Behind the mask of UConn Spider-Man

UConn Spi­der-Man lies under the sun in the Stu­dent Union Mall at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Con­necti­cut on April 14, 2023. An anony­mous stu­dent, he is rec­og­nized in his cos­tume but few know the iden­ti­ty of the per­son in the suit. Reveal­ing it is less impor­tant to him than leav­ing a lega­cy at UConn. (Esther Ju/UConn Journalism)

By Esther Ju | UConn Jour­nal­ism
May 6, 2023

A dozen pairs of eyes fol­low us as we move through the Stu­dent Union food court. Unboth­ered, his red and blue sil­hou­ette weaves con­fi­dent­ly between tables, greet­ing stu­dents who already know his name.

He approach­es a man wear­ing a back­wards white base­ball cap. “What’s up, Spidey?” the man says from his seat, motion­ing for a fist-bump. “How we doin’?”

A woman walks by and rec­og­nizes him instantly.

It’s Spi­der-Maaaaan!” she says.

Out of every build­ing at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Con­necti­cut, the Stu­dent Union is where you’ll find UCon­n’s Spi­der-Man most often. That’s where he gets the most atten­tion, he says, his voice slight­ly muf­fled under the mask.

We exit the Stu­dent Union and are strolling past Oak Hall when a group of stu­dents approach­es us. One of them asks if he can inter­view Spi­der-Man for his phi­los­o­phy discussion.

Why is it that women are being so oppressed through­out his­to­ry?” the inter­view­er probes. Anoth­er group mem­ber records on his phone. “What do you think?”

Uh, it’s obvi­ous­ly the men’s fault,” Spidey replies.

Yes, but what do you think the moti­va­tions are behind that?”

That’s a good ques­tion,” Spidey says. “I’m not entire­ly sure why.”

The inter­view con­cludes after about 30 sec­onds and the group applauds. While walk­ing away, Spidey mut­ters, “That was awful.”

Min­utes ago, he rel­ished his moment in the spot­light. Now, he’s just annoyed. Glib exchanges are noth­ing new to him, he explains. Putting up with them is part of his job as an on-cam­pus superhero.

You kind of just have to do what peo­ple want you to do,” he says. “And then they tend to leave you alone.”


At a lofty height of 6‑foot-2-inch­es, UConn Spi­der-Man stands quite tall for some­one just over a year old. His per­sona was an impulse deci­sion, con­ceived at 3 a.m. on a ran­dom night in Decem­ber 2021. Just like Peter Park­er, his inspi­ra­tion stems from his own trou­bled past.

After his father died when Spidey was 15 years old, the only male fig­ure in his life was gone. To cope, he latched onto super­heroes, an attach­ment that sparked his desire to become his own role mod­el dur­ing col­lege. He admits to doing poor­ly in school and has been on aca­d­e­m­ic pro­ba­tion twice at UConn. He need­ed a way to moti­vate himself.

To some extent, I’ve always relat­ed [to Spi­der-Man],” he says. “So I kind of fig­ured I’ll do what he does.”

While he ini­tial­ly planned it to be a one-time affair, Spidey’s first expe­ri­ence in the suit would actu­al­ly become his ori­gin story.

UConn Spi­der-Man orders a drink at Dunkin’ in the Uni­ver­si­ty of Con­necti­cut Stu­dent Union on April 14, 2023. After mus­ter­ing up the courage for his debut, Spidey made his first pub­lic appear­ance a year ago at HuskyTHON. (Esther Ju/UConn Journalism)

When HuskyTHON, UConn’s biggest stu­dent-run fundrais­ing event of the year, rolled around in April 2022, Spidey knew it was time for his debut. Although he had already bought a suit from Ama­zon back in Decem­ber, he stayed appre­hen­sive for months, con­cerned about get­ting unmasked or bul­lied. His ther­a­pist even told him he would get beat up.

He changed into the suit in one of the bath­rooms near the Founders Green, where HuskyTHON was tak­ing place. For 20 min­utes, he faced the mir­ror and gave him­self a pep talk.

I was like, ‘You got this. You can do this,’” he says. He recalls that his hand was trem­bling when it final­ly reached for the door.

Upon walk­ing out, Spidey real­ized that peo­ple were just as ner­vous as he was, not know­ing how to act at the sight of Spi­der-Man mak­ing a cameo at UConn. Then they laughed. Not at him, he clar­i­fies, but because they found the sit­u­a­tion funny.

Peo­ple fell in love with it and I fell in love with it,” he says. “Peo­ple were laugh­ing and I was laugh­ing. I was hav­ing fun, they were hav­ing fun. Next thing I know, I was crowd-surfing.”


We sit on the steps out­side the north entrance of the Stu­dent Recre­ation Cen­ter, the shade pro­vid­ing a cool escape from the swel­ter­ing sun. I ask Spidey about the suit, which he says he’s been sweat­ing through.

Since last fall, he’s lev­eled up from the Ama­zon ensem­ble and opt­ed for a cus­tom-tai­lored suit from Per­haps it’s not as high-tech as the one from Stark Indus­tries, but at least it fits him bet­ter. Under­neath, he’s wear­ing a T‑shirt and shorts, while the shoes are built-in.

Trans­form­ing into Spi­der-Man is a time-con­sum­ing process that calls for find­ing an emp­ty bath­room on cam­pus, plus how­ev­er long it takes to change into the suit — which can be any­where from five to 20 min­utes. On days like today, he com­pares it to putting on a wet sock.

Late­ly, Spidey’s been less enthu­si­as­tic about suit­ing up. He returned to duty at the end of March after a three-month hia­tus, which he attrib­ut­es to inclement weath­er, a busy school sched­ule and weight gain. Over the past year, he put on between 40 to 50 pounds, but has man­aged to shave off 20 so far. Before that, he didn’t feel as con­fi­dent wear­ing the suit.

Still, Spidey doesn’t intend on giv­ing up his title. He plans on reveal­ing his iden­ti­ty in a year or so at grad­u­a­tion by retriev­ing his diplo­ma in his super­hero garb. Until then, he’ll con­tin­ue being anony­mous to the major­i­ty of the pub­lic — with the excep­tion of those clos­est to him.

Spidey’s girl­friend, who we’ll call Mary Jane, says she hasn’t seen all the Spi­der-Man films — only the ones with Tobey Maguire — but the cou­ple is mak­ing their way through the Mar­vel fran­chise via movie nights. When it comes to his tastes in cin­e­ma, Spidey isn’t the biggest fan of the Mar­vel series. In fact his favorite movie isn’t part of the super­hero genre at all: It’s “The Shaw­shank Redemption.”

Yeah, the Mar­vel movies are alright, but they’re not all that in my opin­ion,” he says. “They were fun while they last­ed, but they don’t real­ly have any sub­stance if I’m being honest.”

Mary Jane was there the night Spidey got the idea for his new iden­ti­ty. She’s been a big sup­port­er ever since, and even helped him pick out his first pro­file pic­ture for his offi­cial Insta­gram account. But hav­ing to keep mum about her boyfriend’s alter ego has made for some awk­ward moments, like when he showed up to one of her club meet­ings — which was also the first time she saw him in the suit.

I had to pre­tend like I didn’t know who he was,” Mary Jane says on the phone. She agreed to talk through an Insta­gram call, but only using Spidey’s account. “At one point, I acci­den­tal­ly held his hand and I was like, ‘Shit. I don’t know him!’ It’s weird, but it’s fun at the same time.”

There have been mul­ti­ple occa­sions where she’s had to act clue­less: when her room­mate last year told her that there’s a Spi­der-Man on cam­pus, or when­ev­er her friends would send their self­ies with Spidey in their group chat. She’s man­aged to lie low, but con­tain­ing the secret is still a learn­ing curve for Mary Jane. Halfway through our inter­view, she acci­den­tal­ly slips Spidey’s real name.

A stu­dent takes a self­ie with UConn Spi­der-Man at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Con­necti­cut Stu­dent Union on April 14, 2023. The Stu­dent Union is where he’ll vis­it the most often, Spidey says. He likes the atten­tion he gets there. (Esther Ju/UConn Journalism)

Spidey’s good friend, who we’ll call Har­ry Osborn, found out just last fall. While hang­ing out, the two were shar­ing a dis­cus­sion about com­mu­ni­ty out­reach, which nat­u­ral­ly segued into the top­ic of UConn Spi­der-Man. Osborn then watched his friend open his back­pack and pull out the mask. Now, he finds his obliv­i­ous­ness iron­ic, con­sid­er­ing his usu­al skill at solv­ing puz­zles and the fact that his father is a detective.

I was sur­prised to find out only because I nev­er would have thought that I would know the guy,” Osborn says over the phone. Like Mary Jane, he’s also using Spidey’s Insta­gram account to talk. “But know­ing that it’s him, it doesn’t sur­prise me that he would do some­thing like this.”


As UConn’s des­ig­nat­ed super­hero, Spidey’s main respon­si­bil­i­ty is to spread com­pas­sion. He’ll go on his usu­al mis­sions to give out high fives at the uni­ver­si­ty quad, or peek in on stu­dents study­ing at the library to offer words of encour­age­ment. But he’s also gone on some more seri­ous side quests, like assist­ing two drunk peo­ple back to their apart­ments from Huskies Bar or hav­ing a 40-minute con­ver­sa­tion with some­one about deal­ing with anxiety.

Nav­i­gat­ing his own men­tal health has been an obsta­cle for Spidey, who entered col­lege in the mid­dle of a glob­al pan­dem­ic. Jug­gling COVID anx­i­ety and online class­es while still griev­ing his father was chal­leng­ing. Tak­ing on the role of Spi­der-Man was ulti­mate­ly a way to rebel against his hard­ships by becom­ing a force of opti­mism with­in the UConn community.

I thought that it’d be a good idea to become some­thing a bit more than myself, like turn my issues into some­thing pos­i­tive,” he says. “Even if it’s a small thing, just see­ing peo­ple walk by and smile, that’s more than enough for me.”

In a sense, don­ning the Spi­der-Man mask was almost a form of self-ther­a­py or — in this case — super­hero ther­a­py. Kather­ine Wash­ing­ton, a psy­chol­o­gist from Den­ver Health Med­ical Cen­ter, defines the prac­tice as help­ing patients relate to pop cul­ture characters.

And see­ing that peo­ple, even super­heroes, can go through strug­gles and can over­come them,” she says in a phone interview.

To Wash­ing­ton, it seems like Spidey empathizes with some­one who’s gone through sim­i­lar expe­ri­ences that he has: the ear­ly loss of a male fig­ure, fol­lowed by the assump­tion of respon­si­bil­i­ty to use his pow­ers for good.

Just being able to run around and be pos­i­tive to peo­ple and bring them joy, that in itself — giv­ing to oth­ers — can be very ther­a­peu­tic,” she says.


The tem­per­a­ture out­side reach­es 90 degrees as Spidey and I roam the cen­ter of cam­pus. Back at the Stu­dent Union, he told me his plan to med­dle with one of the cam­pus tour groups. 

Dur­ing our walk, he spots a group gath­ered in front of the Recre­ation Cen­ter. We stand along­side every­one else, try­ing to blend in.

Are you join­ing me for my stop?” the guide asks, paus­ing her spiel.

A lit­tle bit, yeah,” Spidey replies.

Okay. No pres­sure or anything.”

No, no, don’t wor­ry about it. You’re fine,” he says. “You’re doing great.”