Middle schoolers have handwritten notes, scrawled in the back of classrooms onto lined paper ripped from notebooks, slipped into lockers and eager hands. Rice students have Missed Encounters.
Rice Missed Encounters is a popular Facebook page that publishes anonymous, complimentary remarks about Rice students that are submitted to the page’s Google Form by students. A typical post begins with basic descriptions of the subject: their sex, hair color, race, year and residential college. Then the anonymous author delves into their compliment — usually a description of a particular sighting or interaction with a stranger. Sometimes authors confess crushes, other times they simply thank a stranger for making them laugh.
Habeen Chang, a Will Rice College senior, has received seven missed encounters over the course of his Rice tenure. Chang said he thinks most of them have been submitted by his friends, but likes to think some of them were truly written by secret admirers.
“[Receiving a missed encounter] is usually a good indicator of my mood the rest of the day,” he said.
Ilana Nyveen, a Wiess College senior, said she’s felt similar boosts to her mood when she’s the subject of a post.
“I think most of the messages on the page are sweet and well-intentioned, and the format means that you can choose not to engage with it, which I appreciate,” Nyveen said.
On one occasion when she was the subject of a post, the anonymous author ended up introducing themselves to her in person. She said she’s still on the lookout for the author of her second missed encounter, and would love to get the chance to meet them and make a new friend.
When Helen Pu was tagged by her friends in a missed encounter, she said she had no idea what the page was.
“I didn’t feel like it meant anything until [someone explained to me] what Missed Encounters was,” Pu, a freshman at Baker College, said. “Then I felt really famous, and fell more in love with Rice and how welcoming this community of strangers can be.”
But Rice Missed Encounters wasn’t always so uplifting, according to Mya Wilkes, McMurtry College ‘15 and Thu Nguyen, Wiess College ‘17, two alumni who were involved in the page’s creation. The following is based on their accounts as well as 2013 Facebook messages Wilkes provided between the page’s team members.
Before Rice Missed Encounters, there was Rice Confessions, according to Nguyen and Wilkes. The page was created in the fall of 2012 as a platform for Rice students to anonymously share the things on their minds, from “I hate this school” to “I still watch Glee.” Increasingly, students began to submit confessions complimenting people they saw in passing. They said the increasing popularity of these types of confessions led a student named Roger to create the first Rice Missed Encounters page. Roger was not able to be reached for comment, so The Thresher decided to not fully identify him.
By September of 2013, both pages had essentially died out. Wilkes, who was a junior at the time, said she wasn’t ready to see the pages go, so she decided to reach out to both pages and offer her assistance. Rice Confessions never replied to her Facebook Message, but Roger did, she said. He ended up inviting Wilkes and six other students who had reached out to him, including Nguyen, to help him post the page’s submissions. Nguyen was a freshman at the time. Shortly after assembling his team, Roger decided to make one critical change: in an Oct. 6, 2013 Facebook Message to the team, he said they should not censor any content. And on Oct. 9, he said he had decided to expand the page to include confessions “due to popular demand.”
But Nguyen said that she, along with Wilkes and other members of the team, felt that censoring toxic content was necessary to make students feel safe. She said they were also opposed to reincorporating confessions due to their negative nature — many of them had previously been extremely dark, mean spirited, or “slut shame-y,” as Nguyen put it.
And with the page’s resurgence, Nguyen said the hateful content only increased.
“For some reason there was just a lot of weird negative energy and a lot of hate on campus at that time,” Nguyen said. “The missed encounters were still really sweet, really funny, really great and whatever, but the confessions became really negative and very hateful.”
The question of censorship and confessions drove a wedge within the team. According to Wilkes, Roger wanted Missed Encounters and Confessions to be one, totally uncensored page, while other members of the team wanted to get rid of the confessions and intensify the vetting process. This lead to what Nguyen described as a tense email correspondence, after which Roger bowed out, according to Wilkes.
The remaining members of the team agreed over Facebook messages that it would be best to start a new page solely for missed encounters. On Oct. 11, 2013, Nguyen created a new Rice Missed Encounters page — today, that page is updated consistently and has almost 3,000 likes.
When she made the new page, Nguyen said she made a point of setting guidelines that discouraged any harassing or attacking submissions.
“A couple people were like, ‘But it’s free speech!’,” Nguyen said. “But I was just like ‘No, it’s hate speech. You’re not gonna have free speech if it’s hate speech. I’m gonna censor that.’”
The negative submissions declined with the creation of the new page, but good natured ones only increased, according to Nguyen. The original team eventually fell apart, so Nguyen posted on the page asking for help. She recruited three students. One of them was James Warner, a Baker College senior who was a freshman at the time.
Today, Warner leads the page with some help from Nguyen and a few other students. He said he posts about 80 percent of submissions and filters out the rest either because they seem mean spirited or are spam for one person in particular. And if anyone asks him to stop posting about them or take anything down, he said he does so immediately.
Warner said that managing Missed Encounters is a major time commitment, but he’s motivated by the knowledge that posts can have a positive impact on students.
“Seeing that your efforts are recognized can make you feel better about yourself,” Warner said. “I think it fosters a sense of belonging. Because we’re all just trying to uplift each other.”
Leslie Loredo, a Jones College sophomore, received her first missed encounter a few weeks ago. She said it made her think about the ways her actions may impact others.
“Maybe someone seeing you smile or get excited about something or help someone out makes that person feel better when they’re having a bad day,” Loredo said. “It’s really nice to know someone recognizes something good about you when you might not recognize [it] yourself.”
That sincerity is what Nguyen said motivated her to be so involved with the page.
“At Rice, everyone knows everyone, or everyone has a mutual friend with everyone. You’re constantly seeing these faces and making assumptions based on their appearance or what you’ve heard about these people,” Nguyen said. “But there’s something so genuine about the missed encounters.”
And even now, she said she still reads every one.