By: Lizzy Leung and Jori O'Grady
“I wish my crush knew who I was,” Freshman, Female.
“Pickles and mayo is the best. Y’all need to try it,” Senior, Male.
“This school needs to learn that body shaming is wrong,” Sophomore, Female.
These statements, among many other anonymous confessions submitted to @Grandviewconfessions_, have provided a place for students to speak their minds. @Grandviewconfessions_ is an Instagram account created specifically for students at Grandview. At first, the page started as something “just for fun.” However, the account sparked into a loyal following of over two-thousand followers, a handful of copycat accounts, a short-lived dating service, and most recently, a controversy.
On March 25th, the owners received a confession that raised some concerns. For the safety of the student body, they felt obligated to report the comment to the school.
Account owners Kenoa Tioson (Junior 16) and Welton Williams (Junior 17) sat down and gave an exclusive insight to The Chronicle about what happens behind the scenes as well as what lead to the initial panic of being shut down.
“It started out just for fun and entertainment, we thought it would be a meme account with a small following and that was good enough,” said Tioson.
Instead, the appeal of being able to use an anonymous voice was higher than Tioson or Welton ever imagined.
Gaining hundreds of follows a day, the page blew up. By the end of its debut week, it reached over a thousand followers and schools across the district and state created their own accounts.
“We would get hundreds of confessions a day,” said Tioson.
The anonymous forum enabled the Grandview community to become more comfortable with each other, as it created a safe space for students to share. Personal confessions over depression, eating disorders, coming out as LGBT, and thoughts of suicide began to appear on the page.
Through humor in awkward dating stories, i.e. The Braces Saga, and serious topics like depression, the confessions page let students know that they are not alone. The confession page made sure not to forget or ignore serious personal situations. Included in those specific posts were supportive captions by the owners.
“We’re here for them. They can always feel free to DM [direct message] us and we will keep things confidential, knowing how much stress it would put on a student,” said Tioson and Welton.
Following the initial posts, dozens of supportive comments ranging from revealing personal experiences to offering their open support and willingness to listen were posted.
“I didn't realize how helpful and supportive everyone was about the mental health aspect and the coming out. There were twenty plus comments on the first coming out post, which was pretty cool for not being such a mainstream thing,” said sophomore Harrison Hewitt. “To be able to have that support even if it is in the shadows [online] is super cool to me.”
“We have zero school spirit except for this page.”
Inevitably, one confession, too problematic to ignore, would nearly stop the entire operation.
“I come from a place of education not stifling any voices,” said Roberts. “Ever.”
When asked about the content of the confession, Tioson and Williams said that for security reasons they were not at liberty to publicly disclose the information. However, Tioson stated that the deans and the Aurora Police were involved.
After involving the deans, both Tioson's and William’s parents received a phone call from the school. At the time, Tioson and Williams were unsure if the account was getting shut down or not. In response, the GHS Confessions account started a live stream to announce the possible shutdown of the account and for the first time, they revealed their identities. The GHS Confessions community was outspoken against the idea of a shutdown. Some students went as far as to say there should be a protest.
“Today, after people found out who we are, people have been coming up to us smiling, thanking us, and talking about the impact we have made,” said Toison.
It was clear that Toison and Williams were not ready to give up the account. The day after they received the news of a possible shutdown, they attended meeting after meeting to discuss the issue with school administration.
When Tioson and Williams were able to sit down with Principal Lisa Roberts, both sides agreed that whether the account was getting shut down or not was lost in translation.
It was later confirmed by Roberts that there was never any intention of shutting down the account.
“I can't censor anything they're doing outside the school,” said Roberts. “It’s free speech.”
Instead, Roberts questioned if Tioson and Williams could responsibly deal with the ramifications and required maturity of online posting.
“Kids can always write what they want, but the teachable moment is that we need to be really careful,” said Roberts. “Are they [the owners] prepared to deal with what comes after, for instance, the possibility of a potential school threat, and of course hearing things about kids mental health, and physical or emotional safety. Are students prepared for that?”
The answer is yes, Tioson and Williams are prepared for what’s to come. After their meeting with Roberts, the two scheduled a meeting with Counselor Ryan Seely. During this meeting, they further discussed their responsibilities; they also brainstormed new techniques on how to approach a situation.
“This is a new experience for both of us. We are learning new things everyday. It’s given us a much bigger sense of responsibility and respect for the school,” said Tioson and Williams.
However, the responsibility does not lie on the account owners alone. Roberts suggests that there needs to be updated school-wide education on online safety
“What are we posting? Pause before you post, think about the things you're writing. Think about the things you are putting out there because, inevitably, they come back to you. These things are tied to you,” said Roberts.
Additionally, Roberts suggests to improve upon educating and training students and staff on mental health in programs such as Safe2Tell and the Careline.
“And when we look at issues of safety--physically, socially, and emotionally-- we've got to make sure we're protecting you,” said Roberts.
The GHS confessions page offers a student run, anonymous safe space--the first of its kind-- that allows students to feel welcome and reach out without the consequences of keeping up appearances and staying within social norms.
The account owners are taking a new approach to how they react to the confessions they receive. This Instagram page is an experiment to see if students can successfully run a service to bring together a self-sufficient, supportive community.
“I come from a place of education not stifling any voices,” said Roberts. “Ever.”
For further information on how the account works, here are the updated rules for submitting on the account:
- Think about the confession before you submit. We will not be posting confessions that can ruin anyone’s reputation or relationships.
- If you have any personal issues to vent about, feel free. Remember that our DMS are open and there are a lot of people here to support you.
- Don’t send us any threats please. We want to keep this page as much as you do. We don’t want to cause such a major problem that have to get the deans and cops involved again. If you hear about any threats, please forward that to the Safe2Tell line. We don’t want to be held responsible for that.
- If you want us to take a post down, please DM us and we’ll take it down for you right away.
- Everything is anonymous, so you don’t have to worry about being exposed and as Admins we don’t spread things because we don’t roll that way.
- We will ignore and delete any homophobic, racist, and anti-semitic submissions, as well as confessions making fun of ILC students or targeting a specific person.
- Be patient with us. Nagging us about your confession won’t make us work any faster, so please be patient and we’ll post it eventually.
- With everyone knowing who we are, you can always say hi. However, we don’t want people to come up to us at school and ask about their confessions not being posted.
- If you know us and we are friends with you, we will not be sharing any unposted confessions with you or share the doc. Please don’t ask
- Again, any confession targeting a group or person will be ignored and deleted.