Marty McFly ’21 likes being anonymous. He says it keeps him honest and grounded as he answers hundreds of questions through the popular student-run Tumblr blog, Real Talk Princeton (RTP). With over 1,000 unique visits to the blog per day, RTP is a well-known source of information about life and academics at the University.
“It reminds me that this isn’t about me,” McFly said in an exclusive interview with The Daily Princetonian earlier this month. He said his RTP persona is like a character whose role is to give back to the Princeton community.
“I’m just trying to be a more helpful, less obnoxious version of myself,” he said.
McFly is one of 20 anonymous contributors with made-up names who answer questions from students, prospective students, and even parents about anything related to Princeton University. Whether the question is “how do I tell if a guy likes me?” or “can I bring my orgo grade up to a B?,” the contributors are ready to give their insight. Some even keep the tab for the blog constantly open in their internet browsers.
Answering dozens of questions daily, the blog has recently reached a milestone. The contributors have answered 50,000 questions since the blog began more than five years ago in the fall of 2013. In the process, they noticed a pattern of prevalent emotional issues facing Princeton students.
When Amygdala ’17 first joined Real Talk Princeton in December 2013 as one of the blog’s inaugural contributors, she did not anticipate the popularity it would achieve. The site began to receive hundreds of questions within a year of its creation.
Amygdala said she will never forget receiving one desperate submission from a student who wrote that they were going to take their own life.
“I felt really helpless because I had no idea who this person was,” Amygdala wrote in an email to the ‘Prince.’ “All I could do was reply with a list of mental health resources on campus, which I did.”
The student later sent another submission explaining that they received help from Counseling and Psychological Services.
Students continue to resort to RTP for help.
“We get a lot of questions that, at least from my perspective, border on clinical anxiety,” contributor Evan Hansen ’21 told the Prince. “People are like, ‘I can’t stop thinking about the work I have to do even when I’m on break’ ... or like, ‘I can’t sleep properly.’ Like, that’s not normal.”
Based on the questions he and other contributors receive every day, Hansen said he knows how common anxiety and loneliness are on campus. He said he did not realize the extent to which these issues were present until he was “on the other side” as an RTP contributor.
Hansen also explained how the frequent submissions about mental health on an anonymous platform like RTP indicate the stigma surrounding the process of seeking help at Princeton.
“It’s reflective of a culture at Princeton where people are afraid to ask for help,” he said. “There’s definitely a really intense culture of protecting your reputation.”
Winnie P ’19, who joined RTP about three-and-a-half years ago, said the blog is a resource that provides reassurance to many students.
“Sometimes you just want someone to say ‘It’s going to be okay,’” she said. “They just want some acknowledgment that they’re not, like, alone in their struggles.”
Both Winnie P and Marty McFly said they enjoy giving concrete advice on academics to students asking about classes or exams.
McFly said he frequently shares his experiences in the physics and math departments as the only contributor with these academic interests. When selecting the new contributors, older contributors said they choose applicants with diverse interests, backgrounds, and perspectives.
As the current president of RTP — a title which he says is only honorary — Bateman ’19 said he is concerned with protecting the blog’s integrity as an “unfiltered” source. For that reason, the blog remains unaffiliated with any university organizations.
Contributors shared that they sometimes receive hate mail from students or parents who do not agree with their responses. Hansen acknowledged that there is a pressure to enjoy the Princeton experience that sometimes causes reactions against the contributors’ opinions.
Bateman agreed, saying he believes it’s important for the contributors to share both their positive and negative experiences.
“The best part about Real Talk is that we’re able to share our own opinions,” he said. “And everyone’s Princeton experience is completely different.”
Bateman and other contributors emphasized their claim that the blog does not reinforce stereotypes about organizations, clubs, or groups on campus. They said they hope to share only what they know through experience instead of echoing popular opinions.