The Dark Side of Camfess

Lauren DeBruin 17 February 2022
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

In amongst the ‘Cambridge colleges as… types of cheese’ posts, jokes about needing a visa to get to Girton, and confessions of urinating in sinks, Camfesses is saturated with posts that are introduced by trigger warnings. These content notes range from depression, anxiety and eating disorders, to racism, sexism and homophobia, personal stories seeming symptomatic of possible wider issues across the university. At some point, Camfess mutated from a meme page to a place students turn to when they feel they have no one else.

Scrolling through the Camfess posts section for one minute yielded ten of these trigger warning posts, begging the question why are students sharing their deepest personal issues (albeit anonymously) with a Facebook page followed by most of the university, and is it helpful to do so? Even if an individual behind one of these posts has no close friends to speak of- an indeed often an admission of ‘I really don’t have anyone else to talk to apart from an anonymous post to you guys’ as was included today (23/01/2022)1 is inserted into the post-the student should feel they could turn to their college or the university as a whole.

Although the university website contains various links and pages for specific areas of support, counselling and welfare, “self-help” sections are at the forefront, at least suggesting that the university would prefer students to keep their issues to themselves or each other.

Turning to the university website you are greeted with the advances in technology and research recently made, the libraries and museums, lists of Alumni and their financial donations, before you find the undergraduate or postgraduate student pages. Once you have found the ‘Support’ section of the Undergraduate study page you will read a vague mention of the ‘extensive welfare system’ in place for ‘academic work or personal issues,’ problems with the degree seeming to take precedence. Under this is a section entitled ‘Students Supporting Students’ which directs you to support given by the Cambridge SU and college student unions made up of other students rather than professionals. Although the university website contains various links and pages for specific areas of support, counselling and welfare, “self-help” sections are at the forefront, at least suggesting that the university would prefer students to keep their issues to themselves or each other. This seems to me to be in a similar vein to the email my college sent out about drink spiking which claimed that it ‘can best be managed if we all safeguard our friends’ and ourselves, and we should take any evidence of drink spiking straight to the police, implying that the college did not want to hear about it.

Many of these posts stem from a deep feeling of loneliness that can only have been intensified in the past COVID riddled years which have led to increased use of social media to connect with others.

Aside from not feeling like the colleges or the university are receptive to the struggles of some students- whether those struggles are mental health issues or instances of discrimination or sexual assault- I think one reason Camfess is turned to so often is because people are desperately seeking others to relate to, and no one can relate to a Cambridge student like other Cambridge students. Many of these posts stem from a deep feeling of loneliness that can only have been intensified in the past COVID riddled years which have led to increased use of social media to connect with others. Although, if you can, you should speak to a professional, I do see the value in posting to strangers. The anonymity allows for complete honesty from both the writer of the post and from anyone replying. There will almost certainly be at least one person commenting on these posts with advice or simply words of comfort, and although I do not know if these are always helpful it is encouraging that Camfess is not simply a void to scream into but a place to be heard.