The Valparaiso University library staff, along with Active Minds, is hosting a PostSecretU event during the fall semester. PostSecret was an initiative started by Frank Warren in 2004.
“He passed out postcards to anonymous strangers and asked that they mail it back to him with a secret that they had never told anyone. And to his surprise he got responses with secrets from people he had never met,” said Alison Downey Assistant Professor of Library Science.
Warren then started posting these secrets on a blog.
“It got such a big response that people started sending them from all over the world and then they started being published in books and eventually a Smithsonian exhibit was created with millions of postcards,” Downey said.
The PostSecretU project that the library and Active Minds are hosting is an offshoot of the PostSecret initiative.
“This is an art collaboration that starts talking about and building positive relationships about talking about mental health with the idea of sharing a secret because you’re not alone, you realize that other people have secrets that they’re sharing and a lot of the time some of those secrets are very similar to our own experiences,” Downey said.
One of the goals of this project is to make people realize that they are not alone.
People are feeling the same way that you’re feeling. And you can feel really isolated before then and that could make you go ‘Hey, I’m not the only person that feels this way’,” said Associate Professor of Library Science Rachael Muszkiewicz. “I kind of liken it to the idea of imposter syndrome, where everyone feels like ‘Oh, I’m going to be found out’ and then you realize everyone else that I work with is also feeling the same way.”
The library was chosen as the spot to host this project because the library is about free and open access to information.
“Even if it makes you uncomfortable, even if it’s not the information you might want to hear or might think belongs in a library, all information belongs in a library and so we’re a big place for self expression as well because of that,” Muszkiewicz said.
The secrets will be posted in the hallway by the bathrooms and past the circulation desk and will be up all semester long.
“But we’ll be going through them weekly and putting things up as we get them. And I believe we originally got 3,000 postcards so we would love to get all 3,000 back. And it’s not just for students too, faculty, staff or anyone who has a secret,” Muszkiewicz said.
They do screen the post cards before they are posted but no judgement is made on the contents.
“Now with the planning guide from PostSecret we are required to have a committee so the postcards do go through a committee, but really the only thing we would not be displaying is something that has hate speech or something that identifies somebody or a threat. It needs to be completely anonymous for it to work,” Muszkiewicz said.
She added that students should not worry about the secret being embarrassing.
“Just know that it is completely anonymous and yes a committee has to go through it, but there is no judgment in that. We are only looking for things that could be damaging, meaning the hate speech or the identifying markers,” Muszkiewicz said. “Embarrassing secrets, everyone has embarrassing secrets. The one I put in is very embarrassing.”
Muszkiewicz hopes to get back as many postcards as possible.
“Because we’re all about students honestly. You guys are our main patrons, we want to take care of you, we want you to feel comfortable in this space,” Muszkiewicz said. “We want to address mental health issues in this space, we want to get that conversation going. Hopefully these secrets help get this conversation going,” she said.
Downey hopes that the sharing of their secrets will be freeing for students.
“And for somebody who might be on the edge of whether or not they want to share their secret, in the display there are some articles about psychology studies that have shown that people who share their secrets have better physical health after they release those secrets even if it is anonymous,” Downey said.
Downey hopes this project will help remind students that the library is their space.
“That it can be a place that you can come and unwind and find a safe place if you’re stressed out, if you’re feeling like you need something to take your mind off of the stressors of everyday life,” Downey said.
The goal is to post the secrets on the library’s social media.
“I’m going to try to do secrets on a Saturday kind of thing,” Muszkiewicz said.
Once the project ends, the plan is to send the secrets to University Archives to be saved.
“This is a picture in time of what student life looks like and especially in a weird pandemic time I think it’s going to be really interesting to archive and look back on later,” Muszkiewicz said.
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