Everyone’s favourite University of Saskatchewan Facebook group, “Stupid Things Overheard at the U of S,” is growing up. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still pretty stupid. But it’s our stupid.
If you’re a Facebook user and a member of the U of S community, you’re probably already familiar with it. The group allows members to post snippets of stupid and ostensibly funny conversations overheard on campus so other members can enjoy a laugh at their more dimwitted classmates’ expense.
Douchey and pretentious? Quite possibly. Entertaining? Undoubtedly.
Entertainment is the foundation “Stupid Things” was built on five years ago and still remains the driving force behind much of the activity that happens on the page. Photos from around campus, memes and rage comics also crop up from time to time. But lately the group has made a small shift toward more constructive subject matter. It’s an interesting shift and one that benefits the U of S online community.
At its core, “Stupid Things” serves as a relatively harmless, essentially good-natured outlet for U of S students on the web. It is built on a mutual understanding that we’re allowed to poke fun at people or things on campus so long as we accept that some day it could be our own foibles or fuck-ups featured on the page.
This seems to be the driving factor behind the group’s success. It has ballooned to over 5,500 members in five years and is currently the largest group associated with the U of S on Facebook.
In a broad sense, the page has become the catch-all message board for all things U of S. And while overheard stupid shit isn’t going anywhere, every so often a few nuggets of constructive discussion creep to the top of the page.
“What I am really pleasantly surprised about and proud of are the discussions that came up during the USSU elections,” Michelle Lang, founder of the group and current U of S law student, said of the March, 2012 U of S Students’ Union election. “This group became a focal point for students to raise issues about the university.”
“It’ll be interesting to watch how the group continues to evolve.” — USSU VP Operations & Finance Steven Heidel
The trend of students turning to “Stupid Things” to talk about meatier issues picked up over the summer. A few weeks ago, a comparatively heavy discussion took place on the topic of Louis’ recent and, according to some, underwhelming renovations. Up until recently these discussions have typically been few and far between on the page, but as it grows they are starting to crop up more often.
Lang believes this is where the group has a chance to shine.
“It’s really hard to break student apathy,” she said. “Somehow this group became a way to get more students in touch with what other students are saying about their university.”
No one has used this aspect of the group more effectively than USSU Vice-President Operations and Finance Steven Heidel. During the USSU elections last spring, he used his own Facebook pages as well as “Stupid Things” to communicate with U of S students en masse.
Now he uses the group to get a feel for what students have to say on campus, although he is aware of the group’s tendency to react negatively to topics they consider out of place (much like many other online communities).
“There have also been many potential ideas and solutions posted in response to some of these complaints,” Heidel said. “It is a very powerful tool to reach out to the U of S community.”
“In the case of the USSU, tuition or Louis’, I have been monitoring and responding to the feedback when needed.”
Even so, he and the USSU have no plans to use the group “for unsolicited USSU announcements. People know where to find that information if they want it.”
“Stupid Things” may have become the de facto U of S message board simply because it beat every other group to the punch. After five years it has had more than enough time to mature and find its niche, excel in it, then push that boundary.
Keep in mind that when I say that “Stupid Things” has matured, I’m picturing a transition along the lines of an annoyingly loud and gossipy little sibling blossoming into a politically aware yet still mostly apathetic teenager. As it turns out, this is a pretty good balance. If a post is funny or provocative, people will engage with it. If it’s lame or unworthy of the group’s attention, it will get shot down.
The fact that members of “Stupid Things” start and enthusiastically participate in real discussions about campus issues bodes well for the group.
“The organic nature of this group and the fact that there’s no overbearing moderator means that the members can shape what they want the group to be like simply by expressing their approval or disapproval at various [types of] content,” Heidel said. “It’ll be interesting to watch how the group continues to evolve.”
Graphic: Samantha Braun/The Sheaf