Facebook group counters campus narrative of apathetic stress culture, encourages vulnerability

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GRAPHIC BY CARMEN HONKER / THE FLAT HAT

Near the end of the spring 2018 semester, Kate Dragonetti ’21 and Olivia Renda ’21 took to Facebook after crying together at the Mary-Cooke Branch Munford Plaza, in front of Earl Gregg Swem Library, as classes let out. The two, who were roommates at the time, then created the Facebook group, “W&M Places I’ve Cried.”

“It started half because we thought it would be funny and half because we cry a lot,” Dragonetti said.

The group, which is now a closed group, has 760 members. Students typically post the location where they are crying and sometimes their reasons why. Other students then “react” and share supportive messages through the post’s comment section.

Renda said that she and Dragonetti believe it is important for students to have an outlet, and that she believes “W&M Places I’ve Cried” has become a place where people can find support and be vulnerable.

“Opening up to a group of peers about the time you cried on campus is really vulnerable, but the page really encourages that,” Renda said. “It’s a really good thing to have in the campus community; we often can get caught up in that stress culture.”

Dragonetti said that after a student contacted her about changing the privacy settings of the group, she decided it would be better to make it a closed group. That way, only students — not their relatives — can see posts on the page, and frequent posters can feel safe when applying for jobs and internships.

Some students use this Facebook group more than others. As of Wednesday, Oct. 31, Kathryn Willoughby ’20 had posted six times. Hallie Feinman ’22 had posted three times. For Willoughby and Feinman, however, the group is comforting rather than shameful.

“I can’t remember who introduced me to it, but I have especially been using it this semester because it is really comforting,” Willoughby said. “No shade to ‘Swampy Memes [for Twampy Teens],’ I love Swampy, but there is a lot of ‘Oh things are terrible, things suck,’ this depressive, apathetic culture at the College in general but especially in other Facebook groups. The thing about ‘W&M Places I’ve Cried’ is that even though it’s places where people have cried, where they’re sad, where they’ve experienced an overwhelming emotion, it’s wholesome. You tell people and they ‘heart’ react, and they’re like, ‘We love you.’ It’s one of the more wholesome Facebook groups there is in my opinion.”

Feinman agrees. She said she believes many of the people who post in the group do so because they are moved by the beauty or significance of particular places on campus, like the Martha Wren Briggs Amphitheater or walking down Duke of Gloucester street.

“I think when people look at this page, people might think that this is William and Mary stress culture,” Feinman said. “I don’t think that’s what the page is going for. It’s a statement of where I am, I cried and then people can say if it’s a happy cry or a stress cry. … I think there are a lot of places that people end up crying because they are alone, or because it’s a pretty place. … This campus is so pretty and has so many isolated trails that you can go and find a peaceful place and go clear your head and cry.”

There are also places that people have cried more than others. The most popular locations are Morton Hall, the Earl Gregg Swem Library, Swemromas, Monroe Hall, Marketplace and Tucker Hall.

Willoughby said that while she’s never cried in Morton Hall — or in the popular-to-cry-in third floor bathrooms — she understands why people feel compelled to cry there. She said she finds herself crying in the Swem Library more than anywhere else.

“You can generally find me crying in the library because that is when I am getting overwhelmed by stress and things,” Willoughby said. “I don’t go to a spot with the intention of crying; I am crying, and I happen to be somewhere. For example, the other day, I don’t even know if I posted this or not, but I was really emotional because I was stressed on the third floor and I looked over and someone else was crying and there was this moment of solidarity; it sucks for both of us. It’s confirmation that I am not alone.”

Willoughby said that this semester has been particularly hard for her because of a depressive episode that she is going through. Because of this, she said she has been posting in the group more often than she did before.

“Instead of just crying alone, it’s like, other people are crying too, I am not alone,” Willoughby said. “I am not the only one stressed by midterms. Sometimes there are wholesome posts because people were crying about seeing a dog. That is validation of emotion, there is no shame in it. I think that’s pretty awesome.”

Dragonetti said that one thing she appreciates is when students post pictures along with where they’re crying. She said that seeing red-faced, teary-eyed selfies is relatable, and everyone can relate to and share the experience of crying in public through sharing photos.

While Dragonetti and Renda don’t currently have plans for what will happen to the group once they graduate, they said that if it’s still active closer to May 2021, they’ll consider passing it down to other group administrators. For now, they just want those who join the page to keep up the energy that inspired it.

“If people are thinking about joining the group, please keep it a safe and fun place where people can talk about where they’ve cried,” Dragonetti said.