‘Grinnell Confessions’ Facebook page stirs controversy

By Stephen Gruber-Miller, grubermi@grinnell.edu

A Facebook page called “Grinnell Confessions,” which allows anonymous posts, has ignited controversy since its founding last week over what many students have called racist and sexist posts.

Some of the posts are lighthearted, such as one where the writer admitted to enjoying the television show “My Little Pony.” Others express feelings of isolation and unhappiness. Many of those have received supportive comments.

However, there are also a relatively small number of posts that have been accused of racism and sexism. One of the most extreme examples is a post where the writer admitted to knowingly transferring herpes to other students, including one who was drunk at the time and does not remember having sex.

Other posts commented on race. “I am not trying to be racist, but Kistle Library is a little China,” one person wrote.

Posts like this have sparked a torrent of comments condemning the insensitivity of the site moderator and demanding that the offending posts be taken down.

Karan Dhingra ’16, the page’s founder and moderator, said he only stops posts from being published if they contain attacks on individuals by name.

“I intended for the page to be free,” Dhingra said. “If I start censoring confessions, where do I stop? It’s not in my judgment to decide what’s wrong and what’s right. I have to be the unbiased moderator if I’m going to run a page like this.”

Jordan Taitel ’15 is one person who has been outspoken against the offensive posts.

“It is wildly inappropriate to say that you are against an entire group of people that make up part of the student body and I think that you’d better expect some negative reaction,” she said.

Dhingra said he intends the page to allow all posts regardless of whether they cause offense.

“In this case, the purpose was for confessions that could or could not be politically correct or could or could not be offensive,” he said.

Members of the administration became concerned with the Facebook page when students brought forward their worries about the site.

“Any allegation of sexual misconduct we’re going to investigate the best we can,” said Travis Greene, Dean of Students, referring to the post that admitted to having sex with a woman too drunk to later remember it.

However, Greene said he recognized that there was very little the College could do to affect Facebook, since it is not affiliated with Grinnell. He said his main concern was for students.

“There are students who are hurting. How can we support them?” he said.

He reaffirmed the College’s commitment to both free speech and respect for others and submitted a post to the Confessions page on Thursday voicing that opinion and offering resources for any students in need.

“Grinnell is passionate about freedom of speech,” Greene wrote. “However, we are equally passionate about diversity, respect, and responsibility—core values and tenets of our self-governing community. We encourage all Grinnellians, on Grinnell Confessions and elsewhere, to treat others with respect and dignity.”

Minutes after Greene’s message appeared on the page, another confession was posted, impersonating him, and seemingly violating Dhingra’s policy of restricting negative comments about individuals.

“I made that whole last post up,” the fake post said. “Ignore everything I just said. Enjoy this page. Keep trolling.” The post continued with a personal attack on Greene.
The page began on Jan. 23, was taken down on Monday, but then revived on Wednesday.

Greene rejected rumors that the College was responsible for taking down the page on Wednesday because it made the College look bad. “This had nothing to do with image control,” he said.

He said the only role Student Affairs had in the page’s disappearance was to talk to Dhingra to ask him not to use the Grinnell laurel leaf logo and to censor offensive comments. Dhingra refused to censor individual comments, but took down the page voluntarily. When it reappeared on Wednesday, it no longer used the laurel leaf.

“Lots of people came up to me and asked me to put it up again,” Dhingra said in an email Thursday. “That’s why it is up again.”

Now that the page is up again, the argument about whether people have the right to free speech or a safe space has been renewed.

“I think it’s inappropriate for people to be using the free speech argument,” Allis Conley ’14 said, noting that free speech is meant to protect against the government, and that, for example, if people put up posters with racial slurs in the loggia, there would be a strong reaction on campus.

Taitel said simple steps could remedy the problem.

“If the person who is the admin had just taken down the posts that created an unsafe space for people, then I would have been fine with it,” Taitel said.
Dhingra is adamant that censoring the page would be hiding the true feelings of Grinnellians.

“If I say I’m representing Grinnell and Grinnell students and then I censor some posts, that would be misrepresenting Grinnell,” he said.

Dhingra also said that the page brought up important concerns that people on campus have, but are not comfortable voicing in person. “There were a lot of people who expressed that they’re lonely. They suffer from people being in cliques and nobody ever talking to them,” he said.

Many people have reached out to comment on those confessions and offer support.

Taitel and Conley said they feel that an anonymous space online is not an appropriate space to be discussing sensitive issues like racism or politics.

“People are much more likely to engage with you positively in a personal space,” Conley said, noting that the Internet is dehumanizing when trying to have a conversation.

Taitel echoed Conley, saying that there is no way to hold people accountable. “I don’t think anything set in that level of anonymity can ever be positive,” she said.

The secrets page on Grinnell Plans has long allowed those with a grinnell.edu email address to write and read anonymous comments, albeit with more stringent rules for posts. The Facebook page allows those without Grinnell usernames to view it, and some of the posts on the Confessions page have claimed to be from outside the Grinnell community.

“I’m a prospie—and i’m pretty much in love with Grinnell,” one post reads. “Realistically can you comment below and tell me the best and worst things, why you decided to come here, etc. any advice. i [expletive] love grinnell, and i also hope this confessions page isn’t a representation of what its like there.”


'‘Grinnell Confessions’ Facebook page stirs controversy' have 7 comments

  1. February 3, 2013 @ 3:00 pm Student

    Jordan Taitel ’15 is one person who has been outspoken against the offensive posts.

    “It is wildly inappropriate to say that you are against an entire group of people that make up part of the student body and I think that you’d better expect some negative reaction,” she said.

    “However, we are equally passionate about diversity, respect, and responsibility—core values and tenets of our self-governing community. We encourage all Grinnellians, on Grinnell Confessions and elsewhere, to treat others with respect and dignity.”

    Where is this support when male athletes are attacked in our school paper?

  2. February 6, 2013 @ 1:32 am Tooth to Power

    Oh take it easy, athlete; not at all parallel situations. Some people at Grinnell take extreme umbrage to the conduct (past, present, and presumably, future) of certain male athletes and wrongly generalize that distaste to the athletic community in general. You’re just going to have to live with that, because attacking a group of people temporarily united by a hobby (sports) is SO different from attacking people for their race, gender identity, sexual orientation, etc., as is happening on Grinnell Confessions. I really hope you see the massive distinction there. If I say “You and your group of friends who share a hobby are worthless idiots,” it’s pretty different from saying “All people of X descent/Y orientation/Z gender identity are worthless idiots.”

  3. February 6, 2013 @ 1:34 am former student

    I would like to see the evidence for the accusation that the newspaper attacks male athletes.

    I will disregard the fact that the S&B has a sports page which lauds male and female athletes on a weekly basis as immaterial.

    I want to see what you consider to be a biased, unjustified attack on male athletes.

    Also, I would argue your comparison of apathy/dislike of sports to racism is lacking.

    .

  4. February 6, 2013 @ 5:02 pm Let me fill your cavity

    I fail to see the difference Tooth to Power. Hate speech in any sense is wrong; especially when it is thrown around in broad generalizations. While it may be true that racist, sexist, etc. comments carry more weight with them and are deemed less socially acceptable than a flippant comment about those who engage in a hobby, there is no difference in the mentality and intent that those comments have.

    Example: “All people of X race are Y.”– nobody would argue that is a racist comment and a generalization, the kind that we Grinnellians are trying to eradicate. Comments like these have no place in conversation and carry with them the mindset of ignorance. Comments like these do not necessarily have malice behind them but are in no way “right” or acceptable.

    Now look at this example: “All participants of A sport are B.”– what is different about the nature of this comment from the one above? Is it not also a sweeping generalization that applies to a small subset of that sport’s population? Is not the mindset of these comments also ignorance? Again, there does not need to be malice behind the words but they still are not “right” or acceptable.

    As a recent graduate and athlete, I can tell you firsthand these comments do affect people’s perception of you, the same way a racist or sexist comment would. A quick anecdote before I finish: My senior year, I developed a phenomenal relationship with one of my professors. I asked her to write me a letter of recommendation and she without hesitation said yes. I came to later find out however that she was inwardly hesitant not because of my merits or my personality, but because I was a member of a team under intense scrutiny by the College because the misconduct of one or two individuals. As a result of the scrutiny, everyone on that team became tainted by people’s bigotry and generalizations. While I still got my letter, the fact that being a member of a team, of a sport that I love, infected her perception of me, if only for a minute.

    I understand that a lot of what people say and do is not politically correct and all that we can do as socially conscious individuals is correct them. So I am taking this opportunity to educate you. While you may mean well, what you are saying– that these kind of generalizations are not offensive– is just as ignorant as the comments you are speaking out against. I hope you learn that generalizations are wrong in all circumstances and attacking any group is wrong, athlete or not.

  5. February 8, 2013 @ 1:10 am alum

    But you got the letter, so… not sure what your point is standing on.

  6. February 9, 2013 @ 7:08 am ernie alum

    follow my lead. quit facebook and prevent all exposure to such nonsense.

  7. February 9, 2013 @ 4:29 pm former student

    Cavity,

    Please recognize the difference between racism, sexism, etc., and voluntarily playing a sport and that discrimination based on one is much more grievous than the other. Furthermore, no one said you can’t hold opinions about people because of their (voluntary) associations. No one who plays a sport is forced to do so, and if the image of a sport is tarnished the sport itself must change it’s own image, not expect everyone to give them an unbiased look.

    Expecting sympathy as an athlete when teammates commit some pretty awful transgressions is pretty ignorant in my opinion. I mean even in sports themselves, when a player commits a foul, the penalty goes against the entire team, not just that player.


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