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Student groups turn to blogs for expression

Blue Devils United President Ollie Wilson said the group’s blog has grown significantly in the past year.
Blue Devils United President Ollie Wilson said the group’s blog has grown significantly in the past year.

After hearing a group of female engineers discuss discrimination against women during lab, Sunhay You, a sophomore, knew something had to be done to share their experiences with the Duke community.

You found a way to voice her concerns by helping create the blog Develle Dish as a part of the Hart Leadership Program course “Women as Leaders.” In doing so, You became part of a recent trend among student groups at Duke that have turned to blogging to more effectively promote their causes. As blogs gain popularity, groups are creating online forums to generate discussions and promote awareness of their organizations to the Duke population and beyond.

“What happens to us negatively as individual women on campus are all acts of repression,” said You, who is now the editor of Develle Dish. “There was no avenue for women to talk about their experiences as women at Duke and now it doesn’t matter who you are; now you can get your voice heard.”

Building community

Blue Devils United, Duke’s undergraduate organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer or questioning students and allies, began sponsoring its own blog, Our Lives, in November 2009. Blue Devils United President Ollie Wilson, a junior, said the blog has grown into an expansive forum of communication under the leadership of Chris Perry, a senior. With topics ranging from coming out to friends and family to the latest political policies concerning the LGBT community, Wilson said Our Lives is serving its mission of highlighting LGBT life at Duke by educating readers about the community’s rights and issues.

Wilson said the blog has become one of the most forceful mediums of communication for Blue Devils United and its causes.

“I think the power of the Internet is that you are able to access a broad audience that is thousands of miles away,” he said. “If you write something it’s always up there and people are able to get pen to paper and talk about what their individual experience is like at Duke.”

Blogs are built for expressing this kind of personal narrative, sociology professor Nan Lin said. Currently teaching a course titled “Cyber Networks and the Global Village,” Lin described blogging as an “egocentric study” and a one-way form of communication. Although he said the messages on blogs are often “hit or miss,” he thinks blogging is generally a healthy personal exercise.

“I think it is a good sign that people want to create group identity and collectivities and it is the easiest way to form groups and to share opinions and ask others to join,” Lin said. “As a result you are going to have very diverse groups and diverse opinions.”

The Me Too blog is another online forum started by Dukies looking to share their experiences, in this case geared toward creating a space for students to promote a supportive campus community. An anonymous blog, Me Too publishes a variety of posts including students descriptions of feeling like outsiders on campus to students discussing falling in love after sexual escapades.

Seniors Bhumi Purohit, a Chronicle columnist, and Yishin Yang have been prominent organizers of the Me Too blog. Yang said they have been impressed by the lively personal accounts that have come out of the blog so far.

“The posts are anonymous because we feel that way we get more genuine posts,” Yang said. “If your name is there you don’t want to complain about a certain aspect of Duke that would be defying. We are trying to create a forum where students can identify with each other and relate to each other and anonymity is key to that.”

Nameless experiences

Develle Dish and Our Lives accept anonymous entries from their contributors as well. Some of these anonymous posts on Develle Dish have touched on polemic past campus issues such as fraternity progressive parties, while recently on Our Lives a gay member of the ROTC community at Duke expressed his or her beliefs concerning “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

Wilson said although the blog editors prefer that a majority of posts are not anonymous, he thinks anonymity is an important aspect of the blog.

“We see dual spaces to this,” Wilson said. “The importance for anonymous points is that there are people who have something to say but because of their circumstance they have to remain anonymous.”

Lin, however, said there is a danger in admitting anonymous posts to a blog. Although he acknowledged there are certain situations in which anonymity can protect the safety of a writer, he said in today’s society it is important that blogs aim for complete transparency and full information disclosure.

“In certain social systems, true identity has to be hidden or you will get in trouble with authorities,” Lin said. “But with our open society anonymous sources create more conflict. I do not endorse the practice for campus groups using anonymous sources to network.”

Anonymous posts or not, Wilson said it is impossible to deny the positive and encouraging feedback he has witnessed since Our Lives was created. From prospective Dukies to the parents of current students, Wilson said the blog has created a lively community of contributors that continues to grow.

“Reading the messages and the comments we get from people saying the blog has affected them has been a powerful experience,” Wilson said. “From the 2015 student who said he is much happier to apply to Duke as a gay student now after seeing this blog, or from the alumni who says how glad he is [to see] how much progress has been made or from the parent who says that he is proud of his son and the comments he has made [on the blog], that is really important and shows that it really has made a difference.”


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