When the unmistakable sculpture Untitled (Lamp/Bear), also known as “Blueno,” arrived on campus three years ago, it divided the student body into pro- and anti-Blueno factions. Now, a Facebook page carrying the statue’s namesake sits at the center of campus discourse.
“Dear Blueno,” a student-run Facebook page that solicits and posts anonymous submissions, began in 2018 and has attracted 1,941 followers. The page has garnered attention as a platform for controversial conversations this semester on topics such as Brown Divest, the Granoff dinners and campus institutions like sororities and fraternities. The pages’ supporters argue that it provides a useful space for discussion, while critics say it gives a voice to hateful messages.
The Herald’s spring 2019 poll found that 43.7 percent of students feel positively or somewhat positively about the page’s contribution to campus, while 31.5 percent see the page as a negative or very negative addition. The Herald’s poll also found that perception of the page may be related to class year. Fifty-seven percent of first-years reported that Dear Blueno was a positive contribution to campus life, while only 33.5 percent of seniors felt the same.
First-years cited the platform as a useful space for discussion. While Elli Lee ’22 does not follow the page, the posts that are the most popular in terms of Facebook “reactions” appear on her timeline. She cited some of the benefits of the page for first-years and marginalized communities. “The page puts everybody on an equal ground because it’s all anonymous,” she said. “It gives a way for minorities and marginalized voices to express frustrations in ways that might not be as well-heard on campus or in person.”
But both Michael Lahiff ’22 and Lee noted that the page had detrimental elements. “If your main coping mechanism is to post anonymously on a website, that can also be destructive,” Lahiff said.
Lee believes the page overall is used more negatively than positively, with controversial posts “overshadowing” the good aspects of the page. Speaking on the Granoff dinners, Lee said that as a low-income student, seeing some of the posts on Dear Blueno “felt very isolating and diminished a lot of low-income student problems.”
Beyond controversial topics, Dear Blueno serves other important purposes for underclassmen. First-years often turn to the page when they have questions about professors, dorms or other aspects of campus life. “I feel like a lot of the time, when it comes to questions, it’s underclassmen asking and upperclassmen answering,” Lahiff said.
Seniors — most of whom do not rely on the page as a resource — are more frustrated with the role the page has begun to play on campus.
For Clare Steinman ’19, former opinions editor for The Herald, Dear Blueno introduced a new outlet for negative rhetoric within the Brown community. “It’s frustrating when we see it kind of devolve into this negative atmosphere,” Steinman said.
Steinman wrote an op-ed in The Herald criticizing Dear Blueno earlier this year. While many of the posts are innocuous, there are also “very critical, often baseless claims and accusations about student groups and about individuals” that do not contribute to productive conversation, she said. For example, she noticed an anonymous post that degraded her sorority’s pledge class on the basis of appearances. “It’s not actually criticism ... of Greek life or the recruitment process, it’s just cyberbullying,” she said.
Other upperclassmen felt the page largely consisted of gossip, which is part of the reason first-years are attracted to its content. Robbie Felton ’21, Class Coordinating Board president for the sophomore class, said that as students move through their time at the University, that type of discussion becomes less interesting.
Min Tunkel ’19 also echoed the idea that first-years are most interested in the type of posts found on Dear Blueno. “They just came to Brown and it’s really exciting to have a place to hear all these different opinions,” Tunkel said.
While upperclassmen view the page less positively, many acknowledge it plays a previously nonexistent role in campus discourse. “It’s good that we have an open forum on campus for people to speak, and honestly I wish there was a university-facilitated one,” Felton said. Steinman felt similarly, saying that there is a “market” for a platform at Brown allowing people to express their views anonymously.
Institutional leaders and randomly approached students alike were hesitant to comment on The Herald’s poll findings. Heads of sororities Kappa Delta, Kappa Alpha Theta and Delta Gamma declined to comment, as well as the CCB presidents of the first-year and senior class. Alpha Chi Omega and the junior class representative from CCB did not respond to The Herald’s request for comment. Organizations such as Counseling and Psychological Services and the Sexual Assault Peer Education program, as well as multiple deans of student affairs, said they did not keep up enough with the page and also declined to comment.