By Katie Jansen
When Tristan Haas ’17 first started the class project, he didn’t know it would transform into a Facebook page that would help hundreds of people on Duke’s campus.
During his sophomore year, the public policy major took a class called “Social Entrepreneurship In Action,” taught by Tony Brown. Haas and his classmates were tasked designing a social initiative to address a problem in the Duke or Durham community.
That’s when Haas, along with his two co-founders, Jenna Zhang and Yolanda Qin, started to work on You’re Not Alone.
“We had decided we wanted to focus on social culture, specifically the pervasiveness of the effortless perfection myth,” said Haas, who is now president of the organization. “At Duke, you can’t just succeed. You have to succeed and make it seem as though you’re not trying.”
You’re Not Alone is a community on Facebook where students can post their stories anonymously and read the posts of others.
“People are not comfortable sharing the struggles and challenges they’re going through, even with their peers and close friends,” Haas said. “We wanted to create a safe forum for people to share.”
You’re Not Alone now has about 2,100 members and has received hundreds of submissions that have reached tens of thousands of people.
The posts that are shared range beyond just the effortless perfection myth and have delved into issues of socioeconomic inequality, racial divides, mental illness, loneliness and more, Haas said.
The project is also a part of Duke I&E’s Design to Impact Social Innovation Incubator.
Haas said the team has received valuable mentorship through its participation in the incubator and has also connected with other social entrepreneurs in the incubator.
Haas has also overseen the expansion of the initiative to other campuses, sharing resources with UNC-Chapel Hill and UC Berkeley so those universities can start their own You’re Not Alone pages.
Thanks to You’re Not Alone and other campaigns on campus, Haas said, he feels like there is more awareness of issues like mental illness and sexual assault.
“Now the talk is less focused on bringing attention to these problems and more focused on what Duke and what students can do to fix the causes of these issues, which I think is a great step forward,” he said.
Haas will graduate in May but is confident that the younger students on his team will carry the project forward.
He said he’s glad he headed up a social initiative during his college career, adding that it was fulfilling to take an idea and make it into a reality.
“I’m very into helping other people and creating positive atmospheres,” he said. “I get a lot of utility out of being involved in stuff like this.”