November 4, 2015

‘Overheard’ Facebook Group Evolves Into Forum for Campus Issues

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Overheard at Cornell began in the fall of 2012, and since has become the largest Cornell community group on Facebook, with almost 9,000 members. What started as a place for students to share funny stories has evolved into a massive hub for extra-campus student discussion on varying topics, according to Jocelyn Lee ’16, the group’s founder and administrator.

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The ‘Overheard at Cornell’ Facebook group has a membership of nearly 9,000 people.

“Initially I created it with the intent of it being a fun page to share and browse for amusement — like a Tumblr for inside school jokes,” Lee said. “I noticed that some of my friends at other colleges had a page like this and I thought it looked fun. People kind of scorned the group at first, but after a few months it grew to a couple thousand people.”

Lee said she believes that while the group has retained its original purpose as a place for amusement, it has also become a place where students could also spread news and have a platform to discuss important and controversial issues.

“For two years or so it was pretty much just solid funny stuff, amusing things you hear on campus. But last spring it picked up in intensity,” Lee said. “People started posting about the Gannett health fee, social and racial issues like the case of Eric Garner, and it became this place for people to discuss things.”

Posts on the page during the semester have included the usual gamut of amusing comments and photos of things overheard and “overseen” on Cornell’s campus but have also centered on issues related to Cornell.

The group has been a fodder of discussion over tuition issues. On Sept. 29, a student shared the link to Jonah Okikie-Hephzibah’s ’16 tuition crowdfunding campaign. Over 260 people liked the post. When a second student, Nikolai Lumpkins ’18, shared his own tuition crowdfunding page to the group on Oct. 5, 180 students liked the post. However, his post also generated dozens of comments that criticized, supported and offered advice.

Aside from the crowdfunding campaigns, students have also shared posts about the visit of Fox News’ Jesse Watters to Cornell’s campus, “trigger warnings” for sensitive issues in class and last weekend’s vandalism of the A.D. White statue.

Chris Anderson ’16, co-administrator of the group, said that while he was at first apprehensive of the group straying slightly from its original purpose of sharing overheard conversations on campus, he has come to embrace what the group produces.

“It started off as a silly little thing, and sometimes I still wish it were like that, but there isn’t really another hub for discussion on that level,” Anderson said, noting the large audience the group caters to. “The past couple of months people have been posting about crowdfunding and asking for help paying their tuition. I know that the S.A. responded that they would take it up with Cornell’s administration. It’s not really meant for this group, but it’s not like there’s anywhere else it could happen, and I’m happy to keep things like that around.”

Lee noted that a memorable implication of the group has been students coming together over similar interests and concerns.

“A lot of student activity wasn’t just reported on Overheard, but has also been created and organized through Overheard,” Lee said. “It’s great when the group is used as a tool and not just a page to post things on.”

Though Cornell undergraduates dominate the group, they are not the only contributors. Alumni, several professors and even police chief Kathy Zoner have been spotted posting on the page, according to Lee.

“It’s cool to see people who aren’t a part of the student body come in and be a part of the group,” Lee said. “And when alumni initiate conversations with students, you see people who have moved on from Cornell still involve themselves in student life.”

Kae-Lynn Wilson ’13 said the most active moments on the page are the controversial ones, but her favorites are the ones that show “out of context quotes from new freshmen, visiting families and passing drunk people.”

“People love arguing,” said Wilson, an administrative assistant in the College of Arts and Science’s academic advising office. “Because the page is getting so popular and people are getting a lot more vocal about issues, conversations are spreading onto other Cornell pages, like Cornell Confessions and in person between friends.”

However, Wilson said she also believes there are some students do not feel comfortable posting their opinions and that they would prefer to do it anonymously.

Many students prefer the funny and amusing posts over those advertising events or promoting serious discussion, according to Lee. She said it is a goal of hers to keep these posts as the group originally intended, because that is why many people visit the page in the first place.

Students in the group expressed varying opinions about the page.

“I think the group is funny for the most part. Just a gag on Cornell life. It makes tough things like prelims easier, but there are often comments on things that are politically hyped up, which can drag that happy aspect down,” said Ashley Knight ’17, who once posted an overheard conversation between two students leaving a prelim.

Jennifer Nelson ’18 said she only visits the group “when I’m really bored” but likes that it provides a place for discussion.

“I think it’s funny when someone posts something serious, and everyone starts commenting and mocking it,” Nelson said. “The people you can interact with aren’t the people you interact with every day. But if you say something someone doesn’t agree with, they’ll tear your argument apart.”