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Opinion: The U of T subreddit is a negative echo chamber

Users of U of T’s subreddit are subscribing to a shared narrative that normalizes misery
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CHERYL NONG/THE VARSITY
CHERYL NONG/THE VARSITY

On campus, engaging in student life has recently felt like being on cloud nine. After about a year and a half of closure, the excitement of university — of in-person classes, new friends, and brown truck poutine — has engulfed U of T’s streets. 

However, this positive feeling does not exist everywhere. Our digital campus — the University of Toronto’s subreddit — has been a swirling storm of miserable and depressed students. 

Here are titles that have headlined some popular posts on the subreddit in the past month: “Feeling lost, mental health is getting worse with each day,” “Mental health deteriorating,” “I am a failure, feel like such a loser and don’t know what to do…” and “I’m so lonely it physically hurts … any advice?” Whenever you log onto the subreddit, you open dangerous floodgates from which gush out a flash flood of these posts. 

For redditors who frequent the forum, this pattern is normal. A post about depression and anxiety is just another grain of sand on the beach. 

The U of T subreddit is an echo chamber. Just like on other forms of social media, some groups are vocal and some are quiet. In the subreddit’s case, the vocal group consists of students who constantly badmouth U of T and post about their poor mental health and cutthroat academic policies. 

In this closed social media chamber, beliefs and ideas are amplified as they are echoed by its users. It is a toxic, pernicious cycle that restricts different perspectives, favouring the formation of a negative shared narrative by like-minded U of T students. These students desire to wallow in their problems as a group, because any pain becomes lighter when shared communally. 

However, the shared narrative they create is dangerous. For prospective students, first-years, and anyone else who has yet to be on campus, the subreddit can cause panic. They may plunge deeper and deeper into a pit of anxiety and doubt where they keep second-guessing whether or not U of T is the right choice for them. 

The negativity also frames the idea that misery among U of T students is something normal. However, this is completely mistaken — being miserable is not representative of the U of T experience, nor is being mentally broken a requirement for a U of T degree. 

While the U of T redditors are certainly entitled to their opinions, everyone needs to remember that the subreddit does not represent all U of T students. 

The subreddit works similarly to what happens when grades for an exam or essay are released. We have all experienced how, after marks are finally posted, classmates talk about their grades with one another, especially in group chats. Whether these discussions be on Discord, Messenger, or WhatsApp, there are always those extremely vocal students who announce their grades and make self-deprecating jokes about how they expected to get a worse mark. 

However, you seldom hear from the top scorers: they keep quiet and stay to themselves. The same can be said about the U of T subreddit. Though they may not be as vocal, many U of T students love their school. 

Of course, students are not lying when they write about their deteriorating mental health and academic troubles. There is no denying that some students are struggling and truly in need of help. These students certainly may head to Reddit with their difficulties. Nothing is unreasonable in this narrative. This is an easy concession to make, for U of T is known to be academically rigorous, and its students are known to deal with schedules they feel to be cutthroat.

I am not trying to trivialize any students’ problems. Rather, I am spotlighting how the subreddit normalizes these problems and breeds negativity among its almost 80,000 members.

I guess it is easy for jaded students behind burner accounts to say the subreddit is normal, healthy, and representative. But when you have bonded with your classmates after experiencing your first ever in-person midterm; when you have studied at Robarts Library until closing while your friends sat across from you; when you have walked the streets of downtown Toronto and felt the city life moving around you; when you have laughed at how enormously huge the brown truck’s poutine portions are and watched gravy come out of your friend’s nose; when you have finally realized that you are living your best years with your best friends, and say to yourself that you would not choose any other institution in the world — at that point, you will understand why I find it so difficult to tolerate the subreddit. 

As a breeding ground for negativity, the U of T subreddit drowns out the positive aspect of the school. If you pay a visit to the University of British Columbia or Ryerson University subreddits, you will realize how miserable U of T’s is in comparison. Like their digital campuses, our subreddit should be swirling with funny memes, words of encouragement, and optimism. Students should flood the subreddit with positivity, in the same way that they currently flood it with negativity. It should be a reflection of both the negative and positive parts of U of T — an authentic representation of the complete U of T experience. 

James Jiang is a second-year political science and writing & rhetoric student at Trinity College.