Over the course of this semester, New Paltz Secrets, a Facebook page where anonymous users can share secrets to be broadcasted to more than a thousand followers, has gained not only popularity among the SUNY New Paltz student population – but ire from multiple clubs and organizations who have condemned the page’s more “offensive” postings.
A secret – titled No.1017 – posted on March 1 that recounted the alleged assault of a transgender woman has various groups and individuals on campus, including members of the Queer Action Coalition (QAC), expressing their discontent and outrage with the – now deleted – secret and even the Facebook page itself.
Following attention gained from No. 1017 and other previous secrets, the Student Association (SA) released a statement on their Facebook page on March 6 about the increased amount of social media outlets used to “spread rumors and slander” while “inciting harassment, fear and intimidation” in fellow students through “discriminatory, racist, sexist, transphobic [and] homophobic” language.
Since its creation in December of 2012, New Paltz Secrets has quickly garnered the attention of the campus community. As of March 13, the page had 1,695 ‘likes,’ surpassing the official Facebook page for The Town of New Paltz by almost 100 ‘likes.’
In comparison, the New Paltz Student Association currently has 217 ‘likes,’ and the New Paltz Residence Hall Association has 689 friends as of press time.
The founder of New Paltz Secrets, who wished to remain anonymous*, said the page was meant to “strengthen the current community” and create a “comfortable” environment where people can be themselves.
Their mission seemed to catch on, as nearly 2,000 secrets have been sifted through since its inception. With so many secrets and other messages being submitted, the page founder said moderation is needed.
“In all honesty, only 60 to 70 percent of all things sent in are put on the page and maybe even less than that,” the page founder said. “If you break the disclaimer, if people are named in a negative light, if it’s racist, sexist or a personal attack on an individual, it can’t be put up.”
Secret No. 1017 was “overlooked,” according to the page founder, and was removed from the webpage after they received a message from a student who wished for it to be taken down.
Since secret No. 1017 was posted, the page founder said Facebook users have been “badgering” them to release the name of the person who submitted the secret, but will not give out the name and “brand them as a social pariah.”
The page founder said if an actual crime was committed, they would release the name.
“I think people are questioning my morals by letting that one slip, but…it’s difficult,” they said. “I don’t think I’m guilty for not releasing the name, but I am a little guilty of posting that. Even though I didn’t say it, I helped spread it…and I feel bad. It was a mistake.”
REACTION TO NO.1017
Secret No. 1017, which detailed an alleged sexual assault of a transgendered person, has members of both SUNY New Paltz student government and clubs and organizations on campus concerned.
The original post, which has since been deleted, has even sparked follow-up discussions under different posts on the page as of March 12.
Those condemning secret No. 1017 said while some argue that free speech should be allowed, the effects of that speech have far reaching consequences.
Fourth-year psychology major Shane Triano said many students don’t understand that free speech doesn’t mean you aren’t held accountable for what you say — even on an anonymous page.
“You can say what you want without censorship, but if you admit to a crime, you’re going to be held accountable,” Triano said. “That’s not impeding on your free speech. Just because it’s on Facebook doesn’t mean it’s less serious than if you said it to a student’s face.”
Zachary Rousseas, a student senator, first noticed secret No. 1017 after it had been posted. Now, after various posts asking for more information on the matter, Rousseas said he wonders how New Paltz has the reputation of being “queer-friendly” when the campus lacks many of the resources that other SUNYs, including Albany and Purchase have for LGBTQ students, like support centers and entirely gender-neutral dorms.
“We don’t have the resources, the administration doesn’t try to give us the resources, and even the student body — you go out on a Saturday night and you don’t know what kind of slur is going to come out of somebody’s mouth or what someone is going to do to you,” Rousseas said.
Rousseas’ sentiments were shared by other members of the campus community.
Communication & Media Lecturer Daniel Hunt — who has made several documentaries about the transgender community — said the writer’s “posture and entitlement” is what disturbed him the most.
“[The poster] felt [their] actions were acceptable or permissible or justifiable, because this person was different,” Hunt said. “The whole othering [because] these people live on the margins, and because they dwell on the margins, they deserve less — deserve abuse, deserve what’s brought on to them just because their different — is disgusting.”
Billy Caracciolo, a fourth-year Women’s, Gender and Sexuality and digital production double major, went a step further and said the post reveals the larger issue of transphobia on campus despite New Paltz’s reputation of being “an open place.”
“People think that even though there are some individuals who are ‘bad,’ New Paltz, as a whole, is a really good community,” Caracciolo said. “I think that’s not really the case, especially for queer and trans people. We’ve been trying to have this discussion ever since I came to this school and no one seems to be taking it too seriously at all, so it’s part of a bigger issue that New Paltz is not doing anything to make it a better, safer space.”
PARALLELS TO THE PAST
Much like Caracciolo, some campus community members have questioned SUNY New Paltz’s accepting atmosphere after seeing posts on a page as popular as New Paltz Secrets.
Karl Bryant, assistant professor of sociology and Women’s, Gender and Sexuality studies, said that New Paltz’s progressive reputation only goes so far.
“You can be liberal and hold onto beliefs about groups of people that are stigmatizing and oppressive, like some of the racial incidents last year,” Bryant said. “This incident is disturbing and disgusting, but not surprising. They’re not anomalies. They’re something that is here all the time, but isn’t expressed — maybe, because of that reputation.”
Sociology Professor Roberto Vélez-Vélez also compared the posting to the “racial signage” last year, because he said both incidents had target audiences, albeit different ones.
Vélez-Vélez said most of his students hadn’t directly read the post, but had heard about it from other people.
“Unlike the signing in Humanities and the dorm [Lefevre Hall], which had the intention that people are going to see it, including faculty and staff — not just the student who is active online — the students who are going to see this [post] are going to be carefully looking at their newsfeed, and the people who are interested in campus gossip,” Vélez-Vélez said.
Vélez-Vélez said the page owner’s anonymity allowed them to take a position of neutrality, so they can post these “secrets” without condemning or condoning them. By doing so, they escape responsibility, serving as a “vessel” and not a filter, Vélez-Vélez said.
However, Triano said even as an anonymous post, the actions of the original poster and the page moderator reflect a “general sentiment” of the student population toward the trans community.
“Somebody thought that ‘people will get…my point of view on this, think it’s funny and a story worth telling’ — not with the intention that people would be disgusted,” Triano said. “That is reflected in the response too. The person who runs the page…put it up as opposed to being completely disgusted.”
Bryant said these “negative attitudes” are just one piece of the “difficult and dangerous” reality that transgender students and individuals face every day.
“Whether or not it happened, it taps into something that is very real,” he said. “These are true realities for trans people’s lives and that’s the important thing. There are all kinds of ways that trans people’s lives on campus are significantly different than other people, on a basic level, that people take for granted.”
These public platforms — Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter — have become a way for people to disclose and share intimate, and sometimes taboo, positions, according to Vélez-Vélez. He said that people are expressing their feelings and opinions with less self-restraint.
“People are losing the bearings of limits in expression — they don’t think of social consequences,” Vélez-Vlez said. “They don’t think it’s actually out there when it’s out there, but racism is racism whether it’s public or private, as well as sexism, homophobia, etc.”
A FAR REACHING ISSUE
While secret No. 1017 served as a catalyst for many organizations on campus to begin voicing their opinions about New Paltz Secrets, other posts have gained attention as being “offensive” to various factions of the student population.
In response to the various outcries, the SA released a statement condemning hate speech and offensive language in any environment.
“We at Student Association formally condemn any social media outlet that perpetuates the type of speech mentioned above in order to create a safer environment for our student body,” the statement said.
As the representatives for the student body as a whole, SA President Josh Simpson said the group felt the need to address and “formally condemn” the Twitter account New Paltz Fuego, New Paltz Secrets and similar accounts.
“We’re not trying to promote anything negative, especially things that are transphobic, homophobic, racist, things about domestic violence,” Simpson said. “That’s not conducive to life and the mental well-being of our students. As long as one person finds the page offensive then it needs to be addressed.”
Simpson said that New Paltz Secrets was also discussed during senate on March 6, specifically how it promotes negativity and stereotypes, but also how it is affecting students who are willing to stand up against the sites.
“Students who stand up against New Paltz Secrets and slander, in general, get slammed and get ostracized and get made fun of, and that’s only perpetuated and promoted by New Paltz Secrets,” he said.
THE CAMPUS CLIMATE
While a 2012 study was released gauging SUNY New Paltz’s attitudes toward the LGBTQ community, some feel that New Paltz Secrets and other similar social media websites showcase a disconnect between what the student population is saying and what it truly believes.
In October 2012, the Campus Climate Survey for LGBTQ Issues Research Report was released, which revealed that “transgendered respondents were significantly less likely to feel physically safe, understood, and protected on campus.”
In addition, the survey found that 97 percent of people surveyed had “supportive attitudes” toward the LGBTQ community.
Despite this, some believe the numbers don’t reflect reality.
Fourth-year Women’s, Gender and Sexuality major Cody Hill said he feels as though very little is done on campus to combat the transphobia and that he would advise younger transgender students to “definitely not attend SUNY New Paltz.”
“This school is an actively hostile environment for transgender students, and almost none of the administrators act in a way that demonstrates a desire to create any tangible or helpful change,” Hill said.
Caracciolo said he hopes people will start to take trans issues and transphobia “more seriously,” because this posting is an example of the real violence transgender individuals experience.
“We don’t just want gender neutral housing or bathrooms,” he said. “This is not just us crying about our pronouns. It’s a bigger thing. It’s these attitudes about trans people that leads to this violence — it’s the idea that this is very serious and needs to be taken seriously.”
With debates erupting over whether the page should be taken down or not, Rousseas said that people who don’t try to stop these things from happening are “on the side of transphobia and queerphobia.”
“If you’re not doing anything about it, you’re letting it continue,” he said.
* While it is against the policy of The New Paltz Oracle to use anonymous sources, given the weight of the situation, we agreed for the founder of New Paltz Secrets to remain anonymous after they agreed to prove they ran the webpage and interview in person.