While I can reflect on that episode today and laugh at my own stupidity, I cannot escape that self-indulgent feeling of excitement that surrounds the creation of a rumor. What is even funnier is how quickly that delight shifts into horror when I am at the receiving end or am the subject of such fabrications. Going back and forth between these two feelings, I realize that I am just another link in the chain that revolves around the rumor mill, one that seems to power the social lives of many students on this campus.
This has been most clearly represented in the recent popularity of the provider of endless grief and laughter that is juicycampus.com. It always amazes me when outside guests of mine exclaim how big Princeton is, especially in comparison to their campuses, when I know just as well as the next Princetonian how strong the force of the Orange Bubble really is. The University is a community, in the sense that the degree of interaction between its members plays such a large role in our academic and social activities. With the genesis of JuicyCampus, the bubble became that much more confining, as it forced many of us who have visited the website to come to terms with ourselves. While its popularity has waned in recent weeks thanks to spammers posting various constitutions and Wikipedia articles in their entireties, the culture of gossip still plays a large role on campus.
One of the more insightful comments I saw on the site was made in reference to a post about the black community. One poster commented that, speaking for the majority of the website's visitors, he did not care about the "invisible institution" that is blacks at Princeton. Having dealt firsthand with rumors in that community - which, the commenter correctly assumed, goes largely ignored - I can attest to the dangers of being drawn closer to others through gossip.
My knack for inciting the wrath of my fellow black students through rumors associated with me has led to many precarious situations. These ranged from a late-night rendezvous during which knocks on my door could have potentially led to violent confrontations to awkward exchanges I've had with a congregation of people. There was always one person that I hoped to avoid. Most of these misunderstandings came from words of mine that were taken out of context or distorted reports I received from others that warned me about the way another person really felt about me.
Because of all of this, I searched for an antidote to this problem, and the best solution appeared to be physically removing myself from always being "in the mix." What made that so difficult was the realization that I loved being entertained by the drama; after all, we devote a whole art form to it.
The downside of the drama, however, was the connection I made between entertainment and rumors. In the end, someone on the receiving end more than likely gets hurt, much in the same way my first-grade teacher was. I had to humble myself and apologize to her; sadly, humility has never been in great supply here at Princeton. What's more, the "invisible institution" that is as close-knit as it is only reflects what Princeton at large is bound to become with sites like JuicyCampus. Rumors bring us closer to each other, no doubt about it. But when is close too close for comfort? I don't need to tell anyone that rumors are bad; that goes without saying. What we can do as a community is fight those seemingly uncontrollable urges that drag us down the path to dramatic confrontation. It's a struggle that I continue to have to this day, but as quickly as rumors can start with us, they can end with us as well.
Walter Griffin is a sophomore from Philadelphia, Pa. He can be reached at email@example.com.