A Likely Story | Post your secrets

With a new website called PennSecret, students have the chance to confess and come clean

· March 2, 2011, 5:52 am   ·  Updated March 2, 2011, 12:00 am

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There is this movie that I love called In the Mood for Love — a romance about two neighbors who fall in love but can’t say it to each other because they’re both married. He tells her about a wall in Cambodia into which you can whisper your secrets and let go of the things that you are unable to reveal to anyone else. At the end of the film, we see the man doing exactly that — pouring his heart out to that quasi-magical wall and telling it what he couldn’t tell her. Sigh.

The takeaway: contrary to popular belief, secrets need to get told. After all, a secret is a mighty difficult thing to carry around.

Welcome PennSecret.com, an initiative organized by Active Minds at Penn to allow students the chance to let the world know — anonymously — whatever they feel like telling it. “It’s a space for people to express themselves unconditionally and be fully themselves beyond the identity and the constructs that they feel they have to live up to,” said Engineering junior Justin Broglie, one of the board members of Active Minds. PennSecret is a “place to say things that you couldn’t normally say because of social norms.”

Active Minds is “a national organization that’s dedicated to changing the conversation surrounding mental health on college campuses,” said College senior Carolyn Winslow, President of the Penn chapter of Active Minds. It was founded at Penn in 2001 by 2003 College graduate Alison Malmon following her brother’s suicide. Today, it has expanded to over 200 campuses across the country. Its main purpose is to “destigmatize mental health disorders by promoting open, enlightened discussion of mental health,” according to its website.

Naturally, a big part of the purpose behind PennSecret is to aid in this larger project — to continue removing stigma and expanding the room for conversation.

But it is also a chance to be lighthearted. Your secrets can be deeply personal, funny, heart-wrenching or amusing. It doesn’t really matter as long as they’re true.

Much like PostSecret.com, the website that it is modeled after, PennSecret features tidbits that range from the profound to the mundane — everything from “I’m terrified of not existing” to “I love to pee when I’m swimming.”

Those who decide to participate will be given a blank postcard to be decorated in whatever way they find best matches the content of their secrets. The postcards will be displayed at the end of the collection period and uploaded to the project’s website. This sharing will allow students to gain some release, connect with their peers and participate in what Winslow calls “a community art project of sorts” — all in one courageous moment of self-disclosure.

But the significance of PennSecret goes beyond just having the chance to experience release through creative expression. It is the recognition of a much larger problem in dire need of a solution. “One of the main reasons people don’t heal from deep seated emotional wounds or even more superficial things is because they don’t realize that many people are on the same boat,” Broglie said. I couldn’t agree more.

We have been taught to often hide parts of ourselves that we consider shameful or that don’t conform to societal ideals. PennSecret is a chance to find comfort in knowing, without a shadow of a doubt, that there are others out there who also happen to be profoundly scared or have a tendency to relieve their bladder when in swimming pools.

Secrets have a unique power to drain us, and letting them go is often necessary. Since not all of us get the chance to visit Cambodia and whisper to that wall, other methods of discharge are a must.

PennSecret might just be that perfect substitute. So please, go ahead and spill the beans.

Sara Brenes-Akerman is a College junior from San José, Costa Rica. Her e-mail address is brenesakerman@theDP.com. A Likely Story appears every Wednesday.

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