Assistant Professor of Psychology Brittany Tausen began the Fifty Shades of Maroon blog in the fall quarter of 2016.
The website provides an opportunity for students to share their stories and read about their peers at SPU.
This blog features short profiles about individual students at SPU, accompanied by two photos each. In these two photos, the student holds a whiteboard with a word or phrase written on it describing themselves.
The first word represents a stereotype that the student has experienced, or how they think others see them. Words displayed on whiteboards have included: “mean”, “just another black guy” or “typical girl.”
In the second photo, the whiteboard features a word or phrase describing how the student would like to be seen, such as “friendly,” “just a kid from Chicago” or “unique.”
As one of the first students to have her story featured on the blog, sophomore Charlotte Falconer believes that “Fifty Shades of Maroon is a fantastic idea.”
“It give stories to the faces that we see on campus, and I think that it makes people feel like they aren’t the only ones who have gone through hard things,” Falconer said.
Falconer believes that, through reading these personal stories, one can gain a fresh perspective and insight into the real lives of classmates and members of the SPU community.
The project began in Tausen’s colloquium class, which is a one-credit class for incoming first-year students.
The project was originally inspired by Nicholas Epley’s book “Mindwise” as well as Brandon Stanton’s “Humans of New York” blog.
“Those two ideas came together for the colloquium that I taught last year, which was my first year here at SPU,” Tausen said. “We read ‘Mindwise,’ and started implementing this project, so that’s where the website started. I only intended it to be for that class, but students really enjoyed the book and really enjoyed the project, so I integrated it into my social psychology class winter of last year.”
Students in her social psychology class conduct three interviews over the course of a quarter. Although there are now at least 300 interviews that could be put online, Tausen is careful to share the information.
“One of the most important things is making sure that no one’s story is posted on the blog if they aren’t comfortable sharing it with the broader audience.”
She hopes to post two new stories on the blog each week from this point forward.
Ryan Richardson, a senior majoring in psychology, has been working on the website with Tausen since April of 2017. Richardson also helps take the photos for the blog.
Sophomore communications major Kevin McKee took Tausen’s colloquium class and has his story featured on the website.
“It wasn’t easy telling my own story considering that I didn’t really have a difficult life, but I did have a different life from everyone else,” McKee said.
“But I’m glad I was able to tell my story. I’m glad that I was the first class, that we got to come up with this name, and be a part of something that she’s doing now.”
McKee’s story describes some of the struggles he faced growing up, and the big adjustment of moving from Chicago to Seattle so he could attend SPU.
McKee and other students in Tausen’s colloquium chose the name “Fifty Shades of Maroon.”
“It’s provocative in some ways,” Dr. Tausen said, “but the mission was to give students ownership of the website (they created the title) and to attract attention.”
As a junior majoring in psychology, Jessica Fossum is currently in Tausen’s social psychology class, and has been conducting the interviews.
“Dr. Tausen is really good at relating what we learn in class with real life,” Fossum said. “This assignment really brings that out, what it means to relate to people.”
Fossum’s story will be posted on the website at a later date after Tausen has sorted through the hundreds of stories.
“I think there’s something cathartic about being able to tell your story and feel like other people know and are here and can provide support, but also reading others’ stories might help students to see that they’re not alone in what they’re experiencing and have experienced,” Tausen said.
“I find that’s what surprises people the most. I think it’s really cool as a professor because it’s a way I get to know my students that I wouldn’t otherwise.”
Tausen also commented that she believes the website provides a unique connection for prospective students to know the true mind and hearts of current students, increasing that sense of community.
Senior Megan Hamasaki was interviewed for the website and noted that it was somewhat of an uncomfortable experience. She believes, however, that it is beneficial in the long run.
“It pushed me to reaffirm the fact that, while people may see me a certain way, I’m proud of who I am and the course of events that brought me here,” Hamaski said.
“Of course, I wish others could understand why I am the way I am before jumping to conclusions or writing me off, but it also reminds me to extend that same courtesy to others.”
Dr. Tausen is planning to create an instagram account for the project in order to make it more accessible to a different audience and garner a larger following.
“We often have no idea what kinds of hardships the people around us are going through, and this blog helps us learn more about the people in our community. There is so much encouragement and inspiration that comes from reading other people’s stories, and I think that Fifty Shades of Maroon is allowing that to happen,” Falconer said.
“Fifty Shades of Maroon acts as a place for voices to be heard, stereotypes to be broken, and allows people to get a glimpse into the lives of students and staff of SPU.”
Fifty Shades of Maroon can be found online at www.50shadesofspu.wixsite.com/2016