Anonymity is becoming one of the most popular and attractive things on campus. At Northwestern, and at countless other colleges and universities across the world, Facebook groups based on reaching out to others through anonymity have flourished. At Northwestern, pages like NU Compliments, Northwestern Crushes, and Northwestern Confessions allow students to reach out to specific other students, or to the NU community as a whole by submitting anonymous posts through the page’s inbox, or through an equivalent input form, to be posted on the page. These pages claim to have been created with the purposes of community unity in mind, but have they been doing the job they set out to do? Three Northwestern students weigh in on what they’re thinking about the groups’ intentions and impacts on the Northwestern community.
Northwestern Crushes advertises: “Have a huge crush on another wildcat? IS IT BURNING YOU UP INSIDE? Let them know anonymously.” The general consensus, however, seems to be that both Northwestern Crushes and NU compliments have lost control of their original goals and have drifted into the realm of cliquey ineffectiveness. School of Communications sophomore Aparna Ramachandran reflects, “I felt like the groups themselves stopped being a place for people to genuinely use them for their intended purpose, at least regarding Northwestern Crushes and NU Compliments. I feel like people started using them as ways to just talk to their friends. I think it started as a really great idea, but it has lost its original goal and authenticity.”
Knowing the intended purposes of these groups has negatively impacted students’ perception of how the groups have developed – falling short of many students’ expectations. Sophomore Emily Wills elaborates, “At first I thought NU compliments was cute and sweet. It’s nice, but I don’t think it’s the best way to go about encouraging people to share their feelings about one another. You see the same names over and over again, and some people never get compliments, so I don’t think it’s really doing the job that it set out to do – which is to create an inclusive campus community.”
Northwestern Confessions claims: “This is a completely anonymous page to confess about your weird, funny, sad, fortunate, or unfortunate experiences, hopes, and dreams at NU!” Northwestern Confessions, in contrast to NU Compliments and Northwestern Crushes seems to be serving its intended purpose and having a deeper impact on the Northwestern community than the other two pages. The page reveals the very realistically varied experiences of NU students, both the good and the bad. Bienen sophomore Bridget Rodino explains, “While a lot of the things posted on [Norhtwestern Confessions] are joking matters, a lot of it is also very serious and very deep and intense. It makes you realize that there’s more going on on this campus than all of the happy things you see going on, especially when you compare it to Northwestern Crushes and NU Compliments. You have pages rallying around how awesome your community is, but, at the same time, you’ve got the Northwestern Confessions page revealing how people are struggling. The pages are so juxtaposed, but, at the same time, part of the same campus.”
The rise of anonymity as part of the communicative language on the Northwestern campus seems to have become exclusionary in both the NU compliments and Northwestern Crushes pages. However, the protection offered by anonymity, through Northwestern Confessions, has lent itself to facilitating honest and illuminating exposure of a lesser-known realm of the greater Northwestern community.