By Stephen Gruber-Miller
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.”