By Molly Meisels
On December 26th, 2018, Yeshiva University students received an invitation to follow a Facebook page titled, “YU and Stern Confessions.” Shifra Lindenberg, a second-year student and popular social media presence on campus, sent the invite. Students who began following the page were met with the first confession: “To the girls [who] come to the library during reading week, if you’re doing it because you look objectively better in the [H]eights, it’s working.” And with that post, the Wilf and Beren campuses erupted in gasps and squeals. YU students reacted in a plethora of ways. Many were skeptical that the confessions were real. Others were ecstatic at the revelations the page would offer. Some were disgusted at the blatant misogyny already produced by the page.
According to Lindenberg, the page was inspired by the UC Berkeley Confessions Page. The page is part of a phenomenon which is gaining traction on college campuses. They are meant to provide a student body with an anonymous outlet to declare their grievances with student life, administration, and culture on campus. Students are usually afraid of sharing opinions which would provoke judgment from their peers or concern from administrative figures. All fear is expelled with anonymous pages like these, leading to liberation for many. For instance, Mordy Tombosky, Syms ’19, says, “I think it’s an awesome way to get people talking. Even though it’s anonymous, it really highlights some of the major problems/perks/complexities of going to Yeshiva University.” However, the page also expose aspects of the student body which are usually concealed. For YU, this is characterized by sexism and LGBTQ+ representation.
The Facebook page was officially started back in March of 2018. At the time, Lindenberg had trouble getting the page off the ground because she did not want her name directly associated with the content the page would produce. She proudly restarted and advertised the page during Reading Week, prompting students to send in 100 confessions per day and 2,000 confessions overall.
Lindenberg sees many benefits to having a page such as this one, believing that it gives students a safe space to speak about issues which trouble them without facing repercussions or criticisms. She also believes that the page legitimizes YU as an institution, as it gives the school an online presence that other universities pride themselves on. A few students agree with this sentiment, such as Dahlia Laury, Syms ’20, who says, “Shifra is a revolutionary in her ability to take social media to a new level. This game changer has made YU a staple in the meme community. She has basically created free advertising for the University.”
Nonetheless, Lindenberg agrees that the page has some detriments. “Everything is sent in anonymously…anyone could be saying anything.” And they do say anything. Many suicidal confessions were received the first week. The administrators of the page wished to reach out to the suicidal individuals, but their anonymity made it impossible. Instead, Gabi Chutter, SCW ‘20, posted, “[…] We’ve been getting a few confessions about wanting to commit suicide… While we don’t know who is sending in these submissions, and there’s really no way for us to find out, [we] would really encourage you to reach out to someone. No matter how bad it’s getting, it’s not worth ending your life…” The Counseling Center email address is now at the bottom of the page’s submission form.
With this management, Lindenberg acts as a guardian for the page, censoring all the material that goes up. She will red-flag anything too profane, explicit, or sexual. Yet many students are upset with her process, as they believe Lindenberg censors vital confessions which would benefit the student body. She says her censorship is meant to prohibit derogatory postings or postings which give Yeshiva University a bad name. Some view the selection process as prejudicial, as Lindenberg has considered having students pay to see their confessions on the page. She claims that if students truly wish to see their confessions up, they can message the administrators.
Regardless of the controversy surrounding the selection process, many students believe that the YU and Stern Confessions Page has bolstered a sense of community on campus. Jack Turell, Syms ’18, says, “I feel a sense of community…amongst YU as a whole with the YU Confessions Page. More people think like me.” This sense of community makes people feel like they are not outcasts, as Izzy Hadar, Syms ’19, says, “The best thing is that it’s clearly allowed people to find communal resources and find out that they aren’t alone or evil.” Lindenberg seems to approve of these sentiments.
An overwhelming consensus on campus is that the page has provided a voice for the LGBTQ+ community. There are some disheartening LGBTQ+ confessions like, “I want to fill out the dorm room change form because I think my roommate is homophobic” and there are some informative confessions such as, “email@example.com is a student-run resource for undergrads struggling with identity or just looking to connect with like-minded undergrads. Anonymous emails welcome.”
For some, the page has become a haven for LGBTQ+ conversation, as many individuals offer advice to the LGBTQ+ community, especially Gedalia Penner, YC ’17. Penner comments below confessions, providing advice to those with issues relating to homophobia or a lack of LGBTQ+ representation at YU. When someone posted about a 14-year-old struggling with her sexuality, Penner commented with an abundance of advice, including, “Feel free to put her in touch with me! I’m not sure what her background is like, but happy to be another supportive/friendly/community-building presence in her life… (That goes for all the [people] reading this comment as well, and all the people they may know who could use the help and support.)” This has turned Penner into the go-to LGBTQ+ advocate at the University, as many young LGBTQ+ students and allies respect him.
All of this has provided the LGBTQ+ community with a voice when they have otherwise been silenced. Students are sharing their homophobic experiences, their gay crushes, and their closeted lifestyles. Penner says, “I’m just so glad that I can help the closeted LGBTQ community in YU. It does gives me some angst, though…I figured this group – founded by and mostly servicing people in my own circles, who I knew to be wonderful allies, if not LGBTQ themselves – would mostly preach to the choir, to people who would feel safe coming out in the first place. And yet, it appears that these confessors would’ve otherwise had much more difficulty reaching out. Comes to show you how desperately lonely and frightening the closeted mindset is…” Lindenberg is proud to promote LGBTQ+ attitudes on campus, as she says, “The posts don’t hurt the school. I am not censoring them because they are not inappropriate…they are not [sexual].”
LGBTQ+ representation is not the only issue which has been given a voice on campus. Sexist content also covers a large percentage of the page. From the very first confession posted, it became clear that misogynist rhetoric would become a vocal facet of the page. One of the worst comments flaunted, “To the girls [wearing] pants in the library, yes we are all looking at [your] ass.” This confession received a slew of frustrated responses, which decried the bigotry. Comments such as these have reminded the student body that prejudice is flourishing at Yeshiva University. Students read posts such as, “I shiver [every time] I see a picture of Alexandria Ocasio Cortez… She’s scary looking and THOSE TEETH,” and are struck by the blatant indecencies directed at women for their appearances. These sexist comments are not the only ones which offend the student body. Izzy Hadar mentions that “the worst part about the confessions page is the blatant anti-Sephardic/Mizrahi rhetoric and that it’s supported and upheld by people who are ‘progressive’.”
The YU and Stern Confessions Page has represented these progressive and regressive social attitudes on campus for a few months, even though some students believe that many of the confessions are phony. Phillip Nagler, YC ’20, says, “I think the page serves its purpose, which is a comedic outlet for the student body. At the same time, it is important to recognize that many of the confessions are [hyperbolic] and are not representative of the overall student body of YU.” This sentiment is held by many on campus, but feelings on the page are split. Some students support it and others see deep flaws with it. An anonymous student says that the “page is attention-seeking” and doesn’t see it enacting any change in YU.
A final concern is in relation to the name of the page, as “YU and Stern Confessions” indicates that Stern is not in fact YU. This has been a conversation on campus for some time now, and many feel a lack of representation with this page title. Lindenberg says this is not purposeful since she is still new on campus and does not know the political landscape.