October 8, 2014. “Shout out to the guy in Dewick wearing grey sweatpants, boat shoes, and a white cable knit sweater. Werk it,” was posted on October 6, 2014.
And the posts go on. Tufts Confessions, a Facebook like page, was designed to provide an outlet for Tufts students to post anonymous comments ranging from gossip to petty dining hall critiques to emotional cries for help. What started as a simple idea for an anonymous confessions page quickly transitioned into something deeper, becoming a creation of a forum for students to outlet or express opinion on issues such as depression and anxiety, sexual assault, and social justice. Created in February 2013, the page has 2,087 likes and publishes no fewer than ten confessions a day. Ever-present, occasionally witty, and often controversial, Tufts Confessions has made its mark on the social landscape at Tufts, though not always in the most commendatory of ways.
Some call it “the new Public Journal,” referencing a Tufts publication that consists entirely of anonymous submissions. Others say that the Public Journal is the “original Tufts Confessions.” Either way, the Tufts Confessions page has become a means of connecting and acknowledging shared experiences among Tufts students, despite its disputed origins.
The page was created by current senior Nikki Dahan. She reports, “I got the idea for Tufts Confessions from a school in the Midwest that had a confessions page. I noticed no school in the Boston area had one and I wanted to bring that idea here.”
When asked about the trajectory of Tufts Confessions, Dahan mentioned that she didn’t “anticipate it would evolve to a place where people could seek support for sexual assault or depression.” Regardless, Dahan is very pleased with how supportive members of the Tufts community have been to victims whose identities remain unknown.
Is Tufts Confessions really an attempt to be “the new Public Journal?” Not quite. A senior who has been mentioned on the page says there is a clear distinction: “What’s different is that the Public Journal doesn’t use names, at least not first and last name. Tufts Confessions is more gossipy than entertaining to me personally.”
The quick updates of Tufts Confessions seem to be part of its beauty, according to Dahan.“You submit something and see it that day, and then see what people respond to it. The immediacy of submission posting also generates more submissions, so there are more opportunities for someone to post something that speaks directly to them in terms of things they are interested in,” she said.
Dahan handed off the responsibilities as manager ever since she went abroad this past spring. The new manager, who prefers to remain anonymous, said her interest in Tufts Confessions is in its provision of a space for people to speak openly and freely. “Unfortunately,” she said, “that often leads to the page being dominated by a number of high-tension debates, but really, we’re all at Tufts for a reason. The fact that our community chooses to engage in these debates, even in a setting as informal as Tufts Confessions, is pretty cool.”
Senior Joel Wasserman remains the most frequent commenter on the page. Wasserman hardly ever misses a post. He asserts that his involvement with Tufts Confessions has changed his opinion of Tufts as a community. “Initially I thought Tufts was a liberal place and a tolerant place, where if you had a view that went against the majority, you would be heard,” said Wasserman. “But now I don’t think it’s a particularly tolerant place, and there are some drawbacks to that.”
Because he likes to discuss and debate issues while also giving advice, Wasserman continues to comment on Tufts Confessions regularly. In the end, though, he said what Tufts Confessions has taught him the most is how to be more sensitive to others.
In addition to the political commentary and mental health issues that seem to permeate the page, sexual and romantic comments are a popular topic. After learning of a sexualizing comment written about her, one senior noted, “They are posting what an anonymous person wants to do to another person’s body. It’s impinging on the person who it’s being written about and drawing attention to things that someone might not want to highlight.” Indeed, the comments have in the past bordered on explicit, although that content has since been taken down.
Mary Pat McMahon, Dean of Student Affairs at Tufts, has much to say on the issue. The general sense she gets from working with undergraduate students is that the confessions are a ubiquitous part of campus life at the moment, but she emphasizes the importance of thinking about the impact of the site. “We need to think about what possible needs this site might be filling, especially around campus climate and identity issues, and how we can address those needs in more personal ways.”
Based on some of the negative reactions from the Tufts community that the page received in its first few months of inception, many new regulations have been put in place for what constitutes an appropriate post. The new manager says that they will no longer post confessions that attack individuals or groups, nor will they publish links to websites or videos without any accompanying texts, advertisements, etc. She notes, “We became much more strict after the first semester of running because the amount of microaggressions and other hurtful things that were posted were causing real harm to our viewers.” Now, says the manager, if they have to even remotely question a confession, it will not be posted.
Any new creation will inevitably endure some growing pains. The backlash that Tufts Confessions received in its early stages is just that. With the much stricter and more formalized regulations for posts, Tufts Confessions will still exist as a forum for confession that allows students to express themselves in a way that they would not be able to otherwise. While Tufts students still debate the morals and ethics surrounding the page, Tufts Confessions remains an online outlet for those students who seek one.