On Nov. 26, as students began to leave campus for fall recess, Spider-Man appeared on the top of the bridge connecting the Student Union to the Commons.
He wasn’t fighting any villains or web-swinging.
He doesn’t even have webs.
“The UB Spider-Man,” as the UB student refers to himself, was just trying to make students smile.
But University Police referred Peter Parker* to Student Conduct and Advocacy and advised him that there are “safer ways” to make students happy, according to UPD Deputy Chief Josh Sticht. Climbing to The Commons’ roof, which Parker doesn’t recommend, was his first major stunt, but he has more shenanigans planned for the future.
“I do have these Spidey undies. I’m planning to just wear the mask and the undies one time,” Parker said. “Nothing that is too illegal. OK UB Police? I’m not going to do anything that is too dangerous.”
Parker declared himself UB Spider-Man after he started wearing Spider-Man costumes around Halloween. He wanders campus three or four times every month and finds ways to “help people” by distributing snacks, offering assistance to workers, offering suggestions and trying to provide entertainment. Parker’s life goal is to “help people” through charity work, and he believes his role as UB Spider-Man allows him to achieve it. He says that nobody –– not even his parents or friends –– knows of his alter ego.
Parker tells his friends and family that he’s in class or a meeting at his undisclosed club when he’s actually wandering campus as UB Spider-Man. He uses public bathrooms to change into his Spider-Man costume in order to ensure nobody he knows sees him putting on his disguise. Parker says any public bathroom will do.
“I don’t have a secret lair,” Parker said. “... Any bathroom that’s open [will suffice]. Hell, even ‘porta potties.’ Gross, but I wash the suit after I wear it.”
Although UB Spider-Man loves being the center of attention, Parker does not.
He hasn’t told anybody of his superhero identity and wants to remain anonymous for the time-being.
He doesn’t like attention when he isn’t wearing his mask.
“I have really bad social anxiety. I don’t want people to come up to me saying ‘you know you’re Spider-Man, dude.’ ‘Thanks. Please go away.’” Parker said.
But Parker says that he feels like a whole new person when he has his costume on. He notices people are “friendlier” when he’s in his Spidey gear.
“I’d rather wear the mask so people are, well, friendlier toward me,” Parker said. “I always wanted to help people out and it seems like the mask really does it because if I went up to them [without my costume] offering free doughnuts or like bags of chips, it’d be weird. But if I put [my suit] on they’re like ‘Spider-Man’s about to give me chips, I’m gonna take it.’”
Unlike when he’s in civilian clothes, students start to treat Parker like a super-hero when he wears his costume. He says people trust UB Spider-Man more than the average student.
Parker says people let him into buildings without questioning if he lives there when he wears his costume.
“There’ve been times when I walked with people and they let me into the dorm building,” Parker said. “I’m not gonna do anything stupid, but if I wasn’t wearing the mask they [probably wouldn’t let me in].”
Parker thinks by dressing up like Spider-Man, he causes excitement on campus and can even spark new friendships among students.
“If two random strangers are sitting next to each other and I walk by, they’re going to look at each other like, ‘Is that Spider-Man,’ and they’ll talk,” Parker said. “And it’s a nice, neutral conversation.”
Parker still tries to “help” without his costume by volunteering at a homeless shelter downtown with his grandmother. He hopes to do more to help the homeless in the future.
“Nobody should be living in poverty, everyone should have a second chance,” Parker said. “If you have the opportunity to help someone, and you don’t, then when bad things happen, they happen because of you.”
Rohit Khemlani, a sophomore accounting major and a student manager at Student Unions, received help from UB Spider-Man when he was moving tables for an on-campus event. Khemlani and UB Spider-Man have become friends since then, but Khemlani still does not know UB Spider-Man’s real name.
“He’s a pretty nice guy generally; he gives out candies and gives out free pens as well,” Khemlani said. “[But] he doesn’t tell me his name, doesn’t tell me his major. He wants to be pretty discrete.”
Parker says that he definitely won’t reveal his identity until he leaves UB. But he may let people know who he is when it’s time to move on.
“Maybe [I’ll tell people that I’m UB Spider-Man] when I graduate. Wouldn’t it be funny if I went up to get my diploma and just rip off the mask?”
*Name has been changed to preserve UB Spider-Man’s secret identity
Julian Roberts-Grmela is a features editor and can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @GrmelaJulian.
Julian Roberts-Grmela is a senior news editor for The Spectrum and an English and philosophy major. His favorite book is “White Teeth” by Zadie Smith and he hopes that one day his writing will be as good as hers.