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You, Me & ACB

Opinion | May 1, 2011

College ACB, or ‘ACB,’ was born out of the ashes of its predecessor, Juicy Campus. Everybody knows Juicy Campus was better. For one, its interface was more attractive; its pink and blue graphics evoked images of the sort of sex-segregated bathrooms on whose walls gossip used to be scrawled before the Internet allowed the young and malevolent to move character assassination online. Juicy Campus provided no means for users to flag and remove a thread by consensus, which meant that whatever was posted stayed up, but unlike ACB, Juicy Campus didn’t recall threads to the front of the queue with each new post. Topics were instead subject to the passing of time and tended to fall off the radar rather than be constantly renewed by their own inertia—not such a bad thing if you found yourself singled out.

Juicy Campus enjoyed a few months of popularity at Tufts before the site’s decline—the result of bad management, not, it must be said, of all of the earnest op-eds printed in undergraduate newspapers across the country condemning the site and its users. But those two or so months of Juicy Campus left Tufts students ready and eager for College ACB, despite its crude graphics and generally nastier tone. For our current classes of sophomores and freshman, getting acquainted with Tufts has also meant getting acquainted with ACB, which, for them, has had a presence since day one. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that ACB is now a Tufts tradition.

I’m not writing to add to the already exhaustive list of why College ACB is bad and bad for us. As a forum it has enabled the expression of viciously homophobic and misogynistic sentiments. But it should now be clear that something in us, all of us, is really attracted to what College ACB offers, and whatever this is, it won’t be rooted out if Tufts bans ACB. The rapid appearance of more than a few imitators mere days after Juicy Campus went under confirms this reality.

I’ve discussed this phenomenon with friends at peer institutions, and I’ve always been led back to the same conclusion: Tufts students post on ACB with both more frequency and enthusiasm than students at almost any other school. A look at the ACBs of peer institutions makes this plain. None of the Ivies, nor any of Tufts’ immediate peers, uses ACB quite as much as we do. Elsewhere, the site seems to center around little besides sorority and fraternity banter. While Tufts’ ACB features an astonishing amount of this Greek warring, it also cuts through nearly every other social boundary, from the Arts Haus to TMC. What can this mean, other than the fact that Tufts students are more malicious, more willing to dish the dirt on each other than college students elsewhere? Many readers will perhaps have already reached this conclusion on their own.

But can it be true that Tufts students are meaner than their peers? I think so, and most people I talk to seem to agree. Basically, I think this state of affairs is an inevitable result of all of the various narratives under which Tufts administrators and students labor. Though Tufts isn’t incredibly racially or socioeconomically diverse, the university does contain a considerable diversity of personality and interests. The student body is composed of many fractional and varied elements that ultimately have little in common beyond mutual antipathy, This is why efforts to create a single Tufts narrative, usually something about international relations or international ‘perspective,’ leave everyone unsatisfied. As someone who studies literature here, I sometimes wonder whether the university should just cut the charade and rename itself the College for the Institute of Global Leadership. Can any of us at this point actually say the words ‘active citizenship’ without reflexively cringing? I, too, would like a grant to go take photographs of the third-world poor.

More than the Daily or the Source or the Observer, what ACB provides is a running commentary on day-to-day occurrences at Tufts which best sums up the opinions, concerns, hopes, interests, and bigotries of our student body. Any campus conflict that is sufficiently charged to gain the attention of enough students prompts a corresponding thread, which will predictably marshal the best arguments from both sides, presented in the tone of affected insouciance that characterizes much of the site. Such is the case with all of the various bias incidents of the past few years and, more recently, the administration’s decision to ban NQR; their selection of a less-than-impressive commencement speaker; and the current emergence of Students for Justice in Palestine and the resultant Hillel castigation, to name only a few examples. I am not being glib when I say that ACB is probably where Tufts students are at their cleverest.

The problem with most discussions of ACB is that they dress the issue in the tropes usually used to handle the diagnosis and treatment of communicable diseases. According to this conception, ACB is a sort of foreign influenza that threatens to supersede our super-ego at any moment. Before you know it, you’ll be shamelessly posting on the jumbo screen at the collaborative workstation in Tisch. It is taken as part of the donnée that the microbes are foreign and not domestic. This is not the welcoming Tufts community that we know and love, somebody wrote in a Roundtable article last year. But we must come to terms with the fact that ACB’s readers and contributors likely constitute a large part, maybe even a majority, of our Tufts “community.” This is a tall order, given that some of the posts contain such marked ignorance, intolerance and vicious enmity that it’s tough to see how their authors weren’t weeded out somewhere in the admissions process. More than anything, ACB stands as strong evidence against an increasingly vocal minority of Tufts students who pooh-pooh the claims of many that incidents of racism, sexism, sexual assault, and discrimination occur more frequently on this campus than is generally acknowledged.

Indeed, the least useful framing of the ACB question is that its mere existence as a website is what’s wrong—as if Tufts students really just needed to be shielded from their all-but-irresistible compulsion to talk trash. After all, ACB is only a forum. It cannot be the issue here at Tufts, though it is certainly the preferred issue, mostly because the real matter quickly boils down to intractable and deceptively simple questions like, “Why are we all so mean?” The content latent beneath every ACB scribbling is this: posting on this site was well worth the bit of self-respect I had to sacrifice as I clicked ‘submit.’ Before we rush to condemn the site, let us acknowledge that ACB says far more about us than we could ever say about it.