NYU Secrets' Biggest Secret
An interview with the founder of NYU Secrets
Originally published on June 30, 2014
There are some secrets so great, you can only tell a friend. And then there are the secrets so much greater, you can only tell a stranger.
Enter: NYU Secrets. NYU Secrets: a place where people disclose their deepest, darkest sins, and where the most sacred aspect of the community is the very anonymity it is built upon.
As the sole moderator of the page, the NYU Secrets administrator carries a large weight on his shoulders. With an average of 50-75 secrets a day, and even more on special occasions (like RA Selection day or the Snow Day That Never Was), it can’t be easy on the eyes (or soul) after perusing through each and every secret submitted.
This is a liability he concedes to: “It’s not a science. I’m imperfect at posting them. Sometimes I’ll re-read them and say, ‘I should’ve posted that yesterday.’ But usually, I try to gauge what’s most compelling. I like to start conversations with secrets, build narratives, and engage students.”
The maintenance of this page- which unquestionably takes a great deal of time, effort, and thought- isn’t found to be stressful for him, rather “routine.”
Picture a dude sitting at his computer for two-three hours every day putting work into something he will never receive credit or recognition for. In a time where we need to Instagram every delicious meal we cook, an act of mysteriousness like this is virtually philanthropic.
While the creator of NYU Secrets admits that “a lesser known perk of running the page is that when [he doesn’t] call [his] mother every day and she sees that [he] posts, she knows [he’s] okay,” we all can only suspect that there are more perks than that one. Let’s be real: there must be something thrilling about running a community, serving as the confidant for numerous strangers, and seeing something you founded flourish into something greater than the student-run clubs officially funded by the University. With this growth comes a job description that has evolved beyond purely secret-posting. “The page,” as he describes it, “has clearly moved past just ‘secrets.’ I’m okay with that.” Everyday messages are received that aren’t secrets to be shared with the great multitude of fans, but are for his eyes-only. “Well sometimes I get ‘please don’t post this.’ Other times it’ll just be a question. I tend to not post questions. Some people treat me as a diary. I’m okay with that. I read what they have to say and move on.”
Coming from a 22 year-old female, I would argue that to be treated as a diary is perhaps one of the greatest honors another human being on this planet can bestow upon you. While I am now old enough to refer to the practice as “journaling,” the act is no less significant and the treatment as a Human Diary is no less reverent. Yet half of the students who submit secrets and read the page religiously never really consider the man behind the phenomenon and focus solely on the secrets. Lucas Cartwright, a recent NYU graduate, says, “I don’t pay too much attention to the admin, but he probably gets flooded by secrets.” Meanwhile, the other half is fervently curious to find out the identity of the guy who “has too much time on his hands,” “has access to an entire school’s blackmail,” and “does a good job advertising the Wellness Center.” The NYU Secrets administrator’s many reputations precede him, and at the end of the day, the biggest secret of all may be the identity of the boy whose inbox is full of secrets, and maybe his hair is too.
NYU Secrets has infiltrated not only NYU’s culture, but also the lives of people outside of the school and city. The founder’s role in this culture is so immense that it puts him on a pedestal higher than Sexton himself- and yet, no one voted him into office, interrogated him about his goals for the school’s inhabitants, or asked his salary requirements. It’s something people can be mad about, as some NYU students have expressed. Alas, even those portions of the students who dislike the page and/or its creator still contribute to the community by submitting a secret expressing their distaste, such as Secret #4826: Well fuck you NYU Secrets admin! What are you? The grammar Nazi? You sound so fucking pretentious. And just so you know I found a lot of secrets that had grammatical errors so clearly you’re not so good at proofreading/ correcting mistakes!
Some people boycott the page because they feel it only showcases a small percentage of the school’s population and doesn’t accurately represent the school. Griffin Simpson, a rising senior at NYU, says, “I mean, I really have nothing against [the page], I am just personally disinterested in that type of express benefit people seem to get from posting something anonymously.” Other people find that it serves more as a forum for people to criticize their peers than a community. “Once secrets are posted, the comments tend to be very vicious and negative towards the poster. I don’t see how people read the NYU Secrets page and feel welcome to come to NYU,” Teresa Qi, a rising NYU Junior, says. A big concern resonating among most of these inactive Secret Followers is the willingness so many people have to expose their personal lives to an anonymous figure. Even though the secrets are posted with no OP (Original Poster) name in sight, there is someone behind the mask of “NYU Secrets” who is not only privy to every secret submitted, but to the owner of each secret as well.
Most of us who studied 1984 in high school probably lost sleep over the idea of a Big Brother coming into existence. No one ever considered that instead of such an authoritative leadership being thrust upon us, we might be creating one ourselves. Could that potentially be the result of trusting an unidentified person with our drug and alcohol scandals, awful incestuous thoughts, and pornography addictions- among many other X-rated confessions? Here is essentially a nameless, faceless, secret figure behind a computer screen that we are all accepting into our lives. We are blindly showing our support with a “like” of the page, a submission of a secret, or comments on posts. We keep the page- and the man behind it- alive and thriving with our voices.
Our voices make the page live on. It’s our comments of love or fury, our glee or anger depending on whether or not our secrets get posted, and our reading and responding. As fucked up as it is that the NYU Secrets creator’s role in the page is comparable to the force of gravity to everyone on Earth, it cannot be ignored that the survival of this page- this community- and some of its most faithful audience members go hand in hand. It’s symbiosis: We need this page and this page needs us.
Even though trust is a fickle emotion and can sometimes lead to trouble, we trust this NYU Secrets guy. It’s a risky business, but it’s no riskier than opening ourselves up to anyone else in the world. While people have every right to be dubious of the page and its founder, it’s important to remember that the page, its content, and its destiny largely remain in the people’s control- and that isn’t a threat or a scare tactic to the founder, because that’s how he likes it. In the few years this page has been running, he has proved to be an upright citizen, using his power and access to a large assembly of people for the better: constantly sprinkling our newsfeed with Wellness Center information, solemn messages out of respect to victims of tragedies, and my personal favorite: NYUS: Hidden Talents. If anyone from the school was going to run a page like this, we should count our blessings that the person who was innovative enough to originate it is also a person with the cleanest of intentions, genuinely trying to make the world a better and happier place: “My original intentions were to build a community,” he says. “The loneliness, isolation- even when you have friends here- can be crippling at times. There was nowhere to go to discuss events at the university. There was no forum for us.”
After one chat with him, I think, in my humble opinion we “found a good one,” as our mothers would say. He doesn’t give expecting something in return. He doesn’t listen to hold the information against us later. Sure, he is a doorkeeper, deciding what can stand as part of the community and what can’t, but he is also a locked vault. “I do everything I can to distance myself from ALL secrets. I don’t want to remember who said what when I pass them on the streets or see them in my classes,” he explains. Is he supposed to be our caretaker? Can he do more than read our secrets and post them or refer the unsound to the Wellness Center and move on? “I’m not licensed to help these people—so I do what I can to refer and then step away. My own mental health would suffer if I became personally invested in each and every submitter. It’s a noble goal, but I’m not a saint.”
We never needed to vote the page’s administrator into power to give him authority- we did that with our desire to share a piece of ourselves with others. Even when done anonymously, it is clear that the effect is nothing short of groundbreaking. Why else would the page accumulate a fan-base of over 28,500 people? While he can’t quite pinpoint the reason for its success, he finds that it is “probably because [he] wasn’t the only one who felt we needed to make a strong attempt at community and open up a dialogue between students. [He] can’t really say why it’s popular outside of NYU. Maybe we’ve just got a really interesting student body.”
Now, assuming the community continues to breed at this steady rate of approximately 10,000 new followers a year, what will happen to the page after our sole organizer graduates and “NYU” only vaguely applies to him? “I have a bit of a control issue. I’m very much the type of person who says, ‘if you want something done right, do it yourself.’ It’s easier for me to just keep doing things the way I do them than to train someone—because there is a method to doing things. There’s a philosophy you have to have that I’ve developed in my time running this page. It’s something I’m unsure I’m willing to give up.” We, as readers, see a page with a secret posted every now and then. But the engineer behind it all? Well, he has a whole system behind this well-run page. “Well, for example, some pages I’ve seen post everything. Quality control is extremely important with something like this. There’s also knowing how to maintain free speech when sometimes you simply need to delete comments/censor. There’s a way you have to interact with the community. You can’t berate people for their secrets. You have to work on your objectivity always. You have to post the secrets that make your stomach turn.”
It’s difficult to measure the impact the page has had on the rest of the world. It seems that once you’ve liked the page on Facebook, at a certain point you find yourself absorbed by the secrets. But if you look beyond the text itself, there is more to see than secrets sometimes so perverse that even whispering them would be too loud. The administrator himself admits to growing as a result of the page. “I haven’t changed my career path or anything that significant, but it has changed my outlook on life. I’m more empathetic now. I am more prone to realizing that every person has his or her own story. I judge less.” And he has a greater message to us, the so-called NYU Community: “Be kinder to one another. Also: Community exists here at NYU and I refuse to believe anyone who says otherwise.”