During your time at Kenyon, you may have heard a rumor about someone you know, or about someone you’ve seen before. If you haven’t yet, it is likely that you will eventually. Maybe you’ve heard a story that was about a friend of a friend or about a person who you’ve only talked to once or twice. Maybe you’ve even been the one to spread a rumor or two. Regardless of whichever one of these scenarios you relate to, I’m not here to judge anyone: After all, who doesn’t like talking about the people and things we’ve either witnessed or heard about in our day-to-day lives? In many cases, the spreading of information by other people is how multiple stories are unpacked and further explored for validity. However, hearsay, depending on the type of information being discussed, can have negative effects, especially in a small school environment.
Gossip at a smaller institution can further alienate the people at the center of a story. Sometimes it can be exhilarating and even therapeutic to say something that very few people can check you for. What’s the harm in sharing an interesting piece of information that you heard from a friend, or talking about an embarrassing yet extremely funny situation? Depending on what is said, it can make people feel unsupported or worse.
The tricky thing about the spread of rumors is that it can be difficult to stop completely. Trying to determine whether one is credible or not is more complicated than one might imagine, because who’s to say that someone who would normally be considered an “eyewitness” isn’t just telling you their version of an incident? How does one know whether the spreading of information is really just a rumor? Rumors, by definition, are stories that are very doubtful and have little to no credibility. To the best of your ability, think about the kind of information you are spreading. Why do you feel the need to share something about someone? What is your goal? There are many reasons one might share a bit of gossip, but the reason for telling a story matters almost as much as the story or rumor itself.
Even if only a few people are speaking about a particular encounter, at a small campus like ours, it can feel like the whole world. The saying may be that “actions speak louder than words,” but actions don’t really speak; people do, and the words they say may be more damaging than what anyone does from that point forward.
Creating a campus where people feel more empowered and emboldened to say what they think and feel is extremely important. We should all be encouraged to speak our minds and not be silenced when we see something or hear something that needs our immediate attention. Our campus should be a space for people to talk as much as they want about whatever they want. All I ask is that we are all more aware about the things we decide to share about others, and to be even more careful about who we decide to share those observations with.
Meiya Carter is the arts assistant for the Collegian. She is a double major in English and film and is from Newark, N.J. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.