*The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect ZU Media’s stance*
A new, anonymous, student-run Instagram account encourages APU students to send in anonymous confessions. Here’s my take on how the page affects campus culture.
On Sept. 17, a student-run Instagram account, @azusaxconfessions, created its first post: a screenshot of a student-submitted confession. Within a few days, the page, which is not affiliated with the university, was populated with screenshotted anonymous messages, mostly consisting of complaints about APU and its students.
One post read: “I regret moving to Adam’s hall. Everybody is so two-faced and fake.”
Another said: “All the guys at this school are ugly.”
Other posts asked questions, ranging from what electives to take, how to make friends on campus and where to find parties. Others, which don’t need to be quoted here, consisted of students bragging about sexual exploits.
Now, two months after its inception, the private Instagram account boasts over 800 followers. Student submissions are still mostly complaints, but the page has taken on an unofficial identity as a space for students to anonymously criticize the school and debate opposing views about APU’s culture and how the school functions.
Recent heated topics on the account have been the treatment of RAs, the experience of non-Christian students, the culture surrounding mission trips, Campus Safety and chapel services. It’s not an uncommon occurrence for the account to have over 20 story posts solely of students responding to previous posts to each share their points of view.
The account has become a hot topic on campus as well; students discuss the posts frequently, and some faculty members seem aware of the account’s presence and impact. In fact, following a chapel message by Dean of Students Coba Canales on Nov. 1 — in which Canales said that talking behind one another’s backs and tearing others down has no place in the APU community — the account posted messages from several students who posited that the sermon was referencing the Azusa Confessions page.
Considering the state of the account and its use by students, my question is this: Is the Azusa Confessions page beneficial or harmful to campus culture?
The student running Azusa Confessions
Through a series of Instagram DMs, I was able to interview the anonymous student (referenced from here on as “account owner”) who runs the Azusa Confessions page to shed some light on the purpose behind the page.
They said the page was inspired by meme pages and started off as a comedic page.
“I wanted to see how funny it would be to see/hear all the funny stuff that goes around APU,” wrote the account owner. “As students, we have a lot of stress and stuff on our plates, I wanted a place where we can all take our minds off stuff for a second and laugh.”
However, the account quickly grew into something bigger and now receives about 30 messages each day. The account owner now sees it as “being a community for the students.”
“The page has transformed into an outlet where students can express themselves, criticize stuff, rant, share funny stuff, promote things and now I guess apparently shoot their shot at their crush,” said the account owner.
I asked the account owner how they would respond to criticism about the page being harmful to campus culture in light of the perceived criticism of the page in recent weeks.
They said, “I understand the criticism completely; however, I don’t believe anything that’s been submitted on the page has ever been truly harmful or offensive. If it is, I have an open door policy and invite staff or students to come discuss and I will always engage in good faith and understanding.”
Additionally, the account owner wrote, “As a Christian, sometimes I’m conflicted about whether or not I should post certain things, I think there should be a balance.”
That balance is something the account owner has been working on recently.
“I used to just post everything sent, however, as the page started to get more and more popular, the more wild stuff started to come in and I realized that I have to be careful and read submissions carefully,” they said. “Students send crazy stuff! I try my best to find a balance.”
On top of explaining the intention and the changing nature of the Azusa Confessions page, the account owner also explained that the page isn’t in response to a dislike for APU.
Rather, they said, “I really like it here! I have nothing but positive things to say about APU. Let’s all make it the most funny, interesting and the best school year possible.”
How does Azusa Confessions affect campus culture?
There is a fine line between purposeful criticism and complaining as well as a fine line between humor and insult. The Azusa Confessions page balances precariously on that line between the positive and negative.
I have no problem with the concept of the account as a comedic page where people can send in confessions. I’ll admit that I was one of the earlier followers of the page, and I thought it was a fun concept at first.
But I think where it has gone wrong is in the way the APU student community has shaped the page into something different than its original intention. Before you call me a killjoy — or submit a complaint about me to the confessions page — let me explain what I see as potentially harmful aspects of the page.
1. Complaints are not the same as confessions
The supposed purpose of the page is in the name: Azusa Confessions. How come, then, are the majority of posts on the page student complaints and criticism?
The implication behind a confession is that it’s personal in nature. It’s not a confession if you’re starting a rumor about someone. Nor is it a confession if you’re complaining about things you don’t like about the school.
I’m all for free speech and outlets for healthy criticism — that’s what I’m practicing with this article right now. But what do the complaints on the confessions page achieve? How can criticism create change if it’s just for the sake of anonymously complaining to a sympathetic audience?
The problems students have vocalized on the page stay problems if nothing is done. If you want things to change, don’t just complain, take action. Don’t hide behind the comfort of ranting anonymously on a private Instagram account — contact the Student Government Association, email professors, start a club or simply put your name behind your criticism and vocalize it where change can be made.
2. Negativity breeds negativity
The next aspect I see as harmful to campus culture is the negativity on the page. It seems as though a lot of the posts are just negative without any real purpose other than the students sharing something they don’t like.
Students’ overwhelmingly negative take on the school has made it seem as though those who have a positive view of APU are the minority. If all students see on their Instagram feed are posts about how awful APU is, they’ll start thinking from that mindset and develop a negative view of their own.
I attribute this phenomenon to a loud minority overpowering a silent majority. In communication theory, this is called the spiral of silence theory in which those who believe they have an unpopular opinion remain silent while those who believe their view is shared will be more likely to speak.
The implications of this spiral are that an unpopular minority view can become seen as a majority view. In the case of the confessions page, people with negative views about APU have been vocal about their discontent which has encouraged others to be vocal about their discontent. What is seen as the majority may in fact be a small percentage of the student body.
This cultivates a negative mindset in other students, which then becomes a frame through which to experience the school and a preconceived notion that expectations won’t be met.
For example, students complaining about the school dance before it happened could have created a presupposed idea for students that it would be bad before they had experienced it.
3. Borderline cyberbullying has been disguised as humor
What I see as the most potentially harmful aspect of the page is that it has made harsh criticism of students acceptable.
People have the ability to sit behind their veil of anonymity and say hateful things about other students through the page. While I appreciate that the account owner is beginning to filter content more carefully before posting, some posts that have slipped through have bordered on cyberbullying.
For example, about a week ago, a story post criticized a chapel band worship leader for being “off-key” and encouraged them to find a new passion. The harmful part is that the student who submitted the post identified the worship leader by where they were on the stage that day.
While posts like this are rare, some other cruel things have been said on the page. Jokes have been made about the quality of guys and girls on campus, students have ganged up to express things they don’t like about trolly drivers, professors, or campus safety officers and several students have ranted about their roommates — one student went as far as saying she flirted with her roommates’ boyfriend “to teach her a lesson.”
The idea behind the page is a fun concept, and I understand students’ desire to rant and make their voices heard. However, students who submit to the page need to be more conscious of the effect their posts may have.
I think it’s evident that if students immediately associated the Azusa Confessions page with Canales’ sermon about tearing people down, there’s an issue with how the page is being used. It shouldn’t be solely on the account owner to moderate the page; students should be mindful of how their words and actions contribute to or harm the culture on campus.
Your community is what you make it. Leave behind the comfort of anonymous criticism, and shape APU into the place you want it to be.
Read another take on Azusa Confessions here.