On the Complications of College Social Media

A line of freshmen eagerly anticipating college orientation forms outside of the library, anxious parents in tow. I join the line of my new classmates and scan over the many new faces, some of which I already recognize from Facebook. Many millenials have shared this experience, and throughout the first week of school, I witnessed introductions among my classmates that started with, “Hey, you’re _________ from Facebook, right?”

Some time in the winter of 2014, a Facebook group called “Sarah Lawrence College: Class of 2018” formed. Beginning with a membership in the single digits, the group exploded when regular decision acceptances came out in March. The introductory posts, now a typical staple of these “_________ College Class of 20___” Facebook pages, started pouring in. I began to agonize over how to compose my post. Many of these statements included quirky or humorous facts, but I was dumbfounded. It was like one of those awkward icebreakers that teachers made you play on the first day of elementary school, except this time it was played out in cyber space. I finally stomached the courage to post, destroying the complete anonymity that characterized many of our parents’ first days of college.

Since arriving here at Sarah Lawrence, I have wondered whether the Facebook group served as a positive or negative presence in the weeks leading up to Orientation. While a Facebook group that provides a setting for new students to connect with each other seems harmless, tensions built up under the surface and occasionally emerged as confrontations. For example, some individuals would make politically incorrect or downright offensive posts, revealing deeply ingrained misogyny and transphobia that our class would hopefully learn to combat. A number of males would comment on how the gender ratio would work in their favor for their romantic or sexual conquest. For example, one man wrote, “hmmm…..i see i see….plenty of the opposite sex”. Another stated, “If you havin girl problems I feel bad for you son, I got 99 problems but SLC ain’t one”. These posts created a hostile space for women in the group, because despite our position as the majority, it was a rude awakening that we would have to endure the same misogynistic narratives that characterize patriarchal societies. While the men who posted these statements did not have harmful intentions, they completely undermined the educational environment that we were about to enter and reduced women to objects of sexual desire. Not to mention, they showed heteronormative assumptions that the women they were speaking of were straight, and they ignored and alienated the transgender or nonbinary members of our class.

Every time I saw a post of this nature, I had the internal dilemma of calling them out or not. In the past when I have confronted men for making blatantly misogynistic posts on Facebook, they have shut me down and berated me, telling me to stop being so emotional. In the context of the Class of 2018 Facebook page, I grappled with my tendency to call out oppressive behavior, because I did not want to have the reputation of being abrasive before I even arrived at school. Fortunately, other classmates would respond to these posts, but for whatever reason, some men were not receiving the message and continued to make the same misogynistic comments, much to my dismay.

Throughout the summer, the Class of 2018 Facebook page became a source of nagging anxiety for me. I was an occasional commenter and poster, but I wondered if I had posted too much or shown too much enthusiasm. I mourned a bit for the anonymity I lost through the Facebook group interactions. The idea that people might be able to recognize me when I arrived at college frightened me. Psychological studies, such as this one from the University of Michigan, have linked social network usage to increases in anxiety, which, as a frequent user of Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram, and Twitter, does not surprise me. So why do I continue to use these social platforms? With Facebook, there is not much of a choice. It has completely pervaded our social structure to the point that without a Facebook page, I might miss out on postings for events. Facebook provides me with a way to follow my favorite musicians so that I do not buy tickets for concerts too late, as well as a way to keep up with relatives and friends on a daily basis who live far away without having to arrange phone calls. Also, through Facebook membership, users can connect to a number of other applications such as Spotify and Tinder. Every time I consider deleting my account, I think of several reasons not to. If I disconnect from Facebook, I must come to terms with the inescapable fear of missing out.

That being said, the Sarah Lawrence Class of 2018 group did not have a completely negative presence. A lot of upperclassmen joined the group to answer our questions, and they provided invaluable knowledge on issues MySLC couldn’t answer. Another positive aspect of the group was that I found my wonderful roommate on there after we started talking because we shared a similar taste in music. However, I would be wary of using Facebook to find potential roommates or best friends. In the case of my housing situation, I lucked out but have heard tales of people who “met” on Facebook and agreed to be roommates only to realize that their lifestyles were incompatible once they were actually living together. A person’s Facebook persona can only reveal so much about how they act in real life. I have friends who spoke to members of our class on Facebook and assumed that once the school year arrived, they would all be the best of friends. However, many of these types of expectations were unreasonable: when we all arrived at school, people met friends more organically through their dorms, classes, and other activities. I understand the nervous impulse to search for friends in advance through the Class of 2018, because moving to a new place without having any friends is challenging; however, I would err on the side of caution when forming friendships online in a college Facebook page setting.

I realized that many of my concerns were unfounded. I met many peers who were either unaware of the existence of the Sarah Lawrence Class of 2018 Facebook group or who did not have Facebook accounts in the first place. I regret getting so caught up in the politics of the group, but I still feel angered and disgusted when I think about some of the posts that people thought were appropriate to share. Since arriving at college, I have assumed perhaps too optimistically that people who might have been sheltered or unaware about political correctness and sensitivity have started to educate themselves more. I have not seen any particularly misogynistic posts since the school year has begun, and I think that members of the group would be more likely to call out offensive content than they would have been over the summer. In the future if problems arise, the group’s administrators and members of the class of 2018 should come to a consensus abiut guidelines for posting and deleting inappropriate comments and threads. For the most part I’ve enjoyed watching the group transform from an outlet for anxious excitement to a community where we post sporadically about clubs, events, and lost items.

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