Because Someone’s Gotta Talk About Willamette Confessions

This past week Willamette University has been taken by storm by a Facebook page known as Willamette University Confession. The page offers a space for Willamette students to post their deepest, darkest, “please take me to the grave” secrets in a public forum with complete anonymity. As one could imagine, what has ensued is a steaming vat of sometimes humorous, but often deeply disturbing word vomit from the WU populace. There are so many aspects of the Confessions page that could be analyzed, but for the purposes of this post I will look at one actor, a Facebook page known as Willamette Justice for all People, and what is revealed about the construction of online identity, a concept taken from Queer Latinidad, and the complexities of language and translating, a recurring theme in class.

A bit of background information: On February 19th around 12pm a post on the Willamette Confessions page read,

“#54 I’m going to dress semi-offensively to the Jungle Dance just to piss off the over-sensitive ‘Justice Squad’ members.”

“Justice Squad” is a term that was coined approximately two weeks ago to refer to students at Willamette who have visibly committed themselves to social justice through association with the American Ethnic Studies department, the Injustice Anywhere column of the Collegian, or any of a number of student organizations, activities, and friend circles that engage in conversations about equity and such. The term is meant to be derogatory (although I must say “Justice Squad” sounds pretty awesome).

Approximately 2 hours after this post was made, a Facebook page was created called Willamette League of Justice for All People, which I will refer to as WLJ. WLJ commented on the post saying,

“WHOA WHOA WHOA Guys. And equal women. Lets keep all the costumes for this “Humid Boscage Party” Unoffensive and Non Opressive. AND no fur or faux fur.”

WLJ has since commented on nearly every post on the Confessions page with messages of a similar thread. It has sparked a great deal of confusion and controversy among those who would consider themselves “Justice Squad” members, those antagonistic to social justice, and everyone in between. Is this person trolling or is this serious?

As Rodriguez mentions in her chapter on the discursive arena of cyberspace in Queer Latinidad, the absence of a physical body in online forums makes it all the more present in our minds. The Confessions page sparks an obsession with the physical body. There is a desire to know the speaker, to identify the words with an individual. The nature of the page insists that we envision or speculate on the physical identity of the speaker. The identity of the WLJ is difficult to envision, making it both frustrating and intriguing. There is a desire, perhaps even a necessity, to align this person either with the “Justice Squad” or the “Antagonizers”, friend or foe so to speak.

Nominally, the Willamette League of Justice for All has associated itself with justice, and some of its posts have addressed the problematic nature of the confession. The page has chosen to present itself as an ally to the “Justice Squad.” However, the overzealous and often misguided nature of the responses, as well as the interesting choice of Che Guevara as the profile picture (which could spark a whole other discussion), has led to speculation that this page is rooted in sarcasm. The one sentence in the WLJ About page can be read numerous ways. It says that the page is dedicated to “Letting people know when they are being insensitive to oppressed people everywhere.” This could be a legitimate attempt to highlight the truly horrendous and derogatory posts made by Willamette students on the Confessions page, or it could be poking fun at all of the “overly sensitive” people who care about oppression, privilege, and equity. Since there is no physical being, no name, and no history in the physical world attached to the author of the WLJ, it is extremely difficult to determine the positionality and intent of the speaker and place him/her/ze within the Justice Squad/Justice Antagonizers paradigm.

Because I am obsessed with the article “Tradductora, Traditora” by Norma Alarcon, I am going to throw in some musings on authenticity and language. Alarcon notes that the process of translating wrecks havoc on notions of authenticity. Perhaps I am stretching here, but at times I think of writing as a process of translating. Writing is an attempt to take thoughts or spoken ideas and force them to conform to a rigid written format. As Rodriguez notes, in the process things will get lost. Tone will not be conveyed, phrases will be misinterpreted; the text is susceptible to the intentions of the intentions of others. The WLJ has been deemed inauthentic by both the Justice Squad and the Antogonizers. Perhaps the WLJ intends to troll, but has been shunned by the Antagonizers for not clearly exuding a sarcastic tone. Perhaps it is seriously committed to justice, but has been deemed inauthentic for misconstruing the intentions of the “Justice Squad”. Maybe it’s just some kid who wanted in on the chaos of the Willamette Confessions page. The world may never know.

I really, really encourage you all to comment on this post. I have barely scrapped the surface of this phenomenon. There is so much going on at Willamette involving the public revealing of private matters, trolling, and the shield of anonymity (Think of the “Hey You” as well.) Look forward to reading comments!

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4 thoughts on “Because Someone’s Gotta Talk About Willamette Confessions

  1. Can I just point out that the title of this blog (Latin@ counterculture) literally reads LatinAt counterculture) just saying if you want to be taken seriously cut down on the text lingo it comes off as unprofessional and it would be a shame for people to miss the information in this blog because of the title.

    • Thanks for your comment. The blog is not particularly concerned with professionalism or the wide spread of information. The term Latin@ beckons to readers who are already participating in conversations about latinidad and sexuality, and the term is recognized and understood in that realm. I figure those who can’t take “Latin@” seriously or bother investigating what it means won’t be convinced by what they’ll find in the blog, anyhow, and that’s fine.

      Meanwhile, let me Google that for you to help you and others undertake this investigation.

  2. Thank you so much for this post! You are definitely correct in saying that “There is so much going on at Willamette involving the public revealing of private matters, trolling, and the shield of anonymity (Think of the “Hey You” as well.)” When the Willamette Confessions Facebook first came out I paid no attention to it because I figured it would turn into something as you have described above and I was not really for that. However, when I heard about the Willamette League of Justice for All (WLJ) Facebook it sparked my interest. I assumed that the WLJ was created by antagonists who were posting in a sarcastic tone simply to create more waves on the site and expose those “sensitive people”. I specifically remember one post where Marissa Bertucci responded to the WLJ and other users began bashing her. I would have quoted it but the site is no longer on Facebook. This disconnect that I saw between who WLJ was seemingly representing and the talkback from someone who would be considered a member is what made me believe there was no ambiguity about who was behind it. Yet, I can see your point in regard to Rodriguez’s chapter on the discursive arena of cyberspace and how the WLJ Facebook account creates this insatiable desire to categorize it in either the friend or for arena. While on an individual basis, as I did, people can choose a category for it on a grand scale its ambiguity still exists to the general public.

    Despite our natural desire to categorize everything, I can see how there can be power in ambiguity for sites/bodies like this. Like in Fefu and her Friends that we just finished reading there was an ambiguity in regard to “what” the characters were and what Fornes’ meaning behind the play was. Whether or not the WLJ Facebook exists to support or antagonize social justice on this campus, it is aiding a public discussion about it. Unlike the Hey You’s in the collegian, Facebook is a medium on which an open dialogue can actually occur – even if it’s fake or ambiguous. It is possible that the WLJ Facebook could provide erroneous information in one of its comments and make real fighters for social justice look stupid or uninformed; the ambiguity that comes with the site/body is its saving grace. Real members of the WLJ at Willamette University can use this ambiguity for their benefit.

    However, I do have some ruminating thoughts on the increasing use of anonymity on this campus. Throughout the four years that I have been here there has been a desire to make something like the Hey You’s happen. There was a website that was basically a virtual version of Hey You’s and there was a Gossip Girl twitter feed that talked ish about anyone known on campus. For some reason or another, the use of anonymous confessions, love notes, praise, or ish talking has actually caught on and flourished. At the same time, this year has seen a rise in – at least in my perspective – public talk about social injustices as is done with the Injustices Everywhere column. We saw someone (Nick Seid) try to respond to this public talk through his own public response in the SPORTS column. Even though he had the public forum at his fingertips he wasted his opportunity to create an open dialogue by trying to shoo away those who wanted to talk about social justice. If I remember correctly, he said that anyone concerned with how others are oppressing them that the real world was going to suck and we were going to pretty much die in it. While I’m not sure what kind of backlash he got, I think that the use of anonymity on this campus has a lot to do with people not wanting to take responsibility in any shape or form. Whether it’s social justice related or telling someone how much you love their smile, it seems like everyone on this campus can be likened to a coward. If we want action or change, we need to take responsibility for our words and engage with the people that matter. Granted, I understand that we must choose our battles it seems like antagonizers on this campus don’t even give the WLJ the option to battle because they’re too afraid to own up to their words.

  3. It occurs to me as I read both of your brilliant analyses of the confessions page and its windfall that anonymous college websites create a minefield of red herrings–the more we focus on battling individual posts, the more distracted we are from the kind of work that can lead to structural change. It’s a really effective way to zap radical energy. But sometimes you can’t ignore the contents. Thus, like the “real world” the Collegian reporter refers to, the challenge in these normative spaces is learning how to measure and strategize around specific modes of racism/sexism/queer hate. The authors here do an amazing job of seeing the forest for the trees, I think.

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