Q&A: Alina Utrata creates community through quotes

Aug. 8, 2017, 1:00 a.m.

When Alina Utrata ’17 graduated in June, she left behind more than her own memories of four years of college. Created in her freshman year, her hit Facebook page, “Things Overheard at Stanford,” has found a following of over 9,000 people and continues to document pithy one- to two-line phrases overheard on campus under a new administrator. It has since caught the attention of not only Stanford students but viewers worldwide in India, Singapore, Canada and Italy. The Daily sat down with Utrata to document the process of documenting Stanford student culture and quirks.

The Stanford Daily (TSD): When and why did you create “Things Overheard at Stanford”?

Alina Utrata (AU): I created it my freshman year, and it was during a period of time in which “Things Overheard at NYU” was really popular, and I think you get into a certain mindset when you read a page like that where things happen, and you’re like “Oh my god, that needs to be on Things Overheard at Stanford,” which has definitely been true of the past four years of writing the page… I initially just started it because things would happen that I thought were really funny or very indicative of the Stanford experience.

Things Overheard at Stanford: Posts

TSD: Did people around you know you were behind the page?

AU: It’s funny because again, in the first years it wasn’t very popular until my friends knew I ran the page, and they thought it was really funny. But then a weird thing started happening where other people would like the page, and then years into our friendship, I’d be like, “You know, I run that page,” and they’d be like “What?” and I think there was a sense of disillusionment that went along with it. I remember that I was in an abroad program and somehow something came up where I think I was on the page in class, and somebody saw that I was updating it… I think among people who didn’t know that I ran it from the get-go, there’s this sense of authenticity to the page as if there [were] legions of “Things Overheard at Stanford” people who go around campus listening to conversations and when [they find out that] it’s just me updating things, there was a crushing sense of like, “Oh my god, this isn’t real!” But it is real, of course. It’s reflective of the [Stanford] culture, but those are the two [kinds of people who reactions come from]: the people who’ve known that I’ve updated it all along and the people who are horrified and shocked when they discovered the true wizard behind the curtain.

TSD: What purpose do you think “Things Overheard at Stanford” serves, besides making us laugh?

AU: I think the page reflects — and I hope makes people think a little bit about — the culture of Stanford. The posts that do well are the ones [that] are like, “I am so stressed out I am going to die,” and those tend to be very popular. Or over-emphasis on personal achievement at the expense of personal health… this ambivalence about the way that we connect with people at Stanford and the kind of awkward use of professional or achievement language to discuss our relationships. So things like “Ugh I was going to go on this date but I’m not trying to do long-distance” or like “I have a schedule for our date” or “I would’ve swiped right on Tinder but too far to bike to” — things like this. This sort of weird way that we connect to people and the language we use with connection. If you read these and you’re in a bad mood, they’re not funny; they’re kind of depressing. That’s what I kind of hope for the page: that people who are like “I’m gonna go and mindlessly go through [life] and just do all of the things that I’m supposed to do and get the job that pays the most money and not really have a rich internal life” are thinking about how [they] want to operate in the world or impact, or [think more about] my social interactions. It’s sort of reflective of that sort of experience that students have.

TSD: So where do you find all of these quotes?

AU: I would say a good portion comes from just organic conversations that I’ve had with people. And you will find that exhausting about being my friend: Someone will say something funny, and I’m like “Oh my god, that’s going on ‘Things Overheard at Stanford’ right now,” and then I update it in front of them. It’s very, very disconcerting for a lot of people. I think there’s something about language in conversation that lends to these very pithy quotes.

Things Overheard at Stanford: Conversations

TSD: Has working on the page changed you in any way or your views of the Stanford communty?

AU: It has made me a little bit more thoughtful, and it’s been a nice tracking mechanism of time at Stanford. Because especially when I flip through the page, I remember when [this or] that happened, or I remember that post or what was happening around that.

Maybe five percent [of the quotes] are from conversations that I’ve actually overheard. Those do appear, but there isn’t an army of minions [listening for them].

Things Overheard at Stanford: The Future

TSD: What are your plans for the future of “Things Overheard at Stanford”?

AU: I didn’t think about it that much because I was finishing a thesis [at the end of the year], and then I was sort of toying with the idea of the last post being like “No one is as funny as me,” but then I thought [it would be] sad if things petered out and died, so I have an anonymous person who I have identified as the next admin [for the page], so hopefully this person will do a good job.


Contact ZaZu Lippert at zazulippert ‘at’ gmail.com.

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