The Dangers of the Smith Confessional
Nadeen Jumai’an ’22
We’ve all been on it, spent hours scrolling through it, shamelessly brought it up in conversations, and possibly contributed to it ourselves. You go on it when you’ve had an exhausting week and need a reminder that your life isn’t as bad as you think it is, when you need to read about someone’s ex-girlfriend sister’s hamster dying or someone asking how they could S/U all of their courses two weeks before the semester ends. When you need some of that sweet, sweet schadenfreude, you head to the Smith Confessional.
Some of us use the Smith Confessional to anonymously express what’s on our minds. To some, it’s a way of putting out whatever they think others on this campus would not be pleased to hear in a social setting. Sometimes, you read the most horrifying thoughts on this website, and the thought of someone possessing these thoughts makes you uncomfortable. A student throwing poop out of their window, unfiltered thoughts about your major advisor, the list goes on. Of course, not everything you read on the confessional is horrifying, but the further I go in my time at Smith, the worse I think the confessional is. This is not to say that I am an innocent bystander in all of this; I, too, have had my fair share of hours spent scrolling through the website, trying to understand the secrets that plague this campus beneath its surface. From what I’ve seen, the majority of the conversations on the confessional are, at best, a waste of time and, at worst, a reflection of the most insidious aspects of the Smith community.
But now that we’re nearing the end of the semester, it’s reasonable that we take some time to reflect on what we spent this precious time doing. From my own view, the Smith Confessional is a toxic platform that students should not be engaging in. Students participate in a platform that increasingly spreads hatred through unhealthy conversations. More specifically, students are using that time to spark negativity.For example, you’ll read about one student’s dissatisfaction with their group partners, sometimes even going as far as addressing their names, which allows more students to express negative thoughts about that person. The anonymity of this website encourages toxicity to fester. When we continue to hide behind our screens and engage in insult battles towards someone who is not present to defend themselves, we are only perpetuating chaos for the sake of perpetuating the chaos.
But speaking more seriously: Does the Smith Confessional reveal an even more sinister side of our student body and deeper, unresolved issues with which we need to contend? When students brought up issues on campus, I used to assume that we were looking for solutions for them. But the confessional discouraged me from believing this. The confessional created a negative image in my mind of what our mission is as a student body. It is essentially a platform for people to create pointless drama for the sake of spreading negativity. Some students describe it as the “underbelly” of Smith, most people usually attesting that it is not representative of the entire student body. However, the conversation and issues revolving around the confessional on campus uncover quite the opposite; the confessional presents a larger problem of festering contempt and underlying tensions that should not go unnoticed.
What happened to our mission as a student body? I chose to attend Smith because I believed that our students were capable of achieving so much through proactive leadership, which is what we are taught to acquire during our time spent here. People who have graduated from Smith through the decades have used their education to seek out solutions for the issues that plague our world. Some have defied others’ expectations by breaking barriers through diligence and hard work. The Smith Confessional only reveals the idleness and toxicity that is growing on campus. For example, students use the platform to name specific individuals and address them publicly, and that, in itself, is not only an invasion of privacy but an indication of the ways in which we need to strengthen community ties at Smith. Unfortunately, some of us who engage in the confessional don’t take ten seconds to contemplate the impact of our words because it’s anonymous, meaning that there are seemingly no consequences when you address someone or something in a negative light. This is not to say that honesty should not be encouraged in conversations. On the contrary, honesty should be encouraged when it is presented in a thoughtful and conscious manner.
When we, as a student body, engage in constructive conversation, we are contributing to our own collective and individual growth. The Smith Confessional only distances us from that path. Our time at Smith should not be spent seeking validation from strangers, inciting chaos and targeting individuals publicly. I am all for critiquing Smith. In fact, the point of a liberal arts education is to provide us with the tools to criticize the power structures that govern us. But sometimes, when I take a moment to reflect on all the fruitful discussions I’ve had with friends and acquaintances in the classroom or in casual settings, I am grateful for the incredible things we can achieve together as Smithies when we aren’t hiding behind a screen.